How to Buy a Used VCR

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How to Buy a Used VCR

In the 1950s, television stations faced the problem of broadcasting shows across multiple time zones. Videotape recording, or VTR, developed out of this need. With VTRs, television stations could record a live newscast on the East Coast and rebroadcast it three hours later for the West Coast. The first VTR was introduced in 1956 and came with an expensive price tag, making it suitable for commercial use only. Other VTRs followed until Sony developed the videocassette system in 1971. VCRs, or video cassette recorders, replaced the open reel VTR system, and by 1975, the home VCR market was rapidly growing.

Sony stopped the production of Betamax VCRs, and years later JVC stopped making stand-alone VHS VCRs. Since then, new machines are found, but at high prices. Consumers are more likely to find used VCRs or new VCR and DVD combination machines on the market. Whether buyers are looking to replace old VCRs to play videos, wanting to use the VCRs to record old video cassettes to another medium, or they are hobbyists wanting to maintain a working collection, they have a range of options from both brick and mortar stores and online on websites such as eBay.

Basic VCR Features

Although VCRs are a bit obsolete, the more recent models of VCRs come with similar basic features. These include audio, speed settings, and tracking. When buying a used VCR consumers should consider Hi-Fi audio, number of heads, jack placement, and a few other key features.

Hi-Fi Audio

Commercially recorded video cassettes have Hi-Fi sound tracks. Hi-Fi audio capability on a VCR provides a better quality listening experience.

Number of Heads

A VCR needs at least two video heads for recording and two for playback. A basic VCR has two heads, but four heads for playback produce a higher quality picture.

Jack Placement

Input and output jacks on a VCR are found in the rear panel or the front. Placement on the front panel allows for easier hook up to another machine, such as a DVD recorder.

Speed Settings

A VCR typically comes with speed settings for recording. The SP, or short play, setting is the fastest recording speed, meaning more tape is used for a one-hour recording. The LP, or long play, setting is a medium speed. Lastly, the EP, or extended play, setting is the slowest speed. Recordings in EP can be up to six hours long. Since they are extra long recordings, the image and sound is not the highest quality.


Video cassettes have a control track which helps the playback heads physically sync with the recording on the tape. For the best image quality, the tracking control adjusts the proximity of the tape and the playback heads.

Advanced VCR Features

Depending on the intended use for VCRs, consumers may want VCRs which do more than play back tapes and record television shows. Higher end VCRs are still available and have more features to consider.

Erase Heads

In addition to the heads used for playback and recording, VCRs have erase heads. The simplest version erases the entire width of the tape. However, the more advanced erase heads, also called flying erase heads, are able to erase just a band of tape. Instead of snow and noise between segments, flying erase heads allow for clean breaks between recorded segments.

Super VHS

Super VHS, or S-VHS, is a tape format which provides sharper image quality than standard VHS. S-VHS-capable VCRs play and record VHS tapes.

Time Base Corrector or Digital Noise Reduction

Also known as TBC or DNR, this feature was included in some VCRs. TBC was meant to correct the tape signal to make it more stable. The result is straighter lines in the images. Also, classic video cassette tapes frequently have some noise or grains in the recorded pictures. DNR technology cleared these artefacts. The VCRs with TBC or DNR capability were considered high-end models for hobbyists and professionals who wanted to also edit recordings.

Shuttle Control

In the early days of VCRs, users could only rewind or fast-forward a video at one speed, and then they had to guess at where to stop the tape. Multiple rewind and fast-forward speeds allowed people to step through a video, stopping exactly where they wanted. This feature is useful for both recording videos as well as playback.

Other Factors to Consider When Researching Used VCRs

In addition to features, shoppers should consider other certain factors when conducting research on used VCRs. Factor to consider include VCR format, recording standards, information available, and other factors.

Available Manuals

While VCRs sometimes come with on-screen programming, manuals also helps new users understand all the features available. Since used VCRs vary in age from just a decade to over three decades, not all manuals are found online. Hard copies of manuals are indispensable.

Availability of Used Machines

If consumers are interested in keeping a VCR for as long as possible, there is a great deal of information on the Internet about how to fix a VCR, whether it is new or old. Fixing a machine may be more financially beneficial as opposed to buying a used one, depending on availability. Consumers may also want to consider the popularity of the VCR make and model they are considering for purchase, in the event that parts may be needed to fix it down the line.

Betamax or VHS VCRs

Sony introduced the Betamax VCR format in 1975. The recording quality was good, and the price was more affordable than any video machine that came before. However, Sony kept a tight hold on the patent, prohibiting other companies from producing VCRs. In 1976, JVC came out with a competing and incompatible format. VHS video cassettes allowed for longer recording times, initially making the format appealing to consumers. JVC also licensed the technology, which allowed other companies to make VHS compatible VCRs. The competition drove prices down, and VHS ended up the most popular format on the market.


Though VHS is a VCR format, the standard for recording and compressing the video signal changes from country to country. NTSC is the compression format which is sold throughout North America and most of South America, while PAL is the compression format sold in much of the rest of the world. If buyers are purchasing a VCR from overseas, they need to take notice of the format their country uses.


Since part of the purpose of VCRs is to allow people to record television shows for viewing later, there are tuners integrated into the system. Some of the more recent models have cable-ready tuners, meaning they did not require the use of a converter box; however, with the move from analogue to digital television, these tuners are now useless. Users who want to record television shows or watch one show while recording another, need to use a digital converter box to unscramble the signal.

Output to Television and Stereo System

In addition to tuners, the output jacks on a used VCR are important for connecting the machine to a television set. An HDTV usually comes with both HDMI and RCA connections. Shoppers should check their televisions to make sure of the connections.

How to Buy Used VCRs on eBay

Used VCRs are found in brick and mortar stores which carry used items; charity shops are a good place to look as well. They are also sometimes found at garage sales and flea markets. Some brick and mortar electronics shops carry refurbished VCR and DVD combination machines. Online, used VCRs are found on sites which sell used electronics, such as eBay. Once you decide on the format and features of the VCR you are interested in buying, you can start searching the listings on eBay.

Finding a Seller

Reputable sellers have a ribbon icon next to their name after several successful transactions. Buyers are encouraged to leave feedback, positive or negative, after a transaction with a seller. Leaving feedback permits future buyers to know the quality they can expect from a seller. Further, if the seller is known for quality, used VCRs, future buyers can be rest assured that the products are exactly what they expect to get.

At any point during the shopping or buying process you can ask the seller a question directly from their seller's page.


Introduced in the late 1990s, DVD players quickly gained popularity with consumers. Although production of Betamax VCRs for the United States ceased in 1998, the rise of DVDs impacted the global VHS market. The subsequent decline of VHS eventually led to a halt in overall production of VHS VCRs by the year 2008. While a very few new VCRs are made for overseas markets, consumers can find quite a few used machines available on eBay and other shopping venues. While NTSC or PAL format is easy to check, consumers need to do a little more research to determine if their HDTVs have enough input jacks to work easily with the VCR models which they are considering to purchase. Once shoppers decide upon the features which are important to them, as well as a comfortable price point, they can find a used VCR make and model that works for them on eBay.

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