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Video Cassette Recorders

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The Video Cassette Recorder or VCR is a piece of electrical equipment that was invented so that we could tape TV programmes that we were too busy to watch, in order to watch them when we were not so busy. However, the only way to ensure that your programme records correctly is to wait for it to start, press 'record', and then wait for it to end and hit 'stop'. By virtue of you having to be there to do this, this process defeats the point of owning a VCR in the first place.

The reason for having to be there is well understood. In order for you to record anything without being there, you first have to programme the machine. This should be easy, but isn't. Generally, the manufacturers of other household appliances tend to provide a broadly generic set of controls. For instance, once you have learnt how to programme one microwave or washing machine, the chances are that you can successfully control a new one, your neighbour's, or even a battered machine in a hostel half way around the world which has had most of its instructions symbols erased.

Not so with the VCR, for the manufacturers delight in introducing ever-more ingenious and complicated systems in order to make it 'easier'. Not only do you have to have the ability to keep one eye on the manual1, one on the remote control, and one on the TV screen, but you need a further set of eyes with 20-20 vision to read the 'Video Plus'2 reference number* at the same time. You also have to make decisions about whether it should be short or long play, whether you want to record the same thing at the same time tomorrow or next week or next month or in some cases next year.

The only defence against the fast-mutating VCR manufacturers is children. There is a universal VCR law is that the younger the VCR programmer, the more likely it is that they will programme it correctly. However, even a four year old3 will still fall foul of the second universal VCR law, which states that the length of the programme being taped is always inversely proportional to the length of recording time left on the tape.

1 The VCR manual will of course have previously been translated from the original Japanese into German by a native Hindi speaker, and thence to English by the printer's brother-in-law's cleaner.2Video Plus is a tool designed to automatically record most of the programme you want to watch, apart from the last five minutes of your programme, thus eliminating the risk of stress caused by cliff hanger endings.3The optimal age for VCR programming.

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