you want to watch all your favorite movies in HD, be prepared
to buy two different players
It happens just like it does in the commercials. The colors
are vivid, the subjects mesmerizing. I stare at it, unblinking,
for minutes, like those fish are in a tank right in front
of me, like I just happened to come upon a snake swallowing
the eggs of some furry little critter. But I didnít. No, Iíve
just walked into my cousinís posh Washington, D.C., apartment
and have been seduced by some animal channel playing on her
new, wall-hung HDTV. And, as stupid as it is, I know Iím hooked.
As unaffordable as HDTVs are, I know I have to have one. God,
I hate it when the commercials are right.
I think there was a point during my college years when I didnít
watch TV. I think I may have had one of those ďKill Your TVĒ
stickers. But thatís all over. Now, I get the shakes if I
miss an episode of the Colbert Report, get panic attacks
if Iím late for The Sopranos. I cried during the West
Wing finale. Curse you, HD.
Iíve been leashed by the consumer- electronics companies,
and I havenít even put up a fight. Now I have friends in the
know telling me I have to get an HD-DVD player to complement
the HDTV. The consumer- electronics companies have lined themselves
up another rube.
Frankly, though, I am sick of staring at the Nature Channel
while I wait for a good show. I dream of watching my favorite
flicks in their fully-rendered glory: Guy Pearce in Memento,
crisp as lettuce, so that I can read every tattoo; Christian
Bale in American Psycho, reciting Huey Lewis lyrics;
Batman defeating a rogueís gallery in hi-def bravado; every
curve of Carrie-Anne Moss, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Winslet. .
. . But Iím getting ahead of myself here.
As it turns out, if I want to watch Warner Bros.í Batman
and Sonyís Spider-Man, I will probably have to buy
two different players: the Toshiba-backed HD-DVD or the Sony-backed
Who doesnít yearn for the glory days of the Betamax-VHS war?
Can anyone wait to spend $500 apiece on two machines, one
of which will likely become obsolete?
Judging by early sales, most people can.
Earlier last month, tech-heads had a chance to get their hands
on the first HD-DVD players and the first HD-DVD films. On
the release date, you could have spent $90 and had the entire
HD-DVD collection. As much of a bargain as that may sound
like, your collection would have consisted of three movies:
The Last Samurai, The Phantom of the Opera and
Serenity, and you would probably have spent $30 per
DVD. Despite the lack of titles, Toshiba and HD-DVD backers
are relying on their early start to beat out Sonyís Blu-Ray.
However, some movie studios are getting cold feet and have
decided to wait to see how things play out with the formats
before releasing many movies.
players will be available later this year, and they have the
support of a number of consumer-electronics companies and
movie studios. They also hold more data, and are touted as
being more durable than the competition. Blu-Ray also has
the advantage of being the chosen format of the upcoming PlayStation
3. Microsoft, an HD-DVD supporter, was rumored to be releasing
its next-generation console, the Xbox 360, with an HD-DVD
drive, but that didnít happen. The company has hinted that
it will eventually release an add-on HD-DVD player for the
system. Sony, however, hopes that having an installed base
with its PS3 will give it its killer edge. It is worth noting
that during the Betamax-VHS conflict, Betamax was touted as
offering better quality and higher definition. That did nothing
to stop VHS from emerging as the dominant format.
What may be the most interesting feature of this impending
format war is that steps had been taken to make sure something
like this would never happen again. It wasnít the Betamax-VHS
debacle that brought the consumer-electronics companies to
their senses; it was actually during the crisis that led to
the formation of the current DVD format that electronics companies
realized they needed to find a way to avoid future format
conflicts. Sony and Phillips had created the Multimedia Compact
Disc, while Toshiba had its Super Density Disc. A deal was
finally reached before the formats went to market, and the
DVD, as well as the DVD Forum, was born. But for Sony, royalty
levels resulting from the deal didnít reach desirable levels,
so the company immediately began work on new format technology.
The DVD Forum was supposed to ensure format continuity, but
it couldnít solve the current dispute between the backers
of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. Sony has gone around the DVD Forum
altogether, and does not label its format DVD.
So which format is most likely to wind up connected to your
TV and which will end up in the trash compactor? That may
not really be the important question. What if neither format
fails? What if there is no resolution and consumers who want
to watch movies from all the studios are forced to buy both
During the last technology cycle for video-game companies,
three manufacturersóNintendo, Sony and Microsoftósold systems
at around $200-$300 apiece, and many video gamers bought more
than one console. This time around, Sony and Microsoft are
going head to head with systems priced around $500 each, and
both companies will probably sell millions of systems and
millions of games, games that are priced at up to $70 apiece.
If both sides in the movie- format war hold out long enough,
consumers may grow accustomed to the situation. Eventually,
they may barely remember the time they could watch their movie
collections all on one machine. Is the next-wave DVD market
big enough to be divided down the middle? Only time will tell.