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TK's MORNING BUZZ: The Installed Base of VCRs Is Way Too High, the Installed Base of DVD Still Too Small, to Write Off the Video Cassette

29 Oct, 2001 By: Thomas K. Arnold

My column last week on the fact that the lowly videocassette is alive andthriving struck a chord with readers. I received a number of responses from retailers and suppliers alike, echoing my warning to not prematurely write off VHS.

I must admit, as a diehard DVD booster, I certainly would like to believe ina disc-only software universe. A conversation I had about a decade ago withRuss Solomon, founder of the powerful Tower Records and Video chain, helped me formalize my thoughts that tape -- any tape -- is an imperfect medium, a stopalong the way.

VHS has survived as long as it has simply because nothing better came around until DVD. Some might beg to differ, citing the laserdisc, but thelaserdisc's failure to take hold was primarily a marketing problem (pricestoo high, trying to sell the public on a 12-inch disc at a time when another 12-inch disc, the vinyl LP, was being phased out).

To the average Joe, the laserdisc was not better than the videocassette, even though we all know it was. Therefore, let me change my assertion in the preceding paragraph to "VHS has survived as long as it has simply because nothing perceived by the average American to be better came around."

On the audio side, it's the same story. The vinyl LP for years coexisted peacefully alongside 8-track and, later, the audio cassette. The market for tape was based not just on recordability, but portability -- you simplycouldn't take your LP along in your car.

Eight-track was a dreadful monster, with clicks in the middle of songs everytime a track was changed, but it blossomed into a huge industry in large part because of people's desire to hear the tunes they want in the car. Eight-track was soon supplanted by the audiocassette.

When the CD came around in the early 1980s, the vinyl LP vanished almost overnight. At long last, something better had come along, at least in the eyes of the public. The CD also had one other thing going for it -- unlike thevinyl LP it replaced, it could be played in the car.

Still, the audiocassette hung in there, and only recently has begun to vanish with the mushrooming of recordable CDs. This growth was fueled by a similar mushrooming in source material, from Napster to Internet radio stations. The audiocassette's days were numbered; an imperfect medium had finally run out of steam.

And so it will one day with video, with one caveat: We ain't there yet. The installed base of VCRs is way too high, the installed base of DVD, while growing at a rapid clip, is still too small, and recordable DVD is still in its infancy.

Let's give the VHS cassette another couple of years, at the very least. The end of tape is coming, but not just yet.

Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com

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