Guides

How to buy a VCR in 2021

Time to dust off that VHS collection and rewind to 1989.

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Vinyl isn’t the only 80s media making a comeback. All those VHS tapes you sold a decade ago are quickly gaining popularity as nostalgia fuel.

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The VHS community has blossomed to such an extent that there’s even a movement of “Free Blockbuster” franchises popping up on street corners across the U.S.

Free Blockbuster on Instagram

Of course, you’ll need a working VCR to get started on this particular nostalgia trip.

And you can’t exactly run down to the nearest Urban Outfitters and buy one like you could a record player.

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There are a few main things to keep in mind when shopping for a VCR...

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What ports does it have?

Most VCRs connect to your TV with RCA cables, that set of red, yellow, and white ends we’ve all mixed up at least once. Most modern TVs do still have RCA inputs, but they’re pretty limited in their video quality.

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A better option is to find a VCR with a built-in HDMI port. These are most common on VCR / DVD combo players, especially those made after 2008 (when HDMI hit the mainstream). Via the HDMI port, these VCRs can drastically improve a VHS’s video quality.

An HDMI port is also the best option for connecting your VCR to a capture card. This opens up tons of options for digitizing your old home movies and other classics.

Does it have TBC?

VHS tapes are even more finicky than most analog media. They’re very prone to physical deformations and errors.

Timebase correctors (TBCs) are the solution to this problem. A VCR with a built-in TBC will, with rare exception, produce more steady video quality than one without.

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The best way to figure out whether or not a VCR includes a TBC is to do some Googling. Your potential VCR’s exact model number is your best friend in this effort. Check out this running list of VCR manuals, too.

A TBC isn’t necessary for a good VHS-watching experience. But if you have the choice between a VCR with a timebase corrector and one without, the TBC option will likely provide a more consistent viewing experience.

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Who made it?

There are plenty of $15 VCRs available at Goodwill at any given time, but not all of them are even worth that much.

The VCR-makers with the best track records are:

- JVC

- Panasonic

- Sony

- Sharp

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Does it work?

This might seem like a silly question for me to pose here, but it’s important to remember that we’re talking about used equipment. And used equipment that’s known for eating its own media, at that.

So yes, before you purchase a VCR, do your best to test it out. Or at least make sure you have the option to return it if it swallows your tape whole.

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Besides simply putting in a tape and pressing play, you should test out all the physical buttons on both the remote and the VCR.

Peer around the inside of the deck with a flashlight. Is it gunky or rotted? Physical damage is all too common with VCRs, given how many of them have been sitting in attics since 2012.

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And last but certainly not least...

Make sure you’re being charged a fair price. New VCRs haven’t been produced since 2016, but used ones (and good used ones) aren’t rare at all. Unless you’re buying the nicest VCR ever made, you shouldn’t be shelling out hundreds for one.

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eBay is often the best-populated source for browsing VCRs. We’d also recommend checking out:

- Facebook Marketplace

- Craigslist

- Your local Goodwill

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