It was a staple of home video for decades, a way to watch big-budget movies, or record programming off of television—the VCR or Video Cassette Recorder.
There were several unique formats of analog, magnetic tape recording that were developed through the 1950s to the 1970s, but the two major formats would emerge in 1975 and 1977 in the United States respectively, the Betamax and the VHS (Video Home System).
Betamax had superior video quality, but the VHS offered longer play and recording times. A format war dragged on through the 1980s, and VHS eventually won the home video market, although many news organizations continued to use Beta tapes for many more years.
In the 1980s, the legality of recording home video—especially television shows—was challenged in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios Inc. This case decided that the recording of complete works for the purposes of “timeshifting”--to watch later—was not illegal, but a case of fair use.
The VCR was a mainstay of home entertainment throughout the 1980s and 1990s. While the technology allowed for both the storage and recording of programming, or the ability to rent or purchase pre-recorded home video, the technology could wear. The magnetic tape could weaken after frequent playback, and moisture was known to wreak havok with VCR units.
It wasn't until the 2000s that the VCR began to be surpassed by another format, the Digital Video Disk. This format offered greatly improved picture, the ability to instantly skip ahead or back, and was less prone to wear or damage. By the end of the decade, the VCR became increasingly rare and more movies were being released in digital formats only. Many DVD recorders with built-in VCRs are the only way to purchase all-new VCRs currently. However, there has been at least one VHS/Blu-Ray combination unit released.