I grew up in the 80s, I always remember there being VCRs and the ability to record live TV as well as have tapes of movies that were bought or rented professionally.
When did that start? Did it start in the 70s and 80s? Am I to take it there were no video rental stores before the 1970s? If so what did people do for video amusement, were there more movie theaters? I suppose people could use home projectors before then but projectors weren’t really an affordable way to watch movies or recorded TV shows.
I only barely recall Betamax but I have no idea if VCR and Beta were the first real options for people who wanted to record live TV, buy a movie, rent a movie, etc.
Home recording of video is old. 16mm home movie recorders were released in the 1920s, 8mm in the 1930s. Super 8 cameras were fairly common in middle-class households in the late 1960s. This was typically used for making home movies though, not for recording TV programs. Also, though they also had the ability to record audio, the two were not integrated (and the home film projector was often loud anyhow, even if you would have wanted to try to play audio while showing film.)
They had the technical ability to record TV shows very early, but it wouldn’t have been practical and common until betamax/VHS.
The Sony U-matic system was available for consumers with money starting in the early 70s. Bob Crane (of Hogan’s Heroes fame) was an early adopter for his, uh, “art projects”.
Movies and TV shows were mainly available via trading and bootlegging. Schools and such could buy/rent programs but it wasn’t a major market and not something the general public could do. But if you were a Star Trek fan with $, you could buy episodes under the table at cons.
U-matic, in some form, persisted in the TV news business for a long time.
The first commercial distribution of movies and TV shows started in the US in 1977. (The first 3 available on VHS in the US were The Sound of Music, Patton, and MASH*. Make of that what you will.)
The home VCR market grew enough to start making a difference around 1981.
Note that there were two types of videodiscs that were introduced around that time: LaserDiscs and CED SelectaVision (stylus!). I remember that even in the early 80s it was easier to find some movies on those formats than on tape for rental. (The studios felt that those systems lead to less pirating.)
Yes, I knew a moderately rich dude who used a U-matic for TV recording around that time. I believe that the Betamax adapted a fair bit of the U-matic technology, downscaled for consumer use.
Being a technology nerd at heart, I bought the first Betamax that came to market. It was about the size of a small suitcase, with mechanical switches for the tape transport, and though it had a timer for automatic recording the timer was a separate device attached by a bracket that might actually have been a modified Sony alarm clock. I think its maximum recording time was just one hour. Later models ran at half the tape speed and doubled the time, and Sony introduced the L-750 cassettes that gave you a full three hours. They worked really well and it was awesome being able to watch TV shows and movies whenever you wanted. The tape transport mechanism was amazingly complex and inserting or ejecting a cassette involved a good deal of whirring and whining, but it was pretty reliable. The heart of it was an inclined rapidly spinning helical scan video head that wrote narrow tracks diagonally across the tape as it moved by, effectively providing the very rapid tape speed that video bandwidth demanded. Studio recorders worked the same way, using much wider tape on large reels.
Another thing I remember from that era was the movie studios trying to figure out the right price point for selling movies on videocassette. Initially they seemed to based it on the relative production costs of movies vs. records, and priced movies on the order of around $100, which was clearly ridiculous.
ETA: Bah! Forgot the most important point relative to the OP – I think that first Betamax would have been sometime around 1975.
We purchased a VCR while we were living in Chicago so that would have been 1976-1982. We purchased a video camera as well to “film” our young son, but the VCR had a tuner in it and we could record off the air. We recorded a lot of Dr. Who at the time.
We went outside instead, or watched whatever was on TV.
My family had access to a 16mm projector, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library had a catalog of films that could be checked out. I think it was up to an hour for free. My sister and I were allowed to pick an hour of short films for our birthday parties.
Schools used to have AV clubs. I was one of the girls who could thread a projector without being in the AV club. When I was a teacher in the 1980s, we still used projectors in the classroom but there was no tech support. Projector setup and troubleshooting was a handy skill.
Back before people had VCRs, you just watched what was on. And you might have only had three or four channels. If something that you wanted to see came on, and you missed, tough luck. You had to hope it would be re-run at a later date. If you wanted to see a movie, you usually had to go to a theater. Movie studios didn’t have a reason to release films for home viewing because it wasn’t lucrative. Even when VCRs became plentiful, many movie studios didn’t sell copies of their films. They only made them available for rental. Video stores would sell previously rented tapes to make room for new inventory.
My first daughter was born in late 1981. While my wife was pregnant with her we rented VCRs from a video store, and some tapes to watch. So, they were available then but still relatively expensive. They didn’t come down in prices to a reasonable level until a few years later.
I bought a VCR in 1983. It was still unusual at that time - people who were thinking about buying them would seek me out to ask questions about how they worked. Video rental stores were about as uncommon then as they are now - I had to drive about thirty miles to rent a movie.
It’s also important to remember that taping a TV show was quasi-illegal up until 1984. The studios all said it was anyway and they threatened to have people arrested and file lawsuits just as they later would over downloading and bootlegging. How much their threats would be enforced was an open question but it still hung over people’s heads. Then the Supreme Court ruled that taping shows for your own personal viewing was legal.
The episode was “Fade in to Murder”, which aired in 1976. It shows that at that time video recorders were available, but were so expensive they were unfamiliar to most people so could be the basis of a murder plot.