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Tech Guinea

posted on November 5th, 2005 by jay
Blu Ray pic
It sure is blu.

You have likely heard of the two technologies fighting for space in our computer drives and movie players: HD DVD and Blu Ray. Toshiba is the driving force of the former and Sony and Panasonic the defenders of the latter. The HD DVD is cheaper to produce and may be more easily compatible with todays technology but the Blu Ray holds more and is the better technology. But this isn’t a tech article, that would be too useful. If you want to read more about the technology read something like this.

Both formats have a large number of companies behind them. Big movie corporations are on both sides, Apple and Dell are backing the Blu Ray and now Microsoft and Intel have come out in favor of the HD DVD. Some of the discord must be political (not really political, but less about the actual technologies and more about the companies). If Sony is pushing one then Microsoft must align themselves with the other. MS might have noticed the PS3 will use Blu Ray, not that the whole debate hinges on video games, but it’s a substantial market that Microsoft wants to capture.

HD DVD pic
Even less interesting to look at than the other.

There have been talks of merging the two formats, coming to some middle ground so that there will be less confusing in the market. These negotiations between Sony and Toshiba failed and it seems like there is little chance now of only one new disc technology hitting the market. This means that the consumers will have to make a bet on which will outlive the other, and that makes me angry. The chance to unify the technologies existed but both sides would rather people piss away their money. Politics already seem to be determining who backs whom to some extent so it’s likely a compromise was not achieved due to politics as well.

Gambling between technologies is not the same as the usual run of the mill capitalism. When you buy a sweater from Masters it will continue to keep you warm long after Masters goes out of business because the sweater is comparable to any other sweater. Even electronic devices are usually comparable. You may have bought a shitty TV but until it breaks, you still can watch TV on it. If you buy a disc player that plays a type of disc that fails you’ll still be able to play those discs on it, but there won’t be any new ones. If Sony’s UMD format dies tomorrow then everyone who bought into that technology can enjoy Resident Evil Apocalypse as many times as they like, but they shouldn’t expect any decent movies coming out in their format.

Man eating money
For unknown reasons, Microsoft has taken Toshiba’s side.

The idea that we as consumers will decide which technology will win is a bit scary. The same people who buy mostly pop music, watch tons of reality TV and eat at McDonalds weekly will control the fate of a new format. It’s actually not true, at least; technologies are decided on by huge corporations and the government usually. Who the hell voted for HD TV? Blu Ray or HD DVD surviving will be based on which companies ultimately back it and how long the losing side can hold out before accepting defeat.

I don’t want to be part of this experiment and I don’t think you should be, either. Let the billion dollar corporations sort it out instead of passing the cost onto the consumer. Technology gambling has been costly to my family as we have supported Commodore and Sega. I will not buy another machine that will be dead in a year, especially when the ability to solve the problem is completely within reach. When I buy new consoles I will buy them because of the games they play, not only because that’s what the systems are for but because investments in movies and music in a new format are just too iffy. If you win in technology gambles you have exactly what you had, there’s no extra prize, and if you lose you have useless hardware. At least I was too young to get a Betamax player.

 Sony’s Misses
A list of some of Sony’s failed formats:

Micro MV – Stomped by MicroDV due to inferior video quality.

Micro MV pic

ATRAC – With the help of the iPod, mp3’s come out unscathed against Sony’s proprietary audio compression format.

HiFD – A bigger floppy killed by Zip Drives, CDRs and its many problems.

HiFD pic

MiniDisc – Failed to catch on in the US but reportedly did pretty well in other regions.

SACD – The Super CD that will probably lose out to mp3 players.

Betamax
– Too expensive for pornographers.

Betamax pic

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