Kumbaya time?

Disk formats may put aside differences

If you’ve followed this Cybernaut column for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that I have a bit of an unhealthy fixation with the ongoing battle over the next generation of high capacity DVDs – specifically the ongoing battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats.

Years as a consumer who makes bad choices have made me suspicious of choices in general – in my view, the less choice out there, the less chance I’ll make the wrong one. It runs in my family – my parents bought a Betamax and everyone knows what happened when Beta lost out to VHS. I don’t want to go through that ordeal again.

So when I heard that two different groups were working on competing versions of high capacity disks that use blue light lasers to allow for enough storage capacity to hold definition movies, I lost a bit of my sanity.

History has shown that having multiple formats for the same technology is not healthy, and that one format always triumphs over the other. I knew I would choose the wrong one by buying a Blu-ray system, only to have HD-DVD win the battle, or vice versa. At first I hoped the entertainment industry would step in and force these two groups to decide on one technology, but it hasn’t happened yet – probably because most of the major entertainment studios are owned by or partnered with the leading technology companies on both sides of the issue.

Time is running out. The next generation Sony Playstation is going Blu-Ray and the next generation Xbox is going HD-DVD, and both systems will be released within the next year.

But then last week, in what could be called the 11 th hour after three years of fighting, the two groups pushing the different formats met and decided to push for a common DVD format.

The Blu-ray disk group, backed by Sony, Dell, Samsung, Philips and Matsushita (Panasonic) and the HD-DVD group, backed by Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo, are actually at the table.

Rather than choose one standard over another, they two groups will unify their concepts into one. Both sides felt that two formats would confuse and alienate customers – especially those that bought betas, eight tracks, digital tape machines, Amiga computers, Sega Dreamcasts or other doomed technologies in the past.

Each format had its advantages. Blu-ray disks could store more, and would come in protective cases that work like minidisks or those 3.5 inch floppy disks to prevent damage. HD-DVD disk players would be backwards compatible and able to read old DVDs, and would be cheaper to manufacture and sell.

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