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As the 1990 NFL season reached its final seconds, I paced back and forth in my friend Ken's apartment, waiting for Buffalo's Scott Norwood to kick the deciding field goal in Super Bowl XXV. Wide right. A memorable moment. Equally memorable was our spirited halftime debate over Ken's massive movie library—all on Betamax. Convinced of Beta's superiority to VHS, Ken remained a proud holdout. A trailblazer. A member of the enlightened minority. Twenty years later, I can't help but wonder whatever became of his treasured copies of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Casablanca and Back to the Future.

Although cinema itself hasn't changed drastically over the past two decades (improvements in special effects notwithstanding), how we watch movies has taken a quantum leap. And with tickets, concessions and babysitting more expensive than ever, a lot of that viewing has been happening at home.

Like a defending Super Bowl champion, VHS barely had time to celebrate its victory over Betamax before DVDs came gunning for it. By the late '90s we weren't just watching movies, we were enjoying bonus content. Making-of documentaries. Outtakes. Deleted scenes. Commentaries. DVDs could hold more data than videocassettes, and they let us jump from scene to scene—a nonlinear option for a new, point-and-click culture. Also, never again would we have to rewind tapes before returning them to the video store!

Ah yes, the video store, a more recent casualty of the evolving home video landscape. With Blu-ray waiting in the wings, more and more movie rental outlets have been selling off dated inventory and conceding defeat to cheaper, more convenient rental outlets such as Redbox and Netflix. And with delivery systems going digital now, we don't even need a disc to stream the latest blockbuster on a computer or iPhone.

Speaking of which, if you're a fan of square computer monitors and TV screens, well, sorry. They're gone, too. Is Hollywood the culprit? Dunno. Maybe it's just a coincidence that everyone's changing their aspect ratios to the dimensions of a movie theater screen. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was all about simulating the multiplex experience at home and on the go. In fact, the quality of high-def entertainment systems has gotten so good that the film industry has been forced to come up with creative ways (3-D anyone?) to lure people back into theaters.

Unfortunately, some high tech advancements have made it harder for parents to monitor media and keep children safe. For example, most theater chains still require an I.D. to attend an R-rated movie, but a savvy teen can stream restricted fare virtually anywhere and anytime. What's more, he can access unrated versions of movies that boast explicit content not subject to the MPAA rating board.

Come to think of it, as much as I love the quality and convenience of today's home video options, some of that "progress" makes me long for those old VHS/Betamax debates.

You'll find this article and other 20th anniversary reflections—including quotes, letters, statistics, a timeline, trivia and more—in our special online flipbook. Click here to check it out!

Published October 2010