In case you haven't heard, VHS videotape is dead.
Nobody manufactures VHS videotapes anymore. The major chain stores, such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, stopped selling VHS recorders and players some years ago. Not long after, the manufacturers of videotapes stopped manufacturing them, due to a lack of sales outlets and a lack of sales.
The same companies stopped manufacturing VHS video recorders as well. The reason was the same: declining sales. However, several manufacturers still produce combination VHS and DVD recorders, designed to copy your old VHS tapes to modern CD or DVD disks.
In October, what is believed to be the final truckload of VHS tapes rolled out of a Palm Harbor, Florida, warehouse. You may find videotapes in stock in various stores for several more months, but there are no more VHS tapes left in the supply chain. Wal-Mart and other major department store chains stopped selling VHS videotapes a few years ago although you might still find some for sale at the Dollar Store, convenience stores, and at truck stops across the country. Be aware that these videotapes are for sale "as long as supplies last." The wholesalers have since moved on to other products, so retail sales will soon dry up.
What does this mean if you have a stash of old family videos on VHS tapes? Well, there is no emergency as the VHS-to-DVD copiers will probably be around for a few more years. VHS tapes all deteriorate slowly over time, but they will probably still be playable for another ten years or so, assuming you can find a VHS player. The problem is that the analog video signals stored on VHS slowly deteriorate, something the engineers refer to as "noise." If you copy a tape to CD today, the result will probably be good. You will probably obtain a clear video.
The problem arises when you procrastinate. Every year, a bit more noise will be introduced to every VHS video tape in your library. The result will not be dramatic if you wait a year or two. However, if you wait 5 or 10 or 20 years, the result is cumulative: every year you procrastinate will result in more and more noise introduced to the tapes. Copying a VHS video tape to DVD twenty years from now will result in a much "noisier" video than copying the same tape today.
Unlike the analog VHS videotapes, DVD disks are digital and do not suffer from video degradation with the passage of time. There may still be an issue of finding suitable DVD players some years from now, but the signals on DVD disks should still be playable for many years.
DVD disks do not last forever, however. The disks themselves will suffer from some internal chemical changes and will deteriorate for different reasons than those of VHS tapes. Even so, the life expectancy of a DVD disk is significantly longer than that of a VHS videotape. When copied, the video on a DVD disk will not have induced noise like a VHS videotape.
While not perfect, engineers agree that DVD disks last a lot longer than do VHS videotapes. The signals stored on that disk twenty years from now will be much clearer and have much less induced "noise" than the same video stored on VHS videotape. By that time we all will be copying to Blu-Ray disks or perhaps to some other as yet unknown technology that will eventually replace Blu-Ray.
Do you have old family videos stored on VHS? The time to copy them to DVD is NOW.
If you do not have a VHS-to-DVD copier already, you might think about purchasing one before supplies dry up. Prices range from $75 and upwards. I'd suggest that you purchase one soon as the VHS-to-DVD copiers probably won't be available within a few years.
Preserving old videos is about the same as preserving old digital data: it is easy to do as long as you make sure that you do not wait too long. Always copy your old files and videos to new technologies as soon as it is cost-effective to do so.
I'd suggest that the time is now.
For more information about the death of VHS, look at the recent article in the Los Angeles Times at http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-vhs-tapes22-2008dec22,0,5852342.story.