What Did We Do Before VHS?

I can still remember the whole VHS bs BETA thing, and I still have my copy of “The Blues Brothers”, one of the first VHS tapes I ordered from Columbia House.

It got me thinking, what the heck did we do before VHS?
There were no rental stores right? I briefly remember renting a huge DVD type thing 30 years ago, super disc or whatever it was called, it was like the earliest version of DVDs, but this thing never took off the ground.

So before VHS was invented, there were no video stores, no home libraries of movies, what the heck did we do? I honestly can’t remember!

Nothing. We watched TV shows once, hoped for a repeat one day, and were grateful.

Are you thinking of Laserdiscs? They’re only about 20 years old, and came after the advent of VHS.

Maybe that’s what it was.
The disc itself was quite large, and I remember renting “Pink Floyd at Pomei”(sp)
I also remember it never took off and died an early death.

A few minutes ago I went into the furnace room to change the filter, and I noticed a stack of my old record albums sitting on the shelf ~ So I think I can partially answer my own question :slight_smile:

I think we also watched less TV. There used to be this interactive activity called ‘real life’ that was a popular alternative.

There were earlier video tape formats. None ever really took off for home use.

Cartrivision was around in the late 60s. It used 1/2 inch tape loaded in cartridges of two sizes - the larger ones could fit a whole feature film, Tape speed was around 5 inches-per-second (as opposed to 15/16 ips for VHS at the fast speed, a third of that for the slow speed), so it gobbled up the tape, but it did the job (my family used to have one - they were sold by Sears).

There was also a reel-to-reel format called U-matic from Sony. More popular for AV use in schools and businesses than in the home.

Of course, taping the sound only was always an option, and a lot of people did that.

In the early days of the series, the BBC junked a lot of the video tapes it kept episodes of the series Doctor Who on, for various reasons.

When an audit on tapes was carried out and a lot of stories were found missing, several fans came forward with the entire sound track for an episode taped from the TV broadcast or even some film footage taken from a home cine camera facing the TV screen.

Obligatory Wikipedia article.

The ability to record drove VHS as well, when “small” (portable, at least) video cameras came out for the masses.

The geezers among us remember what we used for home recording before cassette tapes: reel to reel. But it wasn’t for day to day recording of radio and the like; it was pretty much for hi-fi listening or recording special events. Cassette tapes came along and revolutionized casual audio recording for the masses because they were so small and portable. VHS was really the thing that brought casual video recording to the masses. I don’t remember recording TV being as important a driver as playing rental movies and home movies, but perhaps it’s because we never watched much TV in my home.

I remember renting some movies and ‘a movie player’ for a party long ago, before home VCRs were at all common in my neighborhood. Mostly because they were huge and still very expensive.

(terminate anecdote mode.)

PS: Oh, actually, it was my parents who were doing the renting. I just enjoyed the party. :smiley:

You could be thinking of one of the video-on-record systems like TED and CED. They came out around the same time as VHS, with TED pre-dating it ever so slightly. I think they flopped even worse than LaserDisc did.

Don’t forget that watching movies at home doesn’t necessarily require video. Film prints could be bought or rented for home use ever since the dawn of cinema. Buying them was exorbitantly expensive–looking at ads in early 70s magazines, $200 per feature was a bargain*–but there were always rental options available and public libraries had wide selections.

There also used to be things called digest prints. These were films edited down to around 20-25 minutes, still expensive, but much more economical than buying the whole feature. Some films take the severe editing well–I’ve got a digest print of Raiders of the Lost Arc that works beautifully in just 22 minutes. Others require some changes to the story to get it in under time, like The Poseidon Adventure. Still others just make no sense whatsoever when drastically shortened, like Lawrence of Arabia.

Before then (going back to the '30s, '20s, and '10s, now), it wasn’t uncommon to just rent individual scenes from films–35mm and 28mm early on, more commonly 16mm in the '30s. I’ve got a few of these. One is a 30 second climactic scene from a Tom Mix western, printed in 1924.

*There are places that still print new releases on Super 8, but expect to spend a couple thousand instead of a couple hundred on them. Call it inflation.

What did we do back then, probably what I do now. Normally I don’t watch TV, but when I do, I turn it on and check out the 5 or so channels that come in. I adjust the antenna if anything seems interesting and I would like to watch that. If I can’t find anything to watch I turn off the TV and sign back on to the internet.

I’m sure that’s what they did back in the old days.

Not until the invention of the ASDL fireplace, that allowed for as many as three different people to tell stories at once.

I don’t think you could have signed on to the internet in the old days.

Al Gore hadn’t invented it yet.

I expect they just passed the time texting each other then.

I just played Pong. Until the Atari 2600 came along.

What did we do before VHS?

1.) We waited fot ilms to be re-released. This used to be a major part of the film market. King Kong was re=released several times to major theaters into the 1950s, continuing to generate profits for RKO. Nowadays the only times films get re-released are when they’re important films (at least to the makers), and they think a lot of people will be interested in seeing them again, and (anymore) they’ve been Restored (Spartacus, Lawrence of Arabia) or had CGI/added scenes (The original Star Wars trilogy, ET). I first saw most of the James Bond films on such re-releases, years after they first came out.

2.) You saw them at art houses and second- or third-run movie theaters. (I saw a lot of classy old films at the Dryden Theater at Eastman house in Rochester, N.Y.0

3.) You saw them on TV.

4.) Organizations (Boy Scouts, YMCA, etc.) or film societies would rent them from specialty distributors.

5.) You could get some from libraries. When I lived in Rochester, the public library would loan out 16 mm sound copies of films. I rented a lot of old Superman cartoons, the Star Wars parody “Hardware Wars”, classic old movies, and silent films from them.

6.) You could own the films. Castle films sold excerpted 8 mm and super 8 clips from films – silent, of course. I owned copies of This Island Earth 9which helps explain my Board name), It came from Outer Space, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Other companies, like Blackhawk films, did a brisj business in silent films, which were a natural for this market. Somebody sold the complete edition (well, at least the complete Ajmerican cut) of Metropolis (and quite a bit of other stuff) in the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

7.) A few well-off folks bought bootleg copies of major films. There was an article in the early 1970s magazine The Monster Times about this.

A lot of the time, though, you did without and hoped someone would put the film on TV or run it at a matineee somewhere. At one point I REALLY wanted to see the Harryhausen film the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, which hadn’t been on TV or elsewhere around me for several years, and I tried to get the local venues (colleges, film groups) to show it, without success. I was delighted when it came out on VHS, and it was one of the first films I rented.

I dunno, the VHS/BETA thing took off right about the time I got interested in movies. Most of my early years were spent outside with other kids in the neighborhood, doing boyscout activities and sports and school stuff.
I remember, however, that when we would go to the video store to get a “new” release we’d have to reserve it (in person, you couldn’t call it in) and then wait till it came in from the dozen or so folks ahead of you (I don’t think they carried nearly the number of copies of new titles they do today). Then you had to be on your toes because when the day it was supposed to be available to you you had to be there promptly to pick it up or it went to the next person.
I also remember there being a few VHS players for rent on the wall behind the counter. This was back when VHS players cost several hundred bucks. They also had remotes for them connected by wire to the unit.

Before the VHS renting started, my brother and I would record the audio on cassette tapes of the Carol Burnett Show and listen to it again later that day or the next weekend when we were bored. And we thought we were technologically clever doing that, like no-one else on the planet had thought of it. :smiley:

Ah yes. I remember, in the years before VHS, occasionally Dad would get out the movie projector, set up the screen, and we’d watch things like this (I remember we had a ~10-minute silent “version” of Star Wars), cartoons, and/or home movies.

I also remember watching movies (not necessarily silent) in school, on a bigger (probably 16 mm) projector—educational films, like the kind you see parodied on The Simpsons, and just-for-fun films as well.

Look at #5 from the post you excerpted.

I once showed The Man Who Would Be King at one of my birthdays – full-color, sound version. Not widescreen, of course. I also rented the "Rite of Spring sequence from Fantasia, which Disney was leasing as an educational film. It had an annoying narration over the music, though. I tried to eliminate this by turning off the sound and playing the soundtrack from Fantasia instead, but they made some subtle difference in the cutting or the timing, because it wouldn’t stay in synch.

TV was a different beast back then (late 70s, early 80s).
Because the only place you could watch a movie was at the theatre, when they actually showed one on TV (and remember it had to be on ABC, CBS, NBC, or UHF cause we didn’t have cable yet either) people tuned in and watched.
Ever wonder why Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Planet of the Apes, and The Wizard of Oz are so damn popular? Because they were shown on TV once a year as an “event” year after year. Just like the Rankin-Bass holiday specials and Peanuts holiday specials they were ‘don’t miss, once-a-year’ viewings when there was nothing else to watch. You either watched them then and there or they were gone for another year. No tivo, no vcr, no dvd, nada.

In what format was that? :confused: