- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

Another day, another media format appears headed for the scrap heap. Stand aside eight-track tapes, vinyl records and Beta, VHS is heading your way.

The signs are everywhere. The Circuit City chain announced last month that it will no longer stock VHS (video home system) movies. The Blockbuster rental chain recently slashed its VHS inventories by a quarter to make way for the new wave of sleek, superior DVDs (digital video disc).

The DVD format went from corralling 12 percent of the home video market and rental revenues in the first quarter of 2001 to 29 percent a year later, according to Video Software Dealers Association.

The only place VHS movies are still selling briskly is on the streets of New York City. Hey, there's always a market for shaky-cam versions of "Scooby-Doo."

Parting with VHS will be sweet sorrow for me. I'll never forget the rush I felt as a teenager when I walked into my first video rental store. I stared agog at the walls crammed with slim cassette boxes emblazoned with classic movie images.

My first thought was that I could see "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" any time I wanted. I never had to scour the TV Guide again to catch the next random airing of my childhood favorite.

Today, we expect that kind of immediate gratification, like waiting for an Osbourne teen to say "[bleep]."

VHS tapes emerged in the late 1970s along with Beta, a video format featuring superior sound and a smaller cassette casing.

As capitalism would have it, VHS emerged the winner. Matsushita, which created VHS technology, allowed a number of big-name companies such as RCA and General Electric to create VHS products. Sony, which initially stood alone in producing Beta tapes and players, couldn't compete.

VHS still has the edge when it comes to taping television shows, but manufacturers have begun producing recordable DVD machines.

Plus, with the rise of TiVo and other contraptions that digitally record programs, VHS's greatest perk will soon be redundant.

Forgive me for clinging to the past, but I'll miss VHS when it's gone. I remember watching MTV 'round the clock in order to tape, and create, an entire video cassette filled with U2 videos. Before then, there was the embarrassing incident in 1986 when I taped MTV's entire Monkees marathon.

I still have those fuzzy Monkees tapes. They are stored in a safe, sturdy metal box along with my birth certificate and my pride.

Watching those episodes, and the commercials in between, reminds me of a time when the world awaited the debut of a cola spot featuring Glenn Frey's "Miami Vice" music.

The new wave of DVDs, unlike their prehistoric VHS predecessors, offer more than just the film itself. Many feature so many behind-the-scenes tips that viewers could direct the sequel themselves.

The bells and whistles don't entice me. Who wants to see the "lost" scenes from "Ishtar"?

Don't get me started on "Flubber: The Director's Edition."

Alas, Santa helped me bridge the gap toward the new technology. I unwrapped a DVD player Dec. 25, and I've taken to watching letterboxed films as they were meant to be seen.

And oh, the colors, clarity and sound are far superior to even my sharpest VHS video. Even the freeze-frame option is a joy to behold whenever the need to refill my pretzel dish hits. It stops the scene perfectly and doesn't shut down after five minutes like some VCRs of yore.

Lately, I feel like my VHS player is giving me the stink eye whenever I go to tape that week's "E.R."

"Good enough for medical melodramas but not for watching 'Memento?'" it thinks as I set the timer.

I plan on not getting too attached to my modest DVD collection. Sure enough, in a decade or less, a marvelous new format will arrive and I'll have to buy yet another version of "Raising Arizona."

I hope my DVD player understands. It's nothing personal.

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