RIP – VHS

December 26, 2008 at 6:10 PM (Uncategorized)

Somebody dig a hole. VHS is officially dead. The last major supplier has called it quits.

Standard DVDs, which is what made VHS obsolete to begin with, can’t be far behind. Pretty soon it’ll be blu-ray and nothing else.

I’m not buying a blu-ray player. I wanted HD-DVD to win the format war, because that standard mandated that one backup copy can be made of an original disc to guard against damage (or whatever). No doubt that’s probably why it lost the format war to begin with. Idiotic movie companies didn’t like that at all and few would release movies in the standard.

When I can no longer buy regular DVDs… Well, unless there’s a way to stream or download, I guess it’s off to The Pirate Bay with me, because, like I said, I’m not buying a damn blu-ray. I refuse to touch one. I don’t do movie theaters anymore, after an incident with an obnoxious child and her far more obnoxious parents.

*Off-topic: Bringing small children to “grown-up” movies and then not keeping them quiet should be a felony punishable with a car battery and a set of jumper cables. I’d happily volunteer for that job.

My first DVD player was a Christmas gift. When I got it home, I discovered that my TV was too old to hook it up. It didn’t have the right connectors. My VCR *did* have the right connectors and it was already hooked to the TV anyway, so I just hooked the DVD player up to that and popped in a disc to see if it was gonna work. Seeing that it seemed to be working, I threw a bag of popcorn in the microwave and started to watch the movie (also a gift).

I’m sorry to say, I wasn’t very impressed.

The picture kept fading in and out, to the point that I couldn’t see it even if I turned “Bright” and “Contrast” all the way up. I was baffled by this. I’d heard all this hype about how DVDs were so clear, much better than watching it on a VCR. Not from what I was seeing.

It couldn’t be the TV. It might have been old but otherwise it worked fine. I thought maybe the disc was bad, so I put in a different one. I’d gotten three of them as gifts along with the player. The second disc did the same thing.

I did a little googling and found out what the problem was. It was some stupid ass copy protection thing built into either the VCR or the DVD player. Or more likely both of them. Hook a DVD player to a VCR, or even two VCRs together, and this is what happens. The picture fades in and out.

Thinking back on it, it’s amazing that nobody called the police. The whole neighborhood must have heard me swearing. Hell, the whole city must have heard it. Or maybe they’d all gotten DVD players that Christmas too and were too busy swearing at them to pay me any attention.

I did find a solution which, if it were possible, only pissed me off even worse. There’s a small converter box designed to address the very problem I was having. You plug the DVD player into the box and plug the box into an old TV through the 75ohm cable jack.

I would have to buy an entirely separate piece of equipment just to watch the DVDs (that I owned) on the DVD player (that I owned). I wanted to beat somebody’s head in with that DVD player. I probably would have boxed it up and returned it as defective, except that I didn’t have the receipt. I didn’t even know where it was bought. Since I couldn’t return the damn player (and I wasn’t going to demand my grandmother hand over the receipt) and since the converter box was cheap, I bought the stupid thing.

That experience started my hatred towards DRM. Even if that hadn’t happened, I’d probably still be against it just on principle, but that experience is why DRM pisses me off so bad.

There are three cases where I’ve tolerated DRM. Windows, because you simply cannot play most video games with WINE on Linux. They crash too damn much. And yes, that’s the only real reason why I still have Windows. Linux does everything else better except for games (yes, I realize that’s not Linux’s fault).

The games themselves usually have that “CD must be in the drive to work” crap, which I always disable by downloading a crack from GameCopyWorld. Since that’s so trivial to get around, I tolerate it. I don’t even know why they use that stupid shit because it does absolutely nothing but irritate people who buy the game. You think a copy downloaded from a torrent needs a CD in the drive? No, so what’s the damn point?

And then there are DVDs, which supposedly have copy protection, though I’ve never noticed it. I have a fair number of DVDs. I’ve been forced to copy and burn nearly half of them to a blank DVD in order to watch them. Why? Because it pisses me off to no end when I BUY a DVD and can’t skip right to the menu to start playing it.

First you have the copyright notice. Then you have the FBI warning. Then you have the Interpol warning. Then you have “The commentary herein does not reflect the views of blah blah blah”. THEN YOU GET IT ALL AGAIN IN FRENCH!! And on nearly half of all discs, fast forward and skip are both disabled.

Not to mention the trailers, and some of those you can’t skip either. Now, I actually like the trailers and usually watch them. But only the first time. When I watch that same movie again six or seven months later, I don’t care to see ads for movies that are themselves old enough to be on DVD. I rented one movie that wouldn’t let me skip any of this and fifteen minutes into it (yes, really), I finally said “fuck this”, ejected it and returned it to the video store as defective.

When the DVD is created, the maker can insert certain “flags”. The flags are commands to the DVD player, including commands to disable fast foward, rewind, skip, menu, pause and anything else they feel like screwing with.

Frustrated with all this bullshit, I once went looking for a new player that would just ignore the flags. Not possible, I discovered. In order to legally decode the DVD encryption, all player manufacturers are forced to agree to comply with those stupid flags. If they don’t, their license to decode the encryption can be terminated.

I am not the sort of person who tolerates much in the way of bullshit. Even if it’s completely out of proportion to what pissed me off and takes 100x more effort, I will not tolerate bullshit. Not being able to skip this crap on DVDs pisses me off and I absolutely am not going to be forced to watch it anyway. The fact that it is trying to force it to happen guarantees that I will not permit it to happen. Yes, I’m stubborn.

Since it is not possible to buy a DVD player that ignores the flags, I found a different way to get rid of them. I use a certain program on my PC to rip the movie and then copy it to a blank DVD, stripping out all the flags in the process. Then I watch that disc instead of the one I bought. That even saved me once when I accidentally dropped a burned DVD and then stepped on it (a bottle of Captain Morgan may or may not have been involved in that incident). If there is any sort of copy protection on those discs, it obviously doesn’t work.

For all of these reasons, I’m sort of sad to see VHS finally go. Despite the generally poor quality of the video and the fact that you had to wind a reel of tape to rewind or fast forward, VHS cassettes were very clearly superior to DVD (and its bastard child blu-ray) in one very important way. It was not possible to prevent someone skipping the stupid ass notices at the beginning.

For that one reason, I’ll mourn the passing of VHS.

R.I.P.

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