News Column

YouTube's VCR Mode a Retro-rewind

April 19, 2013

If you've visited YouTube over the last couple of days, you may have noticed a new button gracing the lower right corner of its video player.

It was only there for a day or two, and unless you visited YouTube's Google+ page or happened to notice it while watching a video, you may have missed it altogether.

No, it wasn't some experimental new 3D, anamorphic, ultra-high-definition function that only people with cutting-edge hardware could use.

It wasn't a bug, a glitch, or a secret feature that was unintentionally revealed to the public.

It was "VHS Mode."

In honor of the 57th anniversary of the first commercially available VCR, YouTube added a special feature to their player

that simulated the experience of watching a VHS cassette tape.

It added occasional static lines and playback artifacts to videos, and when you paused the videos, the static got worse -- just like in real life.

There were also occasional "tracking" blurs that all of us remember so fondly.

Of course, in 2013, people graduating from high school might never have encountered a VCR, but for older generations,

who wouldn't want to relive the grainy, fuzzy, and occasionally temperamental cassette-tape era?

OK, so it wasn't that bad ... but you can't deny that never having to rewind is not a bad thing.

And I doubt that many people have had DVDs "eaten" by the player, as VCRs used to be so fond of doing to tapes.

Still, YouTube went to a lot of effort to mark a landmark day for an out-of-date technology.

Inserting random distortion into videos on the fly is no mean trick, and while I can think of at least a few ways for them to do it fairly easily, it's still something that took some time and effort on somebody's part.

But it got me thinking about old VHS tapes that I had laying around.

I haven't owned a VCR for years, and almost any TV show or video of note is now available on DVD or Blu-ray. But for home videos, or anything captured on tape, for that matter, the clock is ticking.

Cassette tapes decay quite quickly even when carefully stored, and because they've got quite a few moving parts, you risk destroying the video every time you play it. If you do have cassette tapes laying around anywhere, it's probably time to look into converting them to DVDs.

There are set-top DVD/VCR players that can do this, and there are also kits for computers, so you can store old cassettes straight into digital format.

It's much easier and faster to copy, edit, and catalogue videos stored on DVD or directly on a hard-drive than it is to handle cassettes.

After thinking about it, aside from some old home movies, I really didn't have any need for a VCR, and I can't say that I miss dealing with them.

So thanks, YouTube, for the trip down memory lane ... but I think I'll keep my Blu-ray.


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Source: (c)2013 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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