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VHS or DVD - Which Should I Buy?

Why DVD One of the most perplexing questions school media librarians face when making video purchases today is whether they should buy VHS or DVD products. This article examines a methodology for making the best decision for today and readying collections for the future.

Current Market Information

Library Video Company currently carries more than 12,000 educational VHS titles and over 3,500 educational DVD titles, and represents over 700 individual suppliers with varying views on VHS and DVD formats.

The bulk of sales on titles produced and released by Hollywood studios comes from the consumer market — products sold or rented in major retail chains. Following the huge number of DVD players in U.S. homes at the close of 2003 (50 million)1, some major studios have begun eliminating the VHS format from their backlists, while others have even stopped releasing new programming in the VHS format. Instead, they are releasing all new titles on DVD.

On the other hand, smaller, independent producers -- whose revenues are largely generated from schools or specialty mail-order catalogs -- are deeply committed to VHS.

Why is this?

The reason is that over 95% of the nation's classrooms have VHS VCRs. The ubiquity of VCRs in the classroom and VHS collections in the school library means that the format will not disappear completely for at least a decade. Educationally oriented producers cannot afford to abandon the VHS format, and they will continue to release new titles in this format for the foreseeable future.

An unfortunate consequence of the format changeover is that many smaller, educationally oriented producers cannot afford to convert existing titles to the DVD format. And even though it may seem like a good idea to preserve the VHS format or favorite titles by making additional VHS copies or burning them onto DVD-Writable discs, librarians must remember that it is illegal to do so. Librarians occasionally ask if they can copy a VHS tape to another format legally, and the answer is no — not unless they have explicit written permission from the copyright holder. In regards to out-of-print videos, librarians are permitted to make up to three copies for the sole purpose of replacing damaged, deteriorating, lost or stolen copies in the library's collection. Replacement copies can be made by librarians only if an unused replacement cannot be purchased at a fair price.

It is clear that both VHS and DVD will have their roles in classrooms for many years to come.

Is DVD Better Than VHS?

The single greatest reason consumers buy DVD versus VHS is for enhanced sound and picture quality. However, this is not the reason teachers prefer DVD. What they enjoy most are the chapter selects, which make it very easy to jump to a spot on the DVD that they would like to use in their lessons, thus saving significant classroom time that was formerly spent fast-forwarding and rewinding.

In terms of durability, it is very difficult to compare DVD versus VHS because both present very different problems. VHS video tends to wear out with many repeated plays, has a tendency to crack or break and can get caught within the player's mechanisms. Many videos also run the risk of being recorded over.

DVDs are also susceptible to damage. While DVDs will not wear out with repeated plays, scratches can cause skips and interruption in play. Additionally, DVD users often complain about the unfriendliness of DVD packaging, which has been known to break the product simply by removing it from its original case.

Another drawback to DVD is that it is more easily stolen than the bulkier VHS video product.

On the plus side, many DVDs come with an assortment of bonus features. Most notable for educators is a Spanish language track, which can be highly economical for schools with small or significant ESL Hispanic populations to build up a Spanish video library. Additional DVD bonus features can include subtitles, additional language tracks, biographical information, documentaries, commentary, additional scenes and much more.

Schools that buy new computers which include DVD players can play most DVDs on their computers right in their classrooms or media centers.

DVDs can also cut down on storage space if the librarian is willing to display the discs and keep them in a single location. However, if a librarian is hesitant about keeping the actual DVD discs on the floor and keeps them behind the counter or in an office, then they can be less convenient than VHS.

Making the Decision on What to Buy

In making the final purchasing decision, a school librarian or media buyer must first take into consideration the number of DVD or VHS players that exist in the building as well as the lifespan of the hardware. The next consideration is the availability of the equipment, if the equipment is placed on carts and carried into classrooms, or if it is fixed in certain classrooms. Then, buyers must consider when the school will be able to purchase additional DVD players, and how many could possibly be purchased in the budget. Ideally, VCRs will be replaced with combo VCR/DVD players.

These considerations are a good place to begin when establishing the basis for making a buying decision.

In addition to hardware considerations, there are a variety of other scenarios to consider before making a purchasing decision, such as:

If a title is only available on VHS and I need it, should I buy it?
Of course — this tape will be useful for the normal life of the tape in the school's VCRs.

If a title is only available on DVD, and I only have three DVD players on carts, should I buy it?
If the title is important enough, then this is probably an instance where it is worth the extra effort to wheel in and connect to a DVD player on a cart.

If a title is available in both VHS and DVD, which should I choose?
As indicated above, this will depend on how many DVD players you have in your classrooms and when you expect to have more. Many media personnel now select both formats to take advantage of the durability of VHS and their installed base of VHS players, and to utilize the added value of DVD. Keep in mind that VHS will last a very long time and can be circulated and viewed for many years.

As shown, both media types have their pros and cons. As a safeguard, school librarians may want to consult with teachers to get a sense of their preferences. Getting their input will go a long way to how much the programs will get used.


1Plunkett Research: