videocassette recorder (VCR), device that can record television programs or the images from a video camera on magnetic tape (see tape recorder); it can also play prerecorded tapes. A VCR converts the separate audio and video portions of a television or video camera signal to magnetic flux variations to magnetize the tape. The video recording heads move in a direction almost perpendicular to the tape movement, resulting in tracks that run diagonally across the tape width and increasing tape capacity. A camcorder combines a video camera and VCR in a single handheld machine.
The first commercially successful VCR, which used a Betamax format, was introduced in 1975. A competitive format, VHS (Video Home System), was introduced in the same year and became the dominant system. Although both systems use 0.5-in.- (13-mm-) wide tape, they are mutually incompatible; a tape recorded on one system cannot be played on the other. A third system using 0.3-in.-wide (8-mm) tape was introduced in 1984; it is used primarily in camcorders. In 1994 electronics companies agreed on international standards for a digital VCR. The introduction of the DVD (1996) and the recordable DVD (see digital versatile disc) led to a steady shift away from the VCR, and by 2003 rentals of DVDs surpassed VHS tapes.