JVC videomovie letter
This is a relic from the late 1980s, JVC Videomovie letter. It is a bundle for amateur videomakers that includes an adapter from Compact VHS to full-size VHS, an instructional video how to shoot a video letter, a padded envelope and a shipping label.
This particular set does not come with blank Compact VHS media. JVC offered a larger set that included three blank tapes along the instructional movie, and another set with just one blank tape. Of course, you could also buy the adapter only as well.
The instructional video explains how this package is supposed to work. You shoot a video about your family vacation with a Compact VHS camcorder, insert the Compact VHS cassette in the adapter, and mail the whole thing to your friends or relatives, or to a granny who lives in a nursing home far, far away.
Seriously, this is such a low-budget production! It shows the granny sitting close to a small TV set in a small room with bare walls — looks like a nursing home to me. She probably sold her house to allow her children and grandchildren travel the world, sending video letters from abroad.
The adapter is motorized, so it comes with a AA battery, which has been dead for a long time. Fortunately some things do not change, and AA dry cell is one of those things. It was introduced in 1907 for “penlight” flashlights by American Ever Ready Company, and is still in use today, unlike VHS, which took just forty years from birth to death.
Anyway, I have got a fresh AA battery. When I insert a camcorder cassette into the adapter and close the lid, the adapter automatically pulls tape from the cassette and spreads it along the edge of the adapter to resemble a full-size cassette, this way it can be picked up and loaded by a full-size VCR.
Notice the red safety pin on the side: it prevents from inserting the adapter into a VCR before the tape loads.
Not everyone likes motorized adapters, I suppose because they can jam, you cannot control the loading process, and if it breaks you cannot load tape manually.
Fully-manual adapters do exist, like this one from Maxell, on which the lid is mechanically connected to the rods that pull out and spread the tape, which is a smart design — you load the tape by closing the cover.
On a motorized adapter the cover is just a cover. Well, not exactly: on the JVC adapter the cover activates a switch that sends a command to the motor to load the tape. There are also three sensors inside the cassette well. To me, it seems unnecessary over-engineered for such a simple thing.
Frankly, I don’t know how VHS could ever work for a travel video. The resolution is so low, anything that has lots of small details is unwatchable. Maybe if you try throwing the busy parts out of focus, concentrating instead on a large object with uniform color. Or some piece of machinery in a close-up. Tutorials, lectures, interviews, these were acceptable topics for VHS I suppose, but travel videos, especially made with a consumer camcorder, where everything is in focus… I think most of these videos turn out poorly.
It is interesting that the JVC’s instructional video does not mention editing or copying. Basically, you shoot some vacation scenes and then send the original tape to the granny. When grandkids get older, and become nostalgic, and start looking for some memorabilia, the granny would kick the bucket, so the family would collect her belongings, getting the tape back.