On Friday, TechWeek Europe reported a historical moment in tech history: the last video cassette recorder (VCR) will roll off the production line this week in Japan.
It marks the end of an era indeed. Especially for those of us of a certain age, who remember the excitement of the VHS recorder arriving in the home. Not only did that box under the TV allow us to watch (and re-watch) all those 1980s brat pack film favourites but, woah, we could actually record live TV (albeit only four channels). It was a revelation!
But then, like the veneer surround on our TV sets, the gloss soon started wearing off in our VHS experiences. Programming the VCR was akin to taking part in a live audition for the Krypton Factor. Dads across the land needed to allow at least 20 minutes before leaving the house to lie down on the floor, pressing buttons, setting the timer and checking the SCART connections.
And then, when you were old enough to stay home alone while your parents went out for the evening, your only option was to watch the programme they were recording. God forbid if you turned over from Casualty to watch a bit of Bullseye and your Mum missed out on Charlie Fairhead’s latest drama.
The arrival of the Personal Video Recorder (PVR) around the turn of the century marked a significant milestone in the history of tech TV. Through clients such as PVR provider Humax, we’ve watched and contributed to the development of the PVR sector, as the UK welcomed the arrival of multi-channel TV, subscription-free PVRs and the UK-wide digital switchover.
At last, we had access to hundreds of channels, we could set recordings with the press of one button and record two, maybe three, channels at any one time (oh yes, and all while watching something else). But things move quickly.
Today, the PVR offers much more than a digital version of the VCR. Now a networked hub of home entertainment, the humble PVR is a gateway to a plethora of on-demand content. My days of actually recording a programme are long gone. Why bother? I’ve got instant access to the likes of Amazon Prime, Netflix, YouTube and a whole host of players.
In today’s on-demand world, we expect to be able to watch whatever we want, whenever we like. That was until my broadband went down last weekend. My dwindling archive of recordings on the PVR offered only a handful of 1980s Dallas episodes that I’d mindlessly set to record a couple of years ago in a moment of nostalgia.
So I picked up the dog lead, grabbed the dog, and walked to the shop to buy a newspaper. We’re living in a world where instant gratification is a standard expectation. But, luckily, we still don’t need to rely on technology for everything.