Tag Archives | VHS

VHS Lives On Through Mail-Order Arthouse Rentals

johnnyguitarNetflix it’s not, but a new mail-order rental service from Chicago-based Facets Multimedia has something for the super-dedicated indie niche.

The Facets service rents DVDs and, more interestingly, VHS tapes of independent, experimental and world films, and launched last month with little fanfare, Video Business reports. While Netflix and Facets overlap a bit on the DVD side, some of Facets’ offerings are so obscure that they only exist on VHS.

Among these films are Johnny Guitar (1954), a campy cult film about two women trying to control a frontier boom town; The Devils (1971), a film based on Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun; and The Emigrants (1971), about a young Swedish family setting out to America. Not all the picks are that obscure: The Cable Guy and Caddyshack are among the lighter fare offered on VHS. For DVDs, you’ll find import rarities such as Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (2000) along with mainstream titles like 2006’s Oscar-nominated Babel.

Facets hosts over 30,000 titles in all, 500 of which come from the 26-year-old company’s exclusive release and distribution catalog. The volume and wide appeal of the films is important, because it’s conceivable that someone with enough offbeat tastes could rely on this service instead of Netflix and still satisfy an occasional mainstream urge. Pricing is competitive at $8.99 per month for a one-movie plan and $14.99 for two movies at a time, with a variety of other packages and prepaid options available.

I’m wondering if a service like this will catapult VHS to the status of music’s vinyl records. Sure, you can’t make any arguments for video quality, but maybe there’s a tactile satisfaction to sliding one of those bulky tapes into the player and fiddling with the tracking button.


VHS is Dead. Next: DVD. Then Blu-Ray.

supermanii1Maybe I’m just not very observant, but I never notice old media formats going away until they’re…gone. One moment, the record stores down at my local malls still stocked vinyl. And then they didn’t. Audio cassettes? Same thing. And now the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Distribution Video Audio, the last major distributor of VHS tapes, is calling it quits on videotape. Everybody seems to be taking this is the closest thing we’ll get to an official death warrant for VHS, which seems perfectly reasonable.

I never noticed Blockbuster or Hollywood Video shrinking their tape sections into nothingness to make room for DVD. But even in my home, VHS ain’t what it used to be. I moved in July; so far, I haven’t bothered to set up my VCR at my new house, though it’s in working condition and ready for duty should I need it. Which I probably will, since I have several hundred VHS tapes–including some good stuff that has never been released on DVD. (I keep telling myself I need to dub them all to DVD before they rot away, and I will…but almost everything is still in surprisingly good shape, or was the last time I checked.)

It doesn’t seem like it’s been all that long since I bought my VCR and had to choose between VHS and Beta, and congratulated myself on my wisdom in investing in VHS instead of the increasingly dicey Beta format. But that was…1985, I think.

The end of VHS is a little different than past media-format deaths in that it’s pretty obvious that media is on its way out. DVD is wonderful in many ways, but Hollywood is already trying to get us to buy everything we already bought on VHS and DVD all over again in Blu-Ray. (I’ve resisted the siren call so far.) And given how fast things are moving with delivery of video programming over the Internet, Blu-Ray itself feels like a stopgap. Ten years from now, a Blu-Ray disc will look almost as archaic as a vinyl LP does now–and I’m not so sure that it won’t be more like four or five years. Maybe even less.

In many ways I’ll miss the comforting notion that content I’ve bought resides on platters or cassettes that I have control over…although copy protection has already removed much of that benefit. But I won’t miss it too much. Especially since I have the sneaking suspicion that I’ll have some tapes and discs around the house for as long as it’s possible to find devices that will play them.