After Hours

DVD Wars! What if they gave a war and nobody came?

A DVD standards war, that is.

Shades of VHS and Betamax people always say, but only those who didn’t also get ripped off by the RCA SelectaVision VideoDisc vs laserdisk wars. Those of us who did see the developing fight over the next generation of DVDs as just another battle where consumers can only loose.

I was at the forefront of

the optical disk revolution, having written two early books on optical storage

long before DVDs were even being talked about – my first CD-ROM player (an Amdek

LASERDRIVE-1) sits in my personal museum of computing right under an old Kelsey

Letterpress (I once used lead type, just like Gutenberg.)

Since the big boys (this

time Sony and Toshiba) never seem to be able to put consumers above their own

interests, it looks as if we are going to see two completely incompatible optical

disk standards for high-definition video.


Sony has the Blu-ray technology

backed by Pioneer and Philips, along with Dell and most of the big movie

studios.


Toshiba has almost no one

signed up for it’s HD-DVD format, other than those small time players Microsoft

and Intel, along with some studios which "say" they will support both versions.

There has been talk of this for several years but it is all about to hit the fan(s) right in their credit cards.

Big-T should be out in a few weeks with a $500 player (and little to play on it.) Microsoft is expected to provide an add-on HD-DVD player for the Xbox.

Sony will probably premier Blue-ray DVD players as part of the next PlayStation, this fall.

HD-DVD (15GB capacity) will be easy to produce in current factories at little additional cost.

Blue-ray (25GB to 50GB) is

technologically far more elegant, but will require all new production equipment

and it probably isn’t even possible to produce the 50GB Blue-ray disks with

today’s available equipment.

What do you think? Will Joe

and Jane consumer really be dumb enough to spend thousands of dollars for an

HDTV set, $500-$1,000 for a high-def DVD player, and probably $50-$75 initially

for movies when there is no way to even hazard a guess as to which, if either

of the competing HD-DVD or Blue-ray technologies will be around in five years?

And, if YOU personally are

lined up to buy one or the other, do you have any interest in buying an old but

working RCA VideoDisc player and about 50 old movies?

One thing everyone seems to

forget is that baby boomers are a growing segment of the population and have

the money to buy such toys, but our eyesight is also failing just enough that many

of us don’t see much advantage to HDTV anyway. That raises the interesting

question of whether most of those with the money to buy these things really care

about high definition TV anyway?Personally (I just knew you were dying to learn my opinion GRIN) I am sitting this standards battle out on the sidelines. I happen to publish DVDs and my hardware cost less than $500 so I'm not interested in making any big investment to get my animal videos out to the public, but even if I were just a consumer I'm getting too conservative (smart? cheap?) in my old age to spend a lot of money to help some mega business try and establish a new standard so THEY can dominate an industry.

Another thing to remember is that the reason I bought that old RCA VideoDisc player was because I lived out in the boonies and couldn't get movies on TV at that time. A lot of my neighbors bought that or the laserdisk players for the same reason. Bear that in mind that movie studios are already planning to sell high-quality movies over the Internet and you can see why both Toshiba and Sony are getting a bit nervous about more than just their two-sided competition.

I picked the RCA VideoDisk because my uncle was a big-time engineer with RCA but it turned out that the laserdisk didn't last much longer either.

(As an historical note for your youngsters, the RCA VideoDisc actually played like an old LP with a physical needle moving through a groove - possibly the biggest kluge of the second half of the 20th century! - p.s. if you don't know what a kluge is, ask your grandfather.)

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