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An Obituary: VHS Tapes Die of Loneliness at Age 30

The home-entertainment format lived a fruitful life

After a long illness, the groundbreaking home-entertainment format VHS has died of natural causes in the United States. The format was 30 years old.

No services are planned.

The format had been expected to survive until January, but high-def formats and next-generation vidgame consoles hastened its final decline.

“It’s pretty much over,” concurred Buena Vista Home Entertainment general manager North America Lori MacPherson on Tuesday.

VHS is survived by a child, DVD, and by Tivo, VOD and DirecTV. It was preceded in death by Betamax, Divx, mini-discs and laserdiscs.

Although it had been ailing, the format’s death became official in this, the video biz’s all-important fourth quarter. Retailers decided to pull the plug, saying there was no longer shelf space.

As a tribute to the late, great VHS, Toys ‘R’ Us will continue to carry a few titles like “Barney,” and some dollar video chains will still handle cassettes for those who cannot deal with the death of the format.

Born Vertical Helical Scan to parent JVC of Japan, the tape had a difficult childhood as it was forced to compete with Sony’s Betamax format.

After its youthful Betamax battles, the longer-playing VHS tapes eventually became the format of choice for millions of consumers. VHS enjoyed a lucrative career, transforming the way people watched movies and changing the economics of the film biz. VHS hit its peak with “The Lion King,” which sold more than 30 million vidcassettes Stateside.

The format flourished until DVDs launched in 1997. After a fruitful career, VHS tapes started to retire from center stage in 2003 when DVDs became more popular for the first time.

Since their retirement, VHS tapes have made occasional appearances in children’s entertainment and as a format for collectors seeking titles not released on DVD. VHS continued to make as much as $300 million a year until this year, when studios stopped manufacturing the tapes.

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