Oh god, I just aged several years in a single second, a friend of mine sent me a snippet from a fic that read someone put a VHS into a VCR and took so long getting back to it to press play that the menu screen had looped multiple times

every time I think maybe I am putting too much effort into researching the details of technological advances I lived through, something like this crosses my dash

For the young whippersnappers who don’t understand the issue, VHS tapes don’t have menu screens. That is not technologically possible on a tape.

A magnetic tape works because information has been magnetically encoded on the tape. The tape is very long, and is wound around two little spools, one at the end, one at the beginning. In the middle is a part where it is flat and there is a thing called a ‘head’ and it reads the magnetic encoding on the bit of the tape next to it and converting it into sound and/or images. When the tape plays, the little spools wind/unwind so that new sections of tape are constantly being run past the head. Every single thing a VCR can do is a function of controlling which part of the tape is next to the head.

You put the tape in the machine and press play on the machine, and it plays. You press stop and it stops. You press play again and it starts playing right where it left off, because while it’s stopped the tape is not moving past the head. You can pause it instead of stop it, which will leave the frame you paused on on the TV (in contrast to stopping, when the screen goes dark). You can fast forward, and it will wind the tape forward towards the end. You can rewind and it will wind the tape back to the beginning.

in my experience it usually played automatically on being fed a tape, and you had to pause or stop it to prevent this, which was awkward sometimes when the tv volume turned out to be set way too high

unless of course the tape hadn’t been rewound before being taken out last time. then, unless auto-rewind was a feature of the VCR in question, you had to push that button first to get back to the start so the movie was watchable.

also if you wanted it to rewind quickly instead of playing the entire film backwards, silently, at maybe double speed, you pushed ‘stop’ first and it lifted the tape away from the reader to respool at speed.

#reminds me of the fic#where they went to great lengths to make it clear pictures were being taken on film

#and then someone took the camera away and ‘looked through the pictures’#to see what they were of and if they were Forbidden Content#and then gave the camera back like no harm had been done and i’m like

#so she…didn’t rip the film out and ruin it? then what just happened?


Now that I have processed this somewhat, here’s some other tidbits:

Tapes had no mandatory ads at the front. Oh, sure, there often were ads at the front, but there was no way to prevent just fast forwarding through them.

For the busy among us who wanted to watch a film while another was rewinding, separate tape rewinding devices were sold.

Tape rental places would ask you to “please be kind, rewind!” and some places charged a rewinding fee if you didn’t.

Music was affected by the jump from tapes to disc, too! I remember it blowing my mind that CDs could replay a track instantly, instead of me having to memorize how long it took to rewind a tape to play back a tune.

Both VCRs and music tape players would occasionally break and “eat” the tape, which meant an unspooled, destroyed tape and having to take the player apart to free the tape from it. Sometimes the player could be fixed afterwards, and sometimes it couldn’t.

Sometimes if you played the same portion of a tape over and over, it would lead to tape degradation: distorted video and audio, or even the tape snapping and having to get a new one. (I did this to at least one Disney movie – don’t remember which – and one soundtrack.)

Adjusting the tracking! I don’t remember how this physically works but if the video is jumping around, sometimes you would have to adjust it so the VCR reads the tape correctly. Looks like there’s some how-to guides out there on the Internet on how to do this. Usually there was a button on the remote to do this.

Some VCRs were extra fancy and had digital clocks built into them. After a power outage, they would reset to 12:00 and flash. Adjusting the clock was a strange and mysterious process that a lot of folks never got the hang of, so their VCRs just had 12:00 flashing on them at all times.

Can’t do this without including music tapes! Sometimes the tape would catch on the head and would start poking out of the cassette. You had to handle it very, very carefully in case the tape sticking out got twisted, and then use a pencil or something similar to turn the tape manually to rewind it onto the spool properly.

Also, you don’t know irritation if you haven’t been on a long bus ride at night, trying to sleep, while some doofus keeps clicking pause, rewind, play, pause, rewind, play, all damn night. You couldn’t hear the music, because the offender wore headphones (usually!) but you could sure hear that clicking. For. Hours.