Tony Earnshaw: There’s so much choice today but locating a long-lost tape is a joy

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I was a latecomer to home video. My parents didn’t buy a VCR until 1982; many of their friends had had one for years before that. But I soon made up for lost time.

Our purchase coincided with the launch of Channel 4. Suddenly an entire vault of classic TV shows began crowding the schedules and I rushed out to buy VHS tapes with which to record them.

Around the same time the sell-through video boom exploded, which suited me fine. If I couldn’t record it off the telly I could pay through the nose for an official release. Ten years later I had a bookcase groaning with tapes containing all manner of rarities and obscurities. It represented my personal archive – a library that epitomised my changing cinematic palate.

And with the advent of DVD I started all over again. The VHS tapes – boxes and boxes of them – were consigned to the attic. I accumulated DVDs in the same way as I had their chunky forerunner, often re-buying films I’d previously bought on VHS. Soon the bookcase was full again. Only this time I had more DVDs than tapes, as DVDs were thinner.

I cherished my collection but part of me longed to have a system whereby everything was stored centrally and could be accessed by the touch of a button. I mentioned this to a friend a few years ago and he said, “One word: Netflix.”

The Netflix phenomenon has revolutionised home cinema in the same way that VCRs allowed the great unwashed to set its own filmic agenda. The US streaming video service had a seemingly bottomless vault of film and TV titles.

This week Netflix revealed that it is dumping thousands of titles from its video on demand service because they are too widely available elsewhere. Instead the company will focus on offering more exclusive content, such as the Walt Disney catalogue that is soon to include the new Star Wars film. It’s a canny move and one that ultimately will benefit the outfit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yet I can’t help but muse on the notion of my longed-for superserver – a mammoth piece of kit with an immense memory that stores all my various movies, documentaries, TV interviews, classic series and sundry oddments. I spent years accumulating it on tape. Recently I’ve been rescuing the tapes and transferring them to DVD. The next stage is to record them onto a server.

It will, of course, take years. For the movies I can look to the likes of Netflix, for they’ll nearly always be out there. But for the more obscure material I have to rely on my own collection. And that means crawling around the attic rooting through boxes.

We’re being offered so much choice these days. If it’s not on DVD or Netflix then it’s usually online somewhere. Ferretting around becomes de rigueur. It’s fun. But triumphantly locating that dusty, long-lost tape is a truly wonderful feeling.