YouTube Tape Mode – Nostalgia, Web 2.0-Style

It would appear that the digital realm has gotten bit by the nostalgia bug as of late. Coverage is hot for Ubisoft’s upcoming 80’s sci-fi shooter, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Square Enix can’t seem to stop re-releasing the Final Fantasy games of yesteryear, and now Google has joined in as well with a special effect for YouTube that you won’t want to miss. At least you won’t if you’ve been around a few years. Sound mysterious? Let’s take a look.

Google is well known for its sense of humor. From epic April Fool’s gags to interactive search terms, the Mountain View company has well demonstrated its affinity for playing around with its user experience. And now, although we can’t be sure for how long, we have YouTube Tape Mode.

The option for Tape Mode is somewhat finicky. Certain URL codes (such as playlist or referral info) will cause the little VHS icon will not appear. Certain videos don’t appear to have the effect at all (this could be related to the YouTube Partner program). But once you land on a page that successfully triggers the option, the results are nothing short of awesome.

As the name suggests, enabling Tape Mode will apply some effects to the YouTube player that will cause the video being played to look like an old VHS tape, complete with grain, chromatic aberration, static, distortion, and tracking errors. It’s tremendous fun to see your favorite YouTube videos look like your favorite films from the closing years of the 20th century.

Even though the effects are obviously just for grins, the new mode actually serves as a pretty impressive demonstration of just how far video technology has come over the past couple of decades. Switch between Tape Mode and normal hi-def and you’ll probably be surprised at just how stark the quality difference is…and honestly Tape Mode looks better than some real VHS tapes to begin with. Back in the day, who would have thought that everyone would soon be walking around with a device in their pockets capable of shooting theater-quality videos, or that we would pass these videos around effortlessly, no bulky cassette and player required? My, how times have changed.

It’s uncertain what prompts Google to create features like this, especially considering they’re known to be pulled after only a short while. However, this is far too late to be just another 24-hour April Fools joke. Who knows how long Tape Mode will manage to stick around, so make sure to get out there and enjoy it while you can!

UPDATE: According to The Verge, Tape Mode was added for the 57th anniversary of commercial video tape recording. It is certainly understandable why YouTube would care about celebrating such a thing, but the sad part is it means tape mode will likely be very temporary. Again, enjoy it while you can!