Useless, completely useless

While the family were telling bad jokes over the dinner table, my mind was wandering. And it landed on VCRs. As you do.

I think we bought our first VCR about 14 years ago. So about 1995, maybe ‘94. Whatever. Far from being top of the range, it was roughly middling, and set us back about $500. I well remember that amount, because it was about a weeks wages (after tax). Maybe a touch less. It seemed like a heck of a lot of money back then.┬áThe model with G-code was about $100 more.

That machine lasted for around 7 or 8 years. At one stage it broke, and we had it apart on the lounge room coffee table, in pieces for weeks finding the bit in the mechanical gubbins that had broken. It was some big toothed wheel thing with cam follower slots in, or something equally peculiar and mechanical. We could even, in those days, buy a NEW PART, rather than a whole assembly. The repair cost $3 because that’s what the big toothed wheel thing with cam follower slots in cost. Our labour to re-assemble it was free.

Likewise, it would stop playing after a while, because the heads needed cleaning. It had a special mechanical automatic-head-cleaner-ator, but this wore out after a few years. Head cleaning tapes didn’t work so I used to pull it apart and clean it with special head cleaning alcohol, in place of the automatic-head-cleaner-ator.

One day it died so badly that it was beyond repair. So we bought the replacement we still have. This must have been about 2003, or thereabouts. The new one came with G-code (wow!! a cool feature!). And it cost about $250. More stuff for less $$.

About a year ago we bought a hard disk recorder. $500 obtained digital TV, about 9000 hours of recording time, random searching, playback while recording. Blah blah blah. And electronic program guide. Even more stuff… more $, but allowing for inflation – far cheaper than that original VCR.

Which remininscences brings me to the point of this ramble. G-code. Anybody remember that?

A magic number placed in the printed TV program guides published in the newspaper. Enter the G-code and the machine would automagically select the right channel, start time, and stop time.

Two fatal flaws were glossed over in the rush to have the must-have feature:

- Firstly, G-code just coded the channel and times. There was no synchronisation with the transmitted signal. If the station started early, or ran late, tough. You missed recording bits of the program you wanted. And worse, in some places (like where I live) the G-codes would always enter Eastern Standard Time. Fine if you live in that time zone. Useless elsewhere.

- Secondly, for a program that repeated at the same time each week, G-Code could not code the repeat. So even if you entered the G-Code, you had to edit the programming of the machine anyhow.

And, if you had the printed guide (with the G-code numbers in) it was just as easy to enter the start and stop times with a 5 minute allowance either side. You got better results and missed less of your program.

And did anybody even pay attention to the copyright notice? It used to appear under the program guide and say something illuminating like “G-Code numbers are copyright by blah blah corporation and may not be used or reproduced without permission blah blah blah.”


G-code was therefore, in my experience, completely useless. But it sold premium VCRs and must have made a packet in licence fees for Mr G, the inventor. Thank heavens junk like this is obsoleted by digital TV.


I completely agree. This is one point I really get annoyed at. In the old days of Star Trek Next Generation they used to put it on at the scheduled time + 1 hour – 1/2 hour and I used to have to record 2 1/2 hours just to see the show. (Watching live wasn’t an option since it came on at midnight!) Nowadays they reliably start 10 minutes later than the scheduled time. Not much better. They should arrest everone in the station, send out a test pattern until they all pass a test on how to tell time. And then if a show goes out 10 seconds later than the scheduled time the Chairman of the Board should be thrown in a dungeon for a week and fed dead rats. And then they should have to pay $3 million as a fine!!!!!!! Did I say $3 million? $3 BILLION DOLLARS!!!!@!!

Comment by Jack | July 31st, 2009 7:50 am | Permalink

G-code was the ‘beta video tapes’ of the 1990s and completely passed me by. Luckily!

Comment by Kath Lockett | July 31st, 2009 12:22 pm | Permalink

My kids loved G-code. They’d program in three shows, one on either side of the one they particularly wanted to see, to be sure of not missing any of it. They’d fast forward through the first show, watch the one they wanted, then reprogram for the following day or week. Now they’ve got Foxtel IQ.

Comment by river | July 31st, 2009 8:09 pm | Permalink

Clearly buying my VCR on sale at the Good Guys didn’t involve a G-code! Then I never quite mastered the fine art of pre-programming anything!

Comment by Baino | August 2nd, 2009 7:06 am | Permalink

Hey, I’d completely forgotten about G-code. And I never used it. I was merely one of the basic VCR users, counting on my fingers. But now the shame has left me! I missed out on nothing! ahhh. but still no lcd telly.

Comment by eleanor bloom | August 4th, 2009 1:52 pm | Permalink

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