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DVD is dead; Long live DVD

Mushroom Kingdom
By Stephen Webster
Investigative Reporter
June 9, 2006

DVD is dead; Long live DVD

I know … I can’t be serious with that title, right? You have spent literally thousands of dollars building up your DVD collection over the past few years, and the consumer electronics industry has come, stalking you in the night, wielding an Intel-infused dagger to jab between your 8th and 9th vertebra. And that is true. Sort of.

Back in the days of VHS, there was a superior format. We called ‘em Beta MAX; a technology that went nowhere, and fast. Some poor fools bought them, only to discover that the entertainment industry merely stuck a toe in the pond of MAX, and decided it was a wee colder than they thought. The money-suck was tremendous. Consumers dropped like flies. Their waste was to the gain of VHS. And we all know how that turned out. You probably don’t even own a VHS player anymore. But I’ll wager five dollars and an eighth of Kentucky Bourbon you have some tapes sitting around somewhere. I know I do.

The Decider (no, not Chimpy in the White House) of that format war was the porn industry. Where the skin is in, the monies begin. Sorry, but Human Nature doesn’t change simply because you might not like it. And it may very well turn out that Human Nature will dictate the victor of this new format war between two very apt technologies: Blu-Ray and HD DVD.

Let’s skip the technical jargon. Blu-Ray holds more than five times the data of today’s DVDs. That means the video and sound quality for your movies will improve dramatically. HD DVD is the same; it holds slightly less data, but for the time being you will not notice the difference between the two new formats. Plus, HD DVD has a few advantages: the disks work in standard DVD players (but don’t offer full fidelity audio and video unless played with a native device), and the players cost roughly half of Blu-Ray’s announced debut price point.

But, this column is about video games. So let’s get to the point.

Since Blu-Ray is a Sony technology, they are going to try and force the format. Similar to the debut of DVD, several players had hit the market by the time the PlayStation 2 launched, but the disks did not replace VHS until the PS2 obtained significant market penetration. Since it acts as a DVD movie player, as well as delivering what was then cutting-edge gaming experiences via the format, DVD won out, and the two other major game consoles utilized the technology in some way. But unlike the PS2/DVD combo, when PS3 launches it is likely to be the first Blu-Ray device to reach the U.S. market.

Making matters more complicated, Microsoft is going a different route. HD DVD has serious support from a large number of movie studios, and players are already available. Most start at $499 and up, but used models can be found online under $350. There are several dozen films already on the format, and the Xbox 360 will soon have a detachable HD DVD drive. Though previous console add-ons of this type have typically split the game-makers’ market, it would be an admittedly cheap way to upgrade to a full High Definition movie experience.

So here we are yet again. Two electronics giants are squaring off against each other with opposing formats, each laying claim to certain advantages. Blu-Ray promises the most long-term advantage, given its capability to store much more data than HD DVD. On the other hand, HD DVD got out the door first, you can use it with the player you have today, and for now, flicks look just as good. Plus, the players are much more affordable than the $1,000+ Blu-Ray machines planned for 2006/2007. With PlayStation 3 scheduled to debut at $599 in the ‘states, it becomes difficult to pick between the two; both are so expensive, and nothing is certain. All in all, it appears as though the format owners are poised to wreck havoc on our wallets yet again. Great.

The only guidance pundits in the media (not unlike this one) have been able to offer is the selection of the porn industry. The skin is going Blu. That decided the VHS vs. Beta MAX war. Then again, history is not always a solid predictor of techno-power-struggles. If the Ray doesn’t pan out, count on a cross-platform strategy from the nude ones, at least for a little while. One format will eventually become dominant, but this grudge-match will be a long one.

If you own an HDTV and plan on upgrading media formats in the near future, count yourself rich. Buy them both so you can wallow around in your tub of cash while you watch The Terminator AND Unforgiven at the same time, on one screen divided into two video windows. And while you are at it, make sure to have a case of Crystal handy to extinguish that pile of burning Franklins you’re torching, just to suck on a Cuban. Rest assured, we all hate you.

For the common man, stick to the DVD. Your ray-tube television (no shame in the truth) will keep on plugging away. Skip this money-suck entirely if you just like watching movies. But if you get down on gaming, buy the Nintendo Wii. It has a cool controller, the right price ($249, out this November), and a library spanning 20+ years worth of classic Nintendo content. It plays DVDs. And yes, the next-gen games look just as sweet as anything Microsoft and Sony are shouting about.

So, the DVD might be dead. But I say, Long Live the DVD.

Stephen Webster is an Investigative Reporter with North-Texas weekly The News Connection, a Staff Writer with Peace Journalism Magazine and George W. Bush's hometown paper The Lone Star Iconoclast, a former contributor to The Dallas Morning News' Science & Technology section and the former Editor-in-Chief of Binary Culture.

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