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The invention of the VCR, or video cassette recorder, in the 1970s gave us the first consumer device which allowed people to record TV shows for viewing at a later time. This capability released us from the bondage of the TV networks scheduling, thanks to the VCRs "time-shifting" capabilities, we could record a program when the networks deemed it would run, but watch at a time convenient for us.

The Sony Betamax (Beta) VCR format ruled in the beginning (1975-1976), until the VHS format eventually succeeded in taking over the market. Beta VCRs, Sony's proprietary format, existed for years and many models were produced, but VHS (Video Home System) won out in the long run and became the standard consumer format for video cassettes, both pre-recorded Hollywood movies and blank tapes for recording at home, and the VCR itself. Even Sony eventually made VHS VCRs.

Over the years, VCR's have grown in features, and shrunk in price. Where the basic VCR, which was also the top-of-the-line VCR, once cost about $1,500, a basic VCR now is affordable by all, with some as low as $40 and used models going for far less, some for only $5 at a thrift store. Top of the line VCRs with more features go for about $100 or so, but what you get now rivals or exceeds what you'd only have seen in video studios back in TV's infancy. Although many people are progressing to the DVD recorder, personal video recorders and hard disk recorders, the VCR still occupies a place in the home of millions of TV viewers and Hollywood movie enthusiasts. The second hand market for old movies on VHS tape is a bargain, typically only costing a dollar or two per VHS movie.

Many people discovered that time-shifting wasn't their number one priority: renting videocassette movies was. Still others want a VCR so they can copy from their camcorders. Even audio recording on the VHS tape gives stereo sound for hours of listening. 

VCR Introduction

The modern VCR reached it's zenith by the year 2000. That is a very good lifespan, about 25 years. Still, by the year 2006, many VCRs are still in use in the home, but many models now contain a DVD player and a VCR together, called a Combo unit, with DVD on one side and VCR on the other.

The standard VCR is an electronic device which weighs about 8 lbs. and is about 15 in. wide, 11 in. deep, 4 in. high and contains an analog television tuner (Channel Coverage: VHF: 2-13; UHF: 14-69; CATV: 1-125 Total Channels: 181), circuit board, video heads/drum and tape transport along with gears, a small electric motor, front panel controls and multi-function display. 


Top manufacturers included Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Toshiba, RCA, Sharp, Samsung and many others. Most modern full-feature VCRs have stereo sound and 4 heads with a variety of nice to have features such as freeze frame, auto clock set, auto channel setup, VCR Plus+, slow motion, search and 60 sec. skip for commercials.

The reason people own a VCR is to:

1) Record and view TV programs live or time delayed (digital to analog converter tuner required since 2009)
2) View pre-recorded movies on VHS tapes
3) Copy camcorder recordings to VHS tape 
4) Record music or any audio source


VCR SETUP - Hookup Diagrams

What you should have in your VCR setup:

VCR, TV, Hookup Cables, Remote control, videocassettes and TV signal source.


Remote Control


VHS Video-cassettes

Connecting Cable
TV signal source can be 
antenna, cable TV or satellite TV


Basic VCR cable hookup for Analog TV (NTSC) reception

This setup only works today if you have any low-power analog TV broadcasts nearby. Otherwise you need a digital to analog converter box to tune TV stations.

Both the VCR and the TV need to be plugged into AC outlets for power. The VCR is powered on using the power button on the VCR or by using the power button on the VCR remote control. 

The VCR needs to be connected to the TV using audio/video cables. Exactly which cable you use and how you connect your components depends on your specific situation. Not everyone has the same components. You may receive your TV programming by Cable TV while someone else gets their TV programming over the air using a rooftop or indoor TV antenna. 

A VCR can be connected to a TV using a single coaxial cable which carries audio and video combined, or several A/V cables which split the audio and video so they are carried to the TV separately. 

If you use a single coax cable, as seen in the drawing above, connect the VCR OUT jack in the back of the VCR to the TV VHF/UHF IN jack on the back of the TV. Be sure to set the TV on channel 3 or 4 when using the VCR as your signal source. Select which channel to use (3 or 4) on the VCR by setting a switch manually, usually in the back of the VCR, or by electronically selecting channel 3 or 4 on your VCR. As there are many different brands of VCR and even many more models, the procedure varies. Consult your owner's manual.

VCR selector switch on back panel. Switches to channel 3 or 4.

Also, connect your TV signal source, such as Cable TV or Antenna to the back of the VCR using a single coax cable connected to the VCR's ANT IN jack. This jack is typically just above the ANT OUT jack going to the TV. Both are silver in color with threads on the jack. The cable is screwed on or sometimes just pushed on.

Most VCR's come with "onscreen programming," which is a series of menus that (at least theoretically) walks you through the various settings and functions of the VCR.


Since 2009, most local TV stations in the U.S. have converted to digital TV broadcasts. This has caused the analog TV tuners in VCRs to become virtually useless as far as tuning in TV stations. One solution is to use a converter box to tune the digital channels, convert them to analog TV signals and then pass on to the VCR for recording and on to the TV.

VCR hookup for digital broadcast TV (ATSC) using converter box

With digital TV broadcasts, the converter box will output on channel 3 (or 4) to the VCR's tuner. Set the VCR when recording to channel 3 (or 4) and the TV likewise.

VCR Programming

VCRs need to be setup for the first time and after a power outage possibly, with basic information like your preferred language (English), time zone (Central/Pacific), date (year/month/day), time of day (hour/min), cable or antenna, receivable channels (scan) and so forth. After this initial setup, you can program the VCR to record TV shows.

Usually you would use the VCR's remote control to do the initial setup, pressing the up/down/left/right arrow buttons within the on-screen menu system. Press OK/SELECT or the like to select the menu item you want. There should be a MENU button on the remote to enter the setup screens.

You must set the clock so the VCR can power on at the proper time of day to record. Do a channel scan, tuner preset or the like to pick up all the channels you can record.

Select ANT for antenna if you're using a roof-top or indoor antenna to get TV programs. Select CABLE if you're using a cable TV set-top-box to get TV programs.

Which channel to record from is a very important step. You can record from LINE input (Input Select) if you have a cable or satellite TV set-top-box connected to the VCR's audio/video inputs (yellow/white/red) or you can record from channel 3 or 4 if connected with a coaxial cable.

What to do if the VCR has no remote control.

You can buy a universal remote and set it to your VCR brand. This may work.
You can order a replacement remote online. Often they are available.
You can search local thrift shops like Goodwill. Possibly look online for local ads. You may find one.
Some VCRs have the main menu buttons on the front panel and some VCRs can utilize the channel up/down and other buttons on the front panel to control the on-screen menu functions.
Always make sure to get the original remote when buying a VCR used. This way you get all the functions.
A universal remote may only give you the main functions and lack the more esoteric functions.

Setting the VCR to record:

There are several ways to setup a VCR to record depending on what capabilities and features the VCR has built in, however this will only cover the manual method.

1. Place a blank tape into the VCR (rewound or in proper location on tape) which has enough space to contain your TV show. See below for recording times.

2. Make sure the VCR clock is set to the correct time.

3. Go into on-screen menus and select TIMER SET or the like for your VCR.

4. Use up/down/left/right buttons on VCR remote to set DATE and TIME for your TV show to start. Then do the same for the ENDING/STOP time. Next select the channel to record or select LINE1. Selecting the LINE input to record from is accomplished various ways depending on your VCR model. For example on a SONY SLV-778HF model VCR, you press the INPUT SELECT button on the remote and you should see LINE1 in place of the channel.

Next select the speed (EP/SL). EP or extended play is slower but gives you more time. SL is faster (uses tape up faster) but gives you better video resolution.

5. When finished programming, press OK/SELECT and power off the VCR.

At the set time, the VCR should power on, record your show and power off.
More recent VCRs will have better aids and prompts to help you setup a timed recording. Some VCRs even have a button on the front panel to setup date/time for recording (dial timer).

VCRs usually have what is called events so you can program multiple shows at multiple times. An 8 event VCR can store 8 different start/stop times for 8 different channels or multiple times on several channels.

Clock set - press menu, clock set, move to each setting, increase or decrease until correct number appears.

Most VCRs (and digital converter boxes) need to execute a channel scan to pickup all available channels.

Program the VCR by setting date, start and end times, channel or line, and tape speed.

Navigation through the on-screen menus is different for each VCR brand. Practice using the remote and see what happens. You're not going to hurt anything.


T-120 Blank Videotape :
Standard Play (SP) speed - 120 minutes (2 hours)
Extended Play (EP) speed - 360 minutes (6 hours)

T-160 Blank Videotape :
Standard Play (SP) speed - 160 minutes (2 hours, 40 minutes)
Extended Play (EP) speed - 480 minutes (8 hours)

Question: Will my older VCR still be able to record with my new digital TV? Just have rabbit ears.
Answer: Yes, but you need a digital to analog converter box, about $40, to allow todays TV broadcasts to record on VCR.
Your antenna connects to the converter box and the converter box can connect to the VCR using coaxial cable or the
RCA (yellow video and white audio) cables. This allows recording on the VCR. Tune channel on the converter box.
For playback, connect VCR output (coaxial or RCA) to the TV (coaxial or RCA) and select on the TV, the source for the VCR.

Question: Can I record on VCR if I only have digital cable TV?
Answer: Yes, most digital cable TV set-top-boxes will have the yellow video and white audio outputs. Connect these using RCA cables to the VCR's RCA inputs and select the LINE input to record from on the VCR. This will record any show you can receive on the cable box to the VCR, only in standard definition video resolution, not high-definition.

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