The unexpected advantage of VHS tape over DVD

For the last couple of years I kept saying I’m not buying a DVD recorder until the VCR dies. Well – the VCR died, so I went and bought a DVD recorder. In fact I bought a dual-mode unit that has a VCR and a recording DVD in the same box.

I thought I was keeping a VCR option in order to play the many old tapes we have, and perhaps convert them all to DVD when I have some spare time (yeah right). And I thought I’d use the DVD side to dump to disc the many programs we record on hard disk in our cable PVR, just like I used to do with the old cassette unit, may it rest in peace. So guess what… after getting the hang of the new setup, I find myself dumping many programs to cassette tapes, rather than to DVD. Turns out the tape format has an inherent advantage over DVD in some situations; and it is precisely what we tend to think of as a disadvantage: its serial access.

An optical disc is a random access device; the head can skip to any position on its surface instantly. With tape, which is serial, you have to wind it slowly to get to a given spot. When would that be an advantage?

Here’s when: if you record, as I do, multiple chapters of a given TV series – say, half a dozen episodes of Babylon 5 – at one run to a single media, then watch them one at a time, then with a tape you hit Stop at the end of an episode and the next day, or week, or year, you stick the cassette back in and hit Play and the next episode starts immediately. With a disc, you need to find the start of each episode, and while the head can get there in an instant, it can’t tell where an episode begins, not if they were recorded in one run. So you have to start running forward and backward to locate it. That’s why I use the DVD to record single movies, and the VHS tapes for TV series.

Of course, I still haven’t converted a single movie from one format to the other…

2 Responses to “The unexpected advantage of VHS tape over DVD”


  1. 1 charlie

    buy blank tapes. the last remaining company in the world who makes them for import into the US announced late last year they are stopping manufacturing of tapes. i would imagine this would also hit other countries.

  2. 2 Nathan Zeldes

    Good idea, Charlie! Or we could recycle the recorded ones we have stored… way too many of them, in fact.

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