When renting a movie in the future, you may have the option of taking home a special, limited-play cassette for which you would be charged not merely according to how many days you keep it but also how many times you watch it.

That is because after the movie is played 25 times - measured by a built-in counter - the tape would automatically be erased.These cassettes are not available yet, but Rank Video Services, a cassette-duplicating company, plans to begin testing them in the Sacramento, Calif., area in late June. The initial films involved are Paramount's "Almost an Angel," Nelson-Orion's "Misery," RCA-Columbia's "Look Who's Talking Too" and LIVE's "Queens Logic."

The purpose of these cassettes is to allow a retailer to stock up on hit movies - but at a discount rate - to meet consumer demand. Retailers would buy both standard cassettes at the normal wholesale price and limited-play cassettes at a cheaper price, and would resort to the limited-play tapes when the others run out.

For the consumer, the advantage of these cassettes is greater availability of hit movies - not cheaper rental fees. The price per play in theory would be the same as the price per night, meaning renters could only watch it once without incurring higher costs. Retailers would have the option of making adjustments to lower the price for second and third viewings if they are done during the normal rental period.

"We're asking a consumer to pay on a per-play basis in exchange for convenience of not having to get on a waiting list or come back three times looking for a movie," said David Cuyler, executive vice president of Rank Video Services.

Not having enough copies of a movie to meet consumer demand, particularly during the early weeks of a film's release, is a major problem for the home video industry. It is also a factor in the slowdown of the rental market growth.

"Studies show that 50 percent to 60 percent of people who go into rental stores don't come out with the movie they had in mind when they walked in the door - usually because it's not available," Cuyler said.

"Other studies report that 10 percent of people who go into a video store leave with no movie because they couldn't find the movie they want. If just a percentage of those unsatisfied people are satisfied, it increases rental business and creates satisfied customers who are more likely to come back and rent more movies."

Cuyler would not disclose how much less retailers would pay for the limited-play cassettes. Some trade publications have placed the limited-play cassette wholesale price at $31 - about half what standard cassettes cost.

The 25 plays per cassette are fewer than the 45 to 75 plays that video store owners usually get with a standard cassette, Cuyler said. This points to another advantage of limited-play cassettes: preserving VCR heads.

Worn rental cassettes, especially those rented 50 to 60 times, can foul the machines' heads, which determine the quality of the picture. With tapes limited to 25 plays, the consumer would always be renting a relatively fresh cassette, resulting in both cleaner heads and a clearer picture.