The first time I can remember noticing that video tape recorders even existed was during a Sunday football game in the early 1970s. The announcer said that they had a new gadget they wanted to demonstrate, and proceeded to show an instant replay by video tape. I purchased my first VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) in 1981. It had three speeds, monophonic sound, and a set of tuners which had to be manually set to the desired stations by turning a small thumbwheel for each tuner. It had a remote control, but I never used it because the controls were also on the front panel of the VCR in very large sized buttons (about 8 buttons). The unit cost more than $1,000 and lasted about 10 years before I had to replace it. Now, VCRs can be purchased for about $500, with high fidelity stereo sound even at the slow speed, numerous features, so numerous in fact, that the remote control is absolutely necessary.
If you go to a home electronics store, you are faced with an entire wall of VCRs to choose from. Most of them are VHS format, with a small number of Super-VHS, Hi-8, and maybe even a digital camcorder. What to do? Fortunately, the technology for VCRs has settled down, and most units are quite reliable, with good quality picture and sound. The tape handling mechanism is complicated, since the tape has to be pulled out of the cassette to be played and recorded on, unlike audio cassettes. VCRs are the most repaired consumer home electronics component there is, due to the problems caused by playing video store rental movies. So, have your VCR cleaned at least once a year, or do it yourself. Like laserdisc players, it boils down to what features you are willing to pay for. Stereophonic sound capability is fundamental, so I would not even look at units with monophonic sound. Thereafter, most of the VCRs have visual search forward and reverse, and still frame. The more sophisticated units have the ability to search at several speeds, move the picture forward frame by frame at several slow speeds (for watching in slow motion), and the freeze frame feature will be steadier on the screen, without visual interference (flickering horizontal white streaks). There may be special digital effects which come in handy if you edit home videos. Check out the remote control for ease of use in operating the VCR’s functions.