Coke, Pepsi, Vinyl, and the DVD Format War

I take a look at my current DVD collection. It has now grown big enough to warrant a third DVD rack. In fact, it is so big that I have a continually updated list on my website to keep track of the number. I now have 193 films on DVD and 65 television seasons on DVD. Quite a large collection, I know; I like to call myself a movie buff. Or rather, I am a DVD addict.

I started this collection in 2001. My father bought me my first DVD player (priced at $130 and lacking most of the functions of the current $40 Wal-Mart special) for Christmas that year. That was a great Christmas. I jumped on the DVD bandwagon before most of my family and friends even knew what a DVD player was. Since I only had about five titles on VHS, it was a good investment. I could start my collection with the newest technology, and it should last me at least twenty years. Yes, VHS cassettes had been around that long. I was safe and secure to get aboard at that point.

My Granny and Papa had movies on VHS dating back into the 1980s. One day about ten years ago, my sister and I were allowed to alphabetize her (I say her because we always refer to things as belonging to Granny in my grandparent’s home) collection. After a few hours of fussing over where titles beginning with “A” and “The” should be in relation to the other titles and how to fit the tapes themselves in the cabinet, we managed to count over 300 movies. Over 100 belonged to the Western genre, my Papa’s favorite. We used to joke that he owned every Western ever made.

My Granny always had a movie to watch. There was never any excuse for boredom at her house. That is granted that Papa wasn’t watching a Western on TV, probably one of the movies he already had in the collection. Last year, I gave them my $130 DVD player because I had upgraded to a better player. They are now on the DVD bandwagon along with me. However, they did hop on a little late in the DVD’s life. Now, their VHS collection is hardly worth the space it takes up. They still have a VCR to play them on, but most of their movie watching is done on DVD.

I have now moved on to an up-conversion DVD player, which allows me to watch my DVDs in as close to true high-definition as they can get on my 30“ Philips HDTV. I am actually quite satisfied with the picture quality of it. However, it is not enough. Some day soon, I will want the cool, new technology in order to make full use of my high-definition television. That is where Blu-ray and HD DVD come in. That new technology is just around the corner. Of course, there is a problem when I say Blu-ray and HD DVD. They are two different formats of the next-generation DVD. I want high-definition discs, but I don’t want to purchase the wrong format only to find it obsolete in a year. The major differences in the two formats are how much information each can hold and the type of laser that reads the discs. HD DVD is read by a red laser and is much like the DVD, but it holds less information. A blue laser reads the Blu-ray disc, which holds much more information. However, it is a lot different from the DVD, so Blu-ray manufacturers will have to rebuild their factories, which will inevitably drive costs up.

Some DVD player manufacturers have already stated they are at work on a player that will play both formats. The problem is that some of the major companies don’t want to give permission to the manufacturers to produce them. If these players could release early enough in the format war, we could avoid a war altogether. Yet, I know that’s not entirely true. Let’s look at this from another perspective. Coke and Pepsi have coexisted for years. They are the software of the soft drink world. Coke and Pepsi machines are the hardware of that world. The companies that produce these machines make them compatible with both types of soft drinks. They are not biased toward any one soft drink. Now let’s put the next-generation DVDs in the same situation. First, there is Blu-ray and HD DVD (software). Then there is a need for a player (hardware) that simply reads them both. The technology is available, manufacturers have said as much. Why not let the consumers taste a little Sony one day, then Universal the next, the same as they can with Coke and Pepsi?

At least I can wait out the format war. DVDs won’t be obsolete for some time. In addition, with the new players’ backwards-compatibility, I’ll get to keep my current collection without upgrading more than 200 titles to the victorious format. My problem lies deeper than the current format war. I had expected to get a 20-year life span out of my DVD collection. Instead, it is only in its fifth year. It’s still a child compared to the VHS. Yes, it will last as long as the new formats do, but after that, I’m not sure what will happen. At the rate that technology is advancing, I predict Blu-ray or HD DVD’s successor will arrive within the next five to seven years. I’m not sure what will become of my DVD collection then. Surely, those players will not be backwards-backwards-compatible, playing DVDs, the winner of the Blu-ray and HD DVD battle, plus the new type of disc, if it is even a disc at that point. Companies have hardly tried to keep VHS collections alive. I doubt the new players will have a VCR drive to allow those collections to live on.

I can see the future now. I am a 50-year-old man with a DVD player and a largely outdated DVD collection. I am comparable to the old fool of today with a turntable and massive collection of records. The younger generations make fun of me for not moving along with the times. All I have to offer the world is fifty years of useless knowledge and talk about the “good ol’ days.” I tell youngsters about how DVDs are just as good, if not better, than the ability to download all their movies off the internet onto a single hard drive. Nevertheless, they just laugh at me, and ask what a DVD is. Then later they talk with their friends about how stupid it is to waste all that wall space for numerous DVD racks. I won’t care that much because I’ll have the classics, and something to show for it. They will only have memory saved on a hard drive, whereas I’ll have a case with a disc inside.

Turntables are a technology of the past. However, I see more and more homes boasting a more advanced turntable with a CD player and radio in a beautiful wood cabinet. To place the needle to vinyl has some kind of alluring quality, as if the person knows a thing or two about music. Records may not be jumping their way past CDs on sales charts, but there is something aesthetically pleasing in seeing a turntable in a living room. It has a somewhat “high-class” look. A CD player or computer hard drive doesn’t create that same effect. The turntable is a throwback to the old days. Whereas, newer technology doesn’t have the same aesthetic qualities as the turntable. The only good that could come from a throwback look is hopes that in 30 years I can reassign my DVD player to the living room.

I’m proud of my Granny and Papa for not upgrading their VHS collection to DVD (which will cost too much money to actually do). Those films were meant to be watched on VHS. I know that I will never upgrade my DVD collection. I will, however, move along with the times and get the cool, new technology, just as soon as the format war dies down, and there is a clear victor. Of course, I’m not sure when that will happen. If the one-terabyte HVD (holographic video disc) being produced by Japanese companies hits American soil in 2007 I might have a longer wait, and eventually decide that I will forego all future technology (including the high-def cell phone and the flying car) and stay with my current DVD player. I will be the old geezer with the largest living collection of DVDs in 30 years.