Sometimes (sometimes) it’s a little surprising being the Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. Flattering, but surprising. How so? Because when it comes to the vintage electronics posts, specifically VCRs as per our subject today, some of the feedback I receive can be (figuratively) eyebrow-raising. Mostly it’s in the form of viewership; for the most part I tend to get more views with the articles on old electronics than I do any other post. Sometimes though, people get the impression that I know more about all this stuff than I really do, and they’ll come to me with questions, either in the comment sections or in private emails.
I really am flattered by that, but I’m by no means an expert where VCRs are concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I know the basics about them, I can usually tell when one is ‘good’ or there’s something unique or special regarding it, but it doesn’t take much online searching to find the real experts; folks that discuss pinch rollers and diodes and such. You know, the kind of technical stuff that makes my head swim.
I never meant to make people think I’m so kind of authority (ha!) on the subject, but rather, the unspoken idea behind my VCR articles was supposed to be from the viewpoint of a “regular guy.” An every man describing what he comes across from his POV, which is of course the exact reality. And it’s about to happen again.
So yeah, here’s another VCR article. Ladies and gentleman, rest your eyes upon the behemoth Panasonic PV-1500!
Via estate sale, I brought home the Panasonic PV-1500 not this past summer, but rather the summer before. No joke, this beast was the culminating find in a pretty good day of yard saleing (sailing?), over a year ago. I think the guy wanted $15 for it but took $8, if I recall correctly. So I paid up, flexed my negligible muscular abilities and hauled it home, and it’s been sitting off to the side in my basement floor ever since. Indeed, the pic above is from when it first entered my abode; subsequent pics, taken just the other day, will feature an obviously different locale, both because this thing is mammoth and I only want to mess with it so much, and because, frankly, this picture remained the best “all encompassing” shot of the thing. Don’t worry, we’ll take a closer look at all the particulars.
I don’t have an exact date for this VCR. The only mention I saw online was in this 1979 Popular Science scan, hence the “circa” of my title. Unfortunately, even the vintage VHS gallery currently skips from the PV-1300 to the PV-1600 in their listings. Stylistically the PV-1500 looks nearly identical to the PV-1600, except the latter features recording/playback in SP, LP and EP, whereas the former only features SP and LP. Being older, that, uh, makes sense.
As we saw in this terrible old article regarding a big huge Quasar VCR, I love these humongous early examples of home video technology. Not only are they absolute throwbacks to a totally bygone era (“gee, no kidding!”), but you, or at least I, don’t come across them very often – for obvious reasons. The difference of only a few years rendered decks like this wildly obsolete in size and looks and (most) abilities, and even nowadays these earlier machines don’t have much practical use, even as far as this incredibly niche hobby is concerned. This is about as far away from my beloved Panasonic AG-1970 as it gets!
That’s not to say VCRs like this should be tossed (again, as far as this niche hobby is concerned nowadays; the general public stopped caring about any and all VHS loooooong ago). Huge, impractical and lacking in certain abilities though it may be, as a historical piece of late-70s/early-80s tech, if nothing else it sure looks neat. Provided you’ve got the space for it, anyway; the footprint on these ain’t exactly dainty.
Manufacturers really went the extra mile with their products back then. Not only is this VCR built like a tank (with the size to match; I’m considering climbing in it and rolling down the street and wow that has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever written on this blog), but it came with a protective dust cover. As per warnings found on said dust cover, you can’t have it on when the thing is playing or the timer is set or apparently at any other time except when the machine is sitting idle. This is understandable, since I imagine the amount of heat this units generates when powered up is comparable to a dern blast furnace.
Speaking of powered up, when I first considered writing an article on this VCR last week, I did indeed lug it out, plug it in, turn it on and test it as best I could. Not that I had any illusions of this magically working like new (these old machines may have been well built, but c’mon, this is still a roughly 40 year old electronic we’re talking about), but even so, the whirring/grinding noise it made when I ran a tape – one I didn’t care about – was borderline stomach-churning, and made all the more unsettling by the fact it wouldn’t stop even when I finally got the tape out (and when I powered off then on, the grinding would start right back up again).
Also, messing with some of the switches didn’t seem to produce any effect (i.e., they weren’t registering), I couldn’t get the clock to display even a flashing 12:00, and to top it all off, the decades of accumulated dust/grime/I don’t know produced a smell that was not particularly pleasant (and also not unlike what I briefly described in my RCA TV/Atari Xenophobe post).
All of which is to say that unlike my usual M.O., you’re not getting any pictures of this deck powered on, playing a tape, or what have you. As such, for me, it has been rendered most definitively a display piece. A very large display piece. A display piece that constantly threatens to absolutely obliterate one of my feet should it drop when my muscles give out while trying to carry it.
Whether correctly working or not (and trust me, it’s the latter, not the former), the channel selectors on the front panel absolutely made this worth the eight bucks or however much I dropped on it.
Indeed, if you recall this old Toshiba Betamax post (the odds are you won’t), you’ll remember that that machine featured the same set-up, and that I was quite enamored with it. Why? Because it’s so absolutely, undeniably Northeast Ohio.
I don’t know what 2 stood for, but 3 = WKYC (NBC), 5 = WEWS (Cleveland’s ABC), 8 = WJKW (CBS), 43 = WUAB (independent station), 25 = WVIZ (Cleveland PBS), 61 = WCLQ (another indie, and points to this being used in the early 1980s, as that station signed on in ’81), 45 = WNEO (Alliance/Youngstown PBS), 23 = WAKR (Akron’s ABC), 17 = WJAN or WDLI, depending on if it’s before 1983 or after (religious indie), and 9 = no idea.
Also, look close and you can see the remote control (they were corded back then!) and microphone inputs at the very bottom of the unit.
Here’s how you’d tune the aforementioned channels in. I guess once they were entered into the presets it wasn’t a big deal, but man oh man, getting there practically required a master’s degree in engineering or sumpin’. Seriously, this pretty much makes my head swim just looking at it.
Also, your obligatory tracking knob as well as a tuner/camera toggle are located on this panel.
In the same wheelhouse, located just above the channel presets is the VCR timer station and clock-settin’ switches. While somewhat less complicated than the requirements, erm, required for tuning the channels, it’s still something that looks like a far bigger pain than you’d expect. Seriously, it’s the kind of thing that would have had me staying up till all hours just to “easy” record something. (I.e., simply press the record button at the specific time whatever I wanted was set to begin.)
Like most everything else about this VCR, these are functions that would be (thankfully) simplified just a few short years later. Suddenly I get all the “I can’t get the clock to stop flashin’ 12:00!” jokes.
Also, I’ve never liked the old school ‘number counters’ found on older decks. Gimme good ol’ hours and minutes any day!
This is a top-loading VCR, and as such, tapes are loaded (say it with me) on the top of the unit, via raising/lowering drawer. When the powered up, a light illuminates the inside of the drawer, a feature that does indeed still work on this machine.
Another hallmark of these early-gen VCRs: cassette player-styled buttons for play, stop, etc.
And, an option that would continue for some years after VCRs began being downsized and simplified but was largely absent as the 1990s dawned on lower-end consumer models is the audio dub feature, which as you can see was present here.
Like I said before, I couldn’t get the clock to come on, no matter what I slammed my paws on. As such, this picture here is little different than if I had the machine plugged in. So why are you getting so upset?
The power light is self-explanatory, but the one labeled “dew” stands for a dew indicator. Basically, if there was moisture in the machine, the light would come on and the machine would refuse to function until said moisture had dissipated or was otherwise removed. Pretty smart move, especially since water and electricity don’t mix and the last thing you need is one of these VCRs exploding like that one planet in Star Wars.
Also, toggles for power, and TV/VTR (VTR standing for Video Tape Recorder). And as you can see, only two recording speeds were available: SP and LP. People like to mention how the earliest VCRs had a two-hour SP VHS recording time over Betamax’s mere single hour, but you know, I’ve got an RCA VBT-200 from 1977, apparently the first VHS VCR released in the U.S., and unless it’s a later revision but with the same model number, mine features the same SP/LP option. Heck, the earliest blank VHS tapes also indicated 2 or 4 hour recording times.
All of which goes to say that for as much as I love Beta, VHS had an even bigger advantage in recording times from the very start than is usually stated. Did you want better picture quality or way more recording time? I really do love Betamax, but there’s a reason VHS won the war.
I’ve mentioned before that I feel for these VCR posts to be “complete,” I have to take a look at the inputs/outputs/etc. on the back of the machines, but in truth, I never really have all that much to say about them. I mean, what can I say? Stuff is kinda self-explanatory.
I do like seeing the input/outputs for both UHF and VHS, that’s a nice throwback, and I especially like that AV cables are supported. Had it looked like this VCR even remotely still functioned correctly, I’d have taken advantage of them and hopefully posted a screencap of something playing, but twas not to be.
“Remote Pause” I’m assuming refers to an option separate from the corded remote input found on the front? Something to pause a recording as it, uh, records, I’m guessing?
See, PV-1500. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t.
The PV-1500 complies with the FCC, as you’d hope, but the real interesting thing here is the disclaimer about recording. Ah, the days before the 1984 court case put that issue to bed!
I like the warning about not getting water all over the VCR. You’d think such a warning is merely covering all the bases, but let’s face it, there were probably some folks out there who needed that reminder. The very same folks who would have (presumably) been wrestling with the channel-tuning and clock-setting features, which is kinda mind blowing.
You know, over the years I’ve collected a lot of VCRs. Some for actual use, some merely for the sake of collecting. And one thing I’ve come to realize is that Panasonics are probably my favorites. Generally well-built, sometimes feature-packed, and very often just plain cool-lookin’, as far as I’m concerned Panasonic put out some of the best machines in that (in my opinion) 1985-1990 sweet spot of consumer VCRs. Heck, years later I’m still enamored by the slick and swanky PV-1730. Certainly in this day and age some models will probably need some work, at least belt replacements, to get them up and running correctly, but that’s just the nature of old electronics.
Anyway, this PV-1500 hails from a bit before all that, in the relatively more-lawless early days of the format. Innovations and downsizing and such were still forthcoming, but for the time, this was a revolutionary (and undoubtedly expensive!) piece of technology. I’d like to think that in this age of high-def and streaming services and whatnot, that can still be appreciated.
(I don’t know how else to end this article; I’m kinda spent. It’s a cool old VCR, okay?)