So you want to get a video recorder..? 

1 August 2022


JOHN ROSS-BARNARD, Head of Home Video, breaks his golden rule and offers advice


Ariel 60 BBC Years masthead

From Ariel special edition for August 1982

“Now you work for the BBC, so you must know.” How often have we heard those dreaded words!

If you work for the BBC all your friends expect you to be a mine of information, answerable to all their criticisms, and an authority on just about everything from Terry Wogan’s sock size to (and this is where we come in) whether or not to buy a video recorder, and if so, which sort.

If you’ll take my advice, never give advice on video recorders! Let someone else do it for you — the person we in BBC Video call “The Dealer”.

John Ross-Barnard

John Ross-Barnard

In a moment of extreme stupidity I once visited the Motoring Unit in Broadcasting House, London, for advice on which car to buy. They gave me all the information they could, muttered things like “horses for courses” and other such wise homilies; told me to make my own mind up and I did — wrongly, as it happens.

Now which dealer in his right mind is going to rent you a VCR for a week? Surprisingly, a lot. If the one you select won’t, walk out of the shop fast, because he is only interested in making a quick sale now. If you have any problems in the future he will not want to know. The good independent dealer will help and very often will deduct any rental you may have paid from the eventual purchase price.

But what about renting anyway? Now if you want my advice…

Did you know that Radio Rentals, DER and Multibroadcast all sell the same sets and all belong to the same group. Thorn Television Rentals? You didn’t? I was surprised too. They only stock the VHS system so in these outlets you are limited to that particular system. Granada does the same.

The pub pundit will tell you that the other two systems Sony’s Beta and the Philips/Grundig V2000 are being discontinued. At the time of writing all three systems are about to launch new models so not much sign of market withdrawal symptoms there I think.

And this brings me to the point. If you are going to have a VCR, given the changes that are around the corner, the improvements, the alteration in cassette size and stereo facilities I really do recommend you to rent. But do look further than the high street for the best deal.


Sony Betamax video recorder

Sony Betamax video recorder. Courtesy of Bettenburg at the German Wikipedia. Public domain.


Philips V2000 video recorder

Philips V2000 video recorder. Courtesy of Zeitblick on Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0


Sony are even now setting up their own rental chain to combat the VHS hold on the high street. Philips are developing their independent dealer chain along with Grundig to support their system. There are some amazing bargains about if you wish to buy, but quite frankly the machinery is going to change and if you are the sort of person who wants the latest development in video then rent for a short time and when you feel like uprating your model, chuck it back at the dealer. That’s all part of his service.

VCRs are like cars in other ways too. The video manufacturers seem to bring out new models every year, so if you are waiting for the market to settle down before you take the plunge you are going to have a long wait.

And while I’m giving advice let me go the whole hog and really stick my neck out. I am told (we’re back to the conspiratorial) that if you are self-employed, paying tax on schedule D, that all rental charges are deductible every year; however Her Majesty’s Inspector of Taxes is only prepared to write off the purchase of a VCR, tool of the trade or not, over a three-year period. No doubt I shall get challenged on this but it might be worth checking with your accountant.


Image credits: JVC HR-3300EG – tomislav medak on Flickr; CC-BY 2.0. JVC BP-500EG –; CC-BY-SA 4.0. SABA – Atreyu on Wikimedia Commons; CC-BY. Grundig –; CC-BY-SA 4.0.


If you still wish to buy (some people hate rental), ask the dealer about a maintenance contract. A new set of recording heads for a VCR can cost £70-plus [£275 now, allowing for inflation – Ed]. Dust is the dreaded enemy of these machines and excessive dust can destroy a set of heads very quickly.

It always amazes me how many people keep their VCR on the floor under the television. If you are having any building work done in the house or even if the building work is going on next door, keep your VCR well covered.

I didn’t and wrote-off two sets of heads as a result of my neighbours brick dust being carried on the breeze. My dealer was not amused, but then I was renting my machine and he had to pay for the replacements.

Now did someone mention the video disc player? The videodisc, you will be delighted to know, is a great deal simpler. Ignoring developments that may (or may not) occur sometime in the future, let me tell you my view of the disc player, currently available from Philips.


Courtesy of The Centre for Computing History


It’s wonderful! But it’s [sic] future depends entirely on Philips’ ability to convince the public at large that they need a video disc player as well as a video cassette recorder. They are complementary just as the audio cassette is to the gramophone record in a music centre.

Do not confuse or compare the videodisc with the videocassette. They fulfil different functions. Videocassette you can watch and wipe, videodiscs you should keep. Videodiscs are much better quality both in sound and vision than videocassettes.

The signals are produced by a laser beam reflected from the disc, so they are indestructible with normal use, and less than half the price of videocassettes. And this is where the BBC shines too. Andy Finney, a producer in Enterprises, has produced the world’s first videodisc incorporating Ceefax.

Together with BBC Bristol’s Natural History Unit staff, the David Attenborough Video Book of Birds has been produced as the first in a series of a great range of programmes.

When you think about the wealth of material in the BBC Archives you realise the enormous potential we have. There is a surprisingly broad range of programmes in our current catalogue including sport, with Harry Carpenter, David Vine, Ian Botham and others, Rock music, with Toyah at the Rainbow and Deep Purple, the best of “how to” programming, with Barbara Woodhouse, Geoffrey Smith, Delia Smith and Peter Alliss, the bestselling Royal Wedding, the Papal Visit, and now the definitive video recording of the events in the Falklands — Task Force South.


Courtesy of 2ombieboy’s VHS Vault


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Liverpool, Saturday 28 January 2023