A videocassette recorder (VCR) or video recorder is an electromechanical device that records analog audio and analog video from broadcast television or other source on a removable, magnetic tape videocassette, and can play back the recording. Use of a VCR to record a television program to play back at a more convenient time is commonly referred to as timeshifting. VCRs can also play back prerecorded tapes. In the 1980s and 1990s, prerecorded videotapes were widely available for purchase and rental, and blank tapes were sold to make recordings.
Most domestic VCRs are equipped with a television broadcast receiver (tuner) for TV reception, and a programmable clock (timer) for unattended recording of a television channel from a start time to an end time specified by the user. These features began as simple mechanical counter-based single-event timers, but were later replaced by more flexible multiple-event digital clock timers. In later models the multiple timer events could be programmed through a menu interface displayed on the playback TV screen ("on-screen display" or OSD). This feature allowed several programs to be recorded at different times without further user intervention, and became a major selling point.
Ampex introduced the quadruplex videotape professional broadcast standard format with its Ampex VRX-1000 in 1956. It became the world's first commercially successful videotape recorder using two-inch (5.1 cm) wide tape. Due to its high price of US$50,000, the Ampex VRX-1000 could be afforded only by the television networks and the largest individual stations.
In 1959, Toshiba introduced a "new" method of recording known as helical scan, releasing the first commercial helical scan video tape recorder that year. It was first implemented in reel-to-reel videotape recorders (VTRs), and later used with cassette tapes.
In 1963 Philips introduced their EL3400 1-inch helical scan recorder, aimed at the business and domestic user, and Sony marketed the 2" PV-100, their first reel-to-reel VTR, intended for business, medical, airline, and educational use.
The Telcan (Television in a Can), produced by the UK Nottingham Electronic Valve Company in 1963, was the first home video recorder. It was developed by Michael Turner and Norman Rutherford. It could be purchased as a unit or in kit form for £60, equivalent to approximately £1,100 (over US$1,600) in 2014 currency. However, there were several drawbacks as it was expensive, not easy to assemble, and could record only 20 minutes at a time. It recorded in black-and-white, the only format available in the UK at the time. An original Telcan Domestic Video Recorder can be seen at the Nottingham Industrial Museum.
The half-inch tape Sony model CV-2000, first marketed in 1965, was their first VTR intended for home use. It was the first fully transistorized VCR. Ampex and RCA followed in 1965 with their own reel-to-reel monochrome VTRs priced under US$1,000 for the home consumer market.
The EIAJ format was a standard half-inch format used by various manufacturers. EIAJ-1 was an open-reel format. EIAJ-2 used a cartridge that contained a supply reel; the take-up reel was part of the recorder, and the tape had to be fully rewound before removing the cartridge, a slow procedure.
The development of the videocassette followed the replacement by cassette of other open reel systems in consumer items: the Stereo-Pak four-track audio cartridge in 1962, the compact audio cassette and Instamatic film cartridge in 1963, the 8-track cartridge in 1965, and the Super 8 home movie cartridge in 1966.
In 1972, videocassettes of movies became available for home use.
Sony demonstrated a videocassette prototype in October 1969, then set it aside to work out an industry standard by March 1970 with seven fellow manufacturers. The result, the Sony U-matic system, introduced in Tokyo in September 1971, was the world's first commercial videocassette format. Its cartridges, resembling larger versions of the later VHS cassettes, used 3/4-inch (1.9 cm)-wide tape and had a maximum playing time of 60 minutes, later extended to 80 minutes. Sony also introduced two machines (the VP-1100 videocassette player and the VO-1700, also called the VO-1600 video-cassette recorder) to use the new tapes. U-matic, with its ease of use, quickly made other consumer videotape systems obsolete in Japan and North America, where U-matic VCRs were widely used by television newsrooms (Sony BVU-150 and Trinitron DXC 1810 video camera) schools and businesses. But the high cost - US$1,395 in 1971 for a combination TV/VCR, equivalent to $8,850 in 2020 dollars – kept it out of most homes.
In 1970, Philips developed a home video cassette format specially made for a TV station in 1970 and available on the consumer market in 1972. Philips named this format "Video Cassette Recording" (although it is also referred to as "N1500", after the first recorder's model number).
The format was also supported by Grundig and Loewe. It used square cassettes and half-inch (1.3 cm) tape, mounted on coaxial reels, giving a recording time of one hour. The first model, available in the United Kingdom in 1972, was equipped with a simple timer that used rotary dials. At nearly £600, it was expensive and the format was relatively unsuccessful in the home market. This was followed by a digital timer version in 1975, the N1502. In 1977 a new, incompatible, long-play version ("VCR-LP") or N1700, which could use the same blank tapes, sold quite well to schools and colleges.