29 October, 2006

Format wars – Consumer Video

Format wars – Consumer Video

(O.K, I know, it’s been over two weeks – I do have a life)

For those of you old enough (and most of my 5 readers are) the Beta vs. VHS format wars on the home front along with the much smaller market of VideoDisk vs. PhonoVision and the DVD vs Dvix

Now there is a another battle looming between the “Blu-Ray” and the HD-DVD camps, for those of us who live outside of the larger DMA’s and for whatever reasons don’t have a DTH dish the only way you will see a true HD picture for some time is going to be from one of these.

One of these (Blu-Ray) uses a higher frequency laser with a shorter wavelength (4050 Angstroms) than the current DVD (and CD) of 6500 Angstroms so the cost of backwards compatibility and retooling of existing manufacturing means the dual layer HD-DVD will hit the market first and at a much lower initial cost.

Blu-Ray has the edge in storage, currently at about 50GB capacity for a single layer vs 30GB for dual layer HD-DVD and potential exists for multi layer capacity of over 100GB with is enough to store over 100 hours of standard definition video – all of the original Star Trek including bloopers and outtakes on one disk anyone?

If we go back to the Beta vs VHS wars there were several factors that contributed to the outcome

Betamax was a (marginally) better format, based on a ¾” industrial transport and threading scheme scaled down to a ½” form factor - also used in the pro BetaCam. Initially the consumer format limited to 1 hour per tape (BI on 500M) then BII had two hours but with a noticeable degradation and then eventually BIII with a tape speed so slow you could edit out commercials without a glitch during recording with the pause switch, initial consumer units were Mono for some time and until BetaHiFi the standard audio was nothing special and at BIII was awful.

VHS was cheaper to make, the modified M wrap is a less precise mechanism than Beta and the quality was never quite as good as the equivalent Beta although the SVHS format was quite good for its day it only showed its advantage if the tape was recorded from a
S-Video source (and displayed on a S-Video input monitor) and no rental distribution tapes were ever recorded that way. VHS had two other advantages, it started with two hour capacity so most movies could fit on one tape, and one of the dirty little secrets of the video rental industry – there was porn on VHS and not on Beta.

So the real driver of this battle will be the content providers, if you search the ‘net you will find 1000’s of hits for HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray, funny thing is most of them are over a year ago debating the ’05 holiday season – the content providers are reluctant to release their product in HD without some control over copying – a loosing battle.

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