The Magic of VHS: How Low-Res Taught Us to Love Movies

Here's why the imperfections of VHS endeared so many of us to cinema, and why a low-res viewing experience isn't necessarily a bad one.

Videodrome Vhs
Universal Pictures

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video on the power of the VHS tape.


If you are of a certain age, you remember a time when to watch a movie in the comfort of your own home you had to stick a plastic brick filled with magnetic tape into another plastic brick.

These were called Video Home System (VHS) tapes, and the image they produced tended to look absolutely terrible. They were also how many of us fell in love with movies that were, to be fair, never meant to be hacked and slashed into a 3:4 aspect ratio.

They were but flickering facsimiles of the real deal; an imperfect but ultimately vital step in ushering in a new era of cinematic accessibility. VHS was, as the video essay below puts it: not great, but good enough. The static, scanlines, and pan-and-scan were a small price to pay to get to watch Star Wars: A New Hope multiple times.

Except convenience isn’t the whole story. As I said, VHS was the format that introduced many of us to movies. And the low-res gait of VHS tapes had a direct and powerful impact on the viewing experience itself: elevating mediocre visual effects, emphasizing a more intimate feel, and giving folks more privacy to push the boundaries of their movie tastes.

Ultimately, the VHS experience was defined by the format’s imperfections and sometimes, low-res did films a whole lot of good.

Watch “The Power of VHS“:

Who made this?

This video essay is by hbomberguy, a UK-based media critic who primarily dabbles in video essays about video games. You can check out their back catalog of video essays and subscribe to them on YouTube here. And you can find them on Twitter here.

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(Senior contributor)

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