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Deliberate VHS Quality

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Deliberate VHS Quality is when, to achieve a certain aesthetic, something is deliberately filmed in grainy VHS quality to make it appear older as a stylistic choice. Often in videos that try to mimic the quality of a VHS tape, you'll see a blue screen at the beginning, with "PLAY" in blocky white letters at the top left corner of the screen, and the ensuing video quality will be grainy and full of tracking lines. Occasionally, even the audio may sound warped or distorted. By definition, a video using this trope will have been created sometime after VHS was supplanted by the DVD, so the late 2000's at the earliest.

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The creator either achieves this through a computer effect such as a video filter, or they find an actual VHS video cassette to film on; usually, the more warped and degraded the better, as it wouldn't be as obvious if they used a well-preserved tape. After all, VHS wouldn't have been considered at least passable as a video format for more than twenty years, even outselling formats with superior image quality like Betamax and LaserDisc, had it always looked so warped. Particularly with the advent of Hi-Fi, picture and especially sound quality on VHS improved a lot compared to when it first debuted; and of course, professionally-made VHS tapes typically looked and sounded better than a tape recorded off the television, which itself would typically look better than something recorded with a camcorder. As such, usage of this trope can be a type of Stylistic Suck, as creators that want the look of an aged and degraded VHS tape but are still looking for a certain level of authenticity 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. Video filters usually already have the video quality be exaggeratedly bad even for VHS. Other clues that a filter was used instead of the real thing include when the word "PLAY" on the top left corner of the screen never goes away, as on most real VCRs it only stays for a few seconds, and if the video is widescreen and not formatted for a square-shaped CRT television (as actual rips from a VHS tape will usually be)note .

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Since the 2010s, this has become a way of establishing a time period as being in the 1980s or '90s, in much the way filming in black-and-white became shorthand for the early-to-mid 20th century, and can be meant to invoke nostalgia.

When used in a Found Footage film and/or Analog Horror 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. May be combined with an Aspect Ratio Switch to show a 4:3 frame, as VHS only ever supported that Aspect Ratio.note 

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See also: Retraux, Deliberately Monochrome, Raster Vision, Static Screw, and Cassette Futurism. Related to Decade-Themed Filter. Contrast Crystal Clear Picture.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Downplayed in A 2019 April Fools commercial for the Honda Passport. It's in 4:3 ratio, has slightly muted colors, and a narrow column slightly brighter than the image on the far left. However, the quality looks more like a LaserDisc or a well-restored analog master tape.
  • A 2020 Christmas commercial for Liberty Mutual plays a VHS-quality home video from 1990 of a child receiving insurance for Christmas. It doesn't look much lower-quality than the scene leading into the home video, other than the camera filter, a more jagged frame rate, and a bit of pixellation near the end. The commercial is quite tongue-in-cheek, since it depicts children getting more excited about insurance than a bicycle, and the narrator admits the video is an attempt to appeal to invoke nostalgia, so it's implied the tape isn't even a real VHS tape in-universe.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Censor is this as The Movie. The tapes that Enid watches are naturally 80s quality, although it's a mark of Enid's deteriorating sanity when it starts to slip into real life, with rewinding, pause, and other video qualities.
  • 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. The use of U-matic tape allowed the filmmakers to seamlessly incorporate actual Chilean news footage from the era.
  • 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
  • The director of WNUF Halloween Special went so far as to shoot the film digitally, copy it to VHS and then copy it to another VHS tape 5 times in succession, in order to achieve the level of degradation appropriate for a VHS tape from the 80s.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule looks like a cheap public access TV show viewed from a VHS recording. To really sell the aesthetic, the show will occasionally display scanlines and cut into some unrelated scene to make it look like was recorded over another show.
  • Season 1 of The Eric Andre Show was shot in 4:3 resolution using cheap vintage cameras to capture the feel of No Budget public access shows. They had to stretch out the $500 they were given to produce the show.
  • This trailer for season 3 of The Good Place is a parody of Touched by an Angel and its ilk and has deliberate VHS quality and skipping.

    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. Perhaps it's from one of those rare high definition D-VHS tapes.
    • Ollie Wride's "Back to Life" lyric video employs this along with most of the other common synthwave tropes.
    • Ace Marino's video for "Summer" was filmed using a VHS video filter on a phone, and as a result has a vertical rectangular frame.
    • Dreamhour- Eat.Saul.Riot released by New Retro Wave records uses the VHS look in the video with lyric subtitles.
    • “Those Days” by Geo Vac uses this trope to great effect, pairing it with 80s technology and fashion throughout to make it seem like the video really was made in the 1980’s.
    • “Runes” by Dead Roses Society is an instrumental track that uses this technique in its video, and is even burdened with occasional tracking issues.
  • Within modern-day Dark Wave, Goth Rock, Post-Punk and other genres in the Goth scene music videos are filmed on VHS increasingly often, perhaps because their style of music dates back to the 1980's and many modern bands are trying to emulate bands from that era, in part by having their videos look like home-made underground music videos from back then.
    • 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
    • Lebanon Hanover's video for Petals was recorded on a VHS camcorder. They didn't go out of their way to make it look degraded either, somewhat unusually for music videos that use this trope.
    • 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.
    • "Hands" by HAPAX looks like it was recorded on a VHS tape that was in pretty bad shape.
    • Boy Harsher uses it in the video for "Face the Fire".
    • The video for "Calm" by Secret Shame is filmed like someone brought a camcorder to one of their concerts.
    • On one occasion this was done completely on accident by a post-punk band actually from the era being imitated: Joy Division's one and only music video made during their lifetime, that for "Love Will Tear Us Apart," was handled very poorly in production, resulting in the footage dipping in quality numerous times and creating a brown, solarized effect indicative of tape degradation. Even then, the parts that aren't browned out look very muddy due to the low quality of the recording equipment, which in combination with the dips in quality lend the video a distinctly gritty look that both perfectly captures the feel of an old VCR recording and fits the dark tone of the song.
    • The music video for SYZYGYX's remix of "Le Moment" by Antipole consists of VHS footage of a dance club.
    • The video for Cabaret Grey’s “Almost Frantic” looks like it was filmed on a video cassette that had varying picture quality.
    • The video for “Guilty and Gifted” by SDH was filmed using a real VHS camcorder.
    • Drab Majesty uses this effect fairly regularly in their music videos, often paired with other effects and filters giving the whole video a distorted feel.
    • Twin Tribes uses the effect in their video for “Tower of Glass,” paired with a red filter.
    • The Belarussian darkwave band Molchat Doma used a VHS filter in the lyric video for “Zvezdy”.
    • Minuit Machine’s video for “Don’t Run from the Fire” starts with “PLAY” in the upper left corner, and uses this as well as other effects to create atmosphere.
    • French coldwave group Hante uses this effect as well as other filters on their video for “Blank Love.”
    • The lyric video for “E Tu Reagisci” by Ascending was recorded on a very worn VHS tape. In an interview the singer said that he filmed his video this way as a tribute to underground music videos of the 1980s by bands such as Severed Heads.
    • The video for “Закладка” by Russian post-punk band Ploho incorporates a VHS filter over modern footage paired with actual VHS footage from the early 1990s, being a song about the tumultuous years immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union.
    • “Преступление” by the Russian-Austrian post-punk band Скубут recorded their music video with a camcorder app, making sure to leave the timestamp from 2020 in the corner.
  • Indy synthpop group Choir Boy uses this effect in several of their music videos.
  • 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.
  • This is used briefly in the video for “Skibidi” by the Russian group Little Big. The lead singer, who occupies a bizarre alternate universe where everyone constantly does the same dance, passes by a stack of old CRT televisions playing an exercise program in VHS quality, with the exercisers (dressed in 80s style latex and leg warmers) doing the Skibidi dance.
  • “Feels Like Summer” by Childish Gambino uses this in its animated music video, with noticeable tracking lines and a fuzzy picture quality.
  • The video for the official audio of Galantis, Ship Wrek and Pink Sweat$ collaboration “Only a Fool” was done in VHS quality, although also widescreen.
  • Dua Lipa’s video for “Levitate” has a 1980s aesthetic, with lyrics in stylized 1980s fonts against a space background, and of course the look of being recorded on a a VHS tape.
  • The video for Roosevelt’s “Montreal” looks like a low budget music video from the early 1980s, with abstract psychedelic backgrounds and authentic VHS quality.

    Video Games 
  • Control: The Oldest House, the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control, does not let people bring in technology invented after the 1980s (smartphones explode in people's pockets). So despite the game taking place the same year it was made (2019), video recordings in the Oldest House have to be on either physical film reels or VHS tapes. The latter is used in particular for the "Threshold Kids" show, and the VHS visual artifacts help make the episodes even creepier than they already are thanks to their content.
  • 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.
  • Most of the games created (and even published) by Puppet Combo, has this quality effect. Mostly due to being Retraux games that heavily take influence from PSX and 70s/80s/90s-era slasher and grindhouse films, thus their VHS filter. Although they can be turned off in some games if the VHS gets a little too disorienting.
    • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • A Summer's End — Hong Kong, 1986 leans into its 80s aesthetic hard and makes use of a fake VHS effect on the game's opening (featuring the word "PLAY") and ending sequences ( both featuring the word "STOP"), as well as a brief use to bookend the portion of the game from Sam's point of view, with a "REW" and "FF" to symbolize the game revisiting past events. The game's official also makes use of VHS effects.

    Web Animation 
  • A Fox In Space is made to look and sound like a forgotten animation series from the late '70s or early 80s, complete with faded color and fuzzy, heavily compressed audio.

    Web Video 
  • Vaporwave songs usually have their music videos and/or images under VHS filters in reference to the 80s and 90s eras; as with Synthwave, it is part of the aesthetic.
  • 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.
  • Captain Disillusion uses VHS quality a few times, often combined with an Aspect Ratio Switch to 4:3
  • ContraPoints frequently uses this tactic during transitions.
  • James Rolfe is fond of this effect, and uses it especially in his Cinemassacre Rental Reviews.
  • KaiserBeamz uses this in the intro for his Kyoto Video series as a shout-out to the old days of anime tapes.
  • Linus Tech Tips: When Linus inserts an LTO tape into a drive in "We got a $5,500 TAPE DRIVE!", the screen switches to 4:3 and looks like it was shot on a camcorder from The '90s.
  • The horror channel Local58 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 Monument Mythos follows a similar aesthetic with its videos, with the occasional jump up to the early days of the internet in levels of quality. This is mostly due to the bizarre technological progress of the alternate timeline the series is set in, where several technologies stalled out past the eighties because of multiple incidents, including technological flagbearer MAIZE's facilities being attacked by an entity they perturbed.
  • 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.
  • Mother's Basement, a Youtube channel dedicated to commenting on anime, uses this effect in their Public Service Anime videos.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The opening logo to videos by ThePrimeThanatos deploys this, starting like a VCR after someone presses play before fading into a still image; videos on the channel are generally long synthwave playlists.
    • Ditto with the opening bumper to The 80's Guy, a similar Youtube channel.
  • Scott Wozniak's very first video in the Scott the Woz channel, The Internet and You (considered outside of the Scott The Woz series as a whole), is made to seem like it's an educational VHS tape from the 90s, complete with Totally Radical aesthetics and dialogue. It even received an actual limited VHS release in 2019 as part of a charity drive. As for episodes in the Scott The Woz series proper:
    • In E3 1999, Scott puts up a VHS tape of himself at E3 1999 as a proof that he was there, even though he was only 2 years old at the time. The video ended up being fully grown Scott "reporting" the event, in a VHS filter.
    • Borderline Forever opens with Scott playing a VHS tape of himself providing a tutorial on how to talk about video games for a living.
  • 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.
  • Technology Connections: Alec puts segments of his own videos on a real recordablenote  format (VHS, Betamax, Video8, etc.) when demonstrating how these formats looked.
  • Ten Second Songs uses this effect in "Take on Me in 20 Styles", covering a-ha's hit, with the VCR monospaced font.
  • Discussed in Tom Scott's video "How The 90s VHS Look Works". It uses this trope while explaining how analog videos acquire that distinctive VHS quality.
  • 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.
  • "Every 90s Commercial Ever" by Rocket Jump actually ran their footage through an old VCR to re-record it with the correct appearance.
  • Many Analog Horror series such as Local58, Eventide Media Center, and Gemini Home Entertainment feature videos that look like they were recorded on VHS on top events of taking place in the 1980s-1990s milieu of VHS's heyday. It adds to the creepy atmosphere they have; not only do VHS-style Ominous Visual Glitches start occurring when the freakier stuff gets portrayed, it also doubles as Obscured Special Effects for the usually low-budget programs.
  • The opening to Nitro Rad's Hypnospace Outlaw review is presented in VHS quality as if the game was advertised as a product in the 90's.
  • Brutalmoose does this with his Mystery Tapes series, fitting with its topic of looking through blank off-air videotapes.
  • College Humor used this effect in “We Found Sinbad’s SHAZAAM Genie Movie”, reportedly a degraded VHS recording of the 90s movie many people remember existing but it never actually did.

    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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BT21 (Ep. 4) - Cooky's Intro

Cooky is introduced in the series with a shift into a 80s/90s sports anime style, which is announced by a switch at 00:03 from HD 16:9 quality to VHS 4:3

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