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Deliberate VHS Quality

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So you're watching a new movie or music video on your favorite video streaming service on your brand new flatscreen Smart TV, and what's this? The screen goes blue, with "Play" in digital white letters in the top left corner of the screen, and the ensuing video quality is grainy and full of tracking lines. Occasionally, even the audio may sound warped or distorted. Is this just someone uploading some 1980's VHS tape footage to YouTube? No, it's Deliberate VHS Quality. This is when, to achieve a certain aesthetic, something is deliberately filmed in grainy VHS quality to make it appear older as a stylistic choice.

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Usually when this shows up, the creator either achieves this through a computer effect such as a video filter, or they find an actual degraded VHS video cassette to film on; the more warped the better, as it wouldn't be as obvious if they used a well-preserved tape. One thing for younger viewers who don't remember the VCR to note is that actual picture quality on VHS could vary; it wouldn't have been considered at least passable as a video format for more than twenty years, even beating out the technically superior Betamax and LaserDisc, had it always looked so warped. Usage of this trope can be a type of Stylistic Suck, as creators will often purposely use a worn out tape, use a VCR with dirty recording heads, or record from one tape to another back and forth with two VCRs, to get the desired effect. Since the 2010's, this has become a way of establishing a time period as being in the 1980's or 90's, in much the way filming in black and white has for the early to mid 20th century, and can be meant to invoke nostalgia.

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When used in a Found Footage film it can add a horror element by making it seem more authentic, though these days this is more likely to be done with a smart phone camera, unless it's supposed to be a Period Piece.

See also: Retraux, Deliberately Monochrome, Raster Vision. Related to Decade-Themed Filter.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Film - Animated 
  • Some scenes in Despicable Me 3, mainly those that involve Balthazaar Bratt, were shot in this quality. Justified, as he was a famous child star in the 80's.

     Film - Live-Action 
  • Kung Fury looks like it's from a heavily used VHS tape from 1985; tracking issues even interrupt the opening fight the main character has with a robotic arcade machine, obscuring how he ends up in outer space suddenly in the middle of the fight.
  • The Found Footage horror anthology series V/H/S uses this technique to great effect.
  • The promotional material for Thor: Ragnarok was intentionally produced to resemble the cheesy movie trailers featured on VHS rentals in the 80s and 90s, including the warped sound and grainy film quality.
  • The Paranormal Activity films dabble in this although released solidly in the DVD era, particularly the third film which is actually set in the 1980's and thus looks like it was filmed on a VHS camcorder.
  • The film No was shot on Sony U-matic magnetic tape in order to make it look more like footage from a television news report from 1988, which is when the film is set.
  • TRON: Legacy used this in several flashback moments, like Flynn's last address to Encom. Again, Justified as the scenes were set in 1989, and an Exploited Trope as the grainy VHS style downplayed some of the Uncanny Valley aspects of the "de aging" CGI
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    Live-Action TV 

     Music Videos 
  • This trope is extremely popular within the Synthwave genre, since the genre is all about striving for a 1980's aesthetic. Some examples:
    • The opening bumper to a typical video on the YouTube channel New Retro Wave starts like it's being played on a VCR, before going to a still image for the rest of the song.
    • The video for "Drive // Ride" by IVERSON starts like someone pressed play on a VCR.
    • Timecop1983's video for "Let's Talk", "My First Crush", "Secrets"...and the majority of their other music videos.
    • The opening logo on music videos for the synthwave band Gunship.
    • Michael Oakley's video for "Left Behind" flirts with this; it starts like an old video file being played on a 90's computer, and while mostly in HD quality does include tracking lines at different points of the video like a VHS tape.
  • Dark Wave group Holygram's videos for "Still There", "She's Like the Sun" and Acceleration. They are quite fond of this effect.
  • The video for Honey Beard's Dreamless Sleep starts like it was recorded off a late 90's or early 2000's VCR.
  • The lyric video for "Save Me" by Void of Axis
  • As the movie itself, the main theme from Kung Fury (David Hasselhoff's "True Survivor") was filmed in the same way than the movie, but with some parts refilmed with Hasselhoff as protagonist.
  • The music video for the song "Youth" by Numbxers.
  • Metal band LANTVRN's video for "Hidden Doors" plays on an old CRT television for bonus authenticity points.
  • Vaporwave artist Ian Felpel's video for "N O T H I N G".
  • Modesta's appropriately titled "VHS".
  • The video for Blue Helix's "Anodyne" boasts being recorded completely with analog video equipment.
  • Lebanon Hanover's video for Petals was recorded on a VHS camcorder.
  • Coldkill's lyric video for "We Believe" (a cover of an old Ministry song) uses this trope, and even has the lyrics in the blocky white VCR font.

     Video Games 
  • Death Road to Canada has scratches and film grain effects to further the "old zombie movie" vibe. These effects can actually be turned off if one so wishes.
  • Katana ZERO is framed as videotapes in many ways: the stage select is a set of tapes, each death gets rewinded, and the pause effects and numerous glitches are likewise taken straight from VHS tech.
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon has loading screens with tracking lines and 4:3 resolution, in keeping with its 80's sci-fi B-movie theme.
  • Resident Evil 7 Videotapes you find that Ethan can play look somewhat like this. Not quite as extreme as some examples (there aren't any tracking lines), but the video does have a filter that makes it look grainy and noisier than the regular gameplay.
  • Power Drill Massacre's overall visual style makes the game look like the player is watching a videotaped horror movie, complete with its menus using blocky monospaced font that people who lived in the VHS era's heyday might be familiar with.

     Web Video 
  • James Rolfe is fond of this effect, and uses it especially in his Cinemassacre Rental Reviews.
  • The YouTube channel Meat produced creepypasta-esque vids which turned out to be either an ARG or an art project, and at least one of which (Floatsam and Jetsam) used Deliberate VHS Quality.
  • In a similar vein, The horror channel Local 58 has many videos with this effect (speeding up and down, audio distortion), as they're supposed to be clips and Found Footage from an old TV station.
  • The YouTube Poop Adventures In Hyrule video "Hyrule Visits 1993" by iteachvader achieves this effect with a video filter in Sony Vegas.
  • Used as a visual effect on a static image on the Youtube video with the official audio of "America Online" by The Midnight.
  • As part of a stealth ad campaign for Toy Story 3, a fake commercial for Lots-o'-Huggin Bear (the main villain of the movie) made to look like it came from a very degraded 80's VHS tape recorded off the TV was posted to YouTube.
  • Night Mind likes to pull off a special project each Halloween, which includes capturing the feeling of a particular style.
    • In 2017, his second video on the SCP Foundation was treated as an exploration of an old VHS-tape he found, complete with VHS-quality footage, to create the story of a 90s company called "Dilley's" leaking SCP-information through the use of a bargain-bin tape.
    • In 2018, viewers were allowed to submit horror work under the theming of "90s Nightmare". Not only were many short-films filmed in VHS quality, but the Show Within a Show these projects were shown on off in, "Three Guys For Six", was also treated as a work straight from the 90s, again, in this same quality.
  • Nerdix made their own VHS trailer for Captain Marvel as it was really made in 1995 (the time supposely Carol Danvers goes to Earth in the movie), with some scenes from Samuel L. Jackson movies from The '90s, and properly called Captain Marvel 1995.
  • Tom Scott's video "How The 90s VHS Look Works" uses this trope while explaining how analog videos acquire that distinctive VHS quality.
  • ContraPoints frequently uses this tactic during transitions.
  • KaiserBeamz uses this in the intro for his Kyoto Video series as a shout-out to the old days of anime tapes.
  • This effect is seen in the Some Jerk with a Camera video "ABC Goes to Disney World!" in a fake infomercial for "Disneylandia", before Jerk tears the low quality off the screen and elbowing the letterboxes away. According to the commentary, this is done by burning the scene onto a DVD and copying it between two actual VCRs about six times before putting it back onto a DVD.

     Western Animation 

     Real Life 
  • With this handy VHS camcorder app (and several others like it) you too can make videos on your smart phone look like they were recorded on a 30 year old camcorder. Superfluous tracking lines included.
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