Most videocassette recorders are capable of doing some pretty sophisticated programming. But of the 60 million VCR owners, it is estimated that more than a third have either never tried to program their machines or have given up trying.

The reason is usually that it's too difficult to do or the instructions are unclear.A new product that will be available before the end of the year promises to make programming VCRs simple, according to the current issue of Video Magazine.

VCR Plus is a remote control unit that relies on special code numbers now being printed by leading newspapers as part of their daily and weekly TV schedules. For $59.95, a viewer buys the VCR Plus control, which will work with almost any VCR.

When the user wants to record a program, he or she simply looks up the three- to seven-digit code in the local TV schedule and enters that number on the remote control keypad. The unit then programs the VCR to record the particular program when it appears.

The listings and code numbers are provided by TV Data, a service company that delivers TV listings to publications across the country.

Major dailies committed to publishing VCR Plus codes include the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. The codes are localized for individual markets.

VCR Plus can store information for up to 14 programs at a time, which is double or triple the capacity of most VCRs. In addition, the LED readout on the VCR Plus lets users know how much recording time is left on a tape.

Plans are in the works for a system which will transmit updated TV schedules directly to advanced VCRs automatically via an encoded signal broadcast over local public TV stations.

The VCR will then be able to display programming information directly on the TV screen.