The advent of the DVD and DVR essentially rendered VHS tapes obsolete. According to the Los Angeles Times, the last large supplier of prerecorded VHS tapes ceased shipping in 2008.
However, VCRs and blank VHS tapes are still sold for recording and playback purposes. When recording content to VHS tape, three settings control recording tape speed: Standard Play (SP), Long Play (LP), and Super Long Play (SLP). These settings dictate not only available recording lengths, but picture quality as well.
Blank VHS Tape Length
The recording times of Blank VHS tapes are most commonly in multiples of 15 or 30 minutes and are denoted by the amount of minutes they will record at SP speed. For example, the most common type of commercially available video tape is the T-120, yielding 120 minutes of recording time.
How to Change Recording Speed Settings
On modern VCRs, the recording speed settings are changed via the remote control. A button marked “SP/LP/EP” will make the change while recording video. SP is the default recording speed on VCRs.
Additionally, a VCR may have the recording speed setting button on the body of the VCR, marked in a similar fashion.
Recording Speeds and Tape Length
A standard T-120 video tape will record 120 minutes of video when the VCR is recording at SP speed. That same T-120 tape will yield 240 minutes when recording at LP speed, and 360 minutes at SLP speed, as each reduction in recording speed will allow for an additional two hours of recording time.
Recording Speeds and Video Quality
As tape speed decreases, video quality decreases as well. Therefore, video recorded in SP will have the best available video quality. There will be subsequent decreases in quality when recording in EP or SLP.
For recording video content with constant movement and vibrant color, like sports or action movies, use SP. If length of recording is an issue and picture quality is less important, use LP or SLP.
Recording in Different Markets
NTSC is the analog TV system used in much of North America. Two other formats--PAL and SECAM--are used throughout the rest of the world.
VHS VCRs were built for all of these formats, and blank VHS tapes are interchangeable between them. However, due to differences in the picture resolution, they will yield different recording lengths.
For example, a standard T-120 tape will yield 2 hours of recording time on an NTSC VCR in SP mode, that same tape will yield about 2 hours and 45 minutes when recording content on a PAL VCR in SP mode.