Remember the small joy of demoting your VHS collection to the closet and re-purchasing your favourite movies on DVD?
And I bet you'll never forget how mind-blowing it was to first skip an entire scene with one button-click.
That was the 1990s. Today, Hollywood studios want to recapture that sense of wonder by compelling us to restock our video collection with a new high-definition DVD format. Thing is, Hollywood and the entire tech sector aren't exactly sure which format will prevail. Even more confusing is the fact that opting for the next generation this time around isn't as drastic as the move from tape to digital video.
In one corner stands Blu-ray, a high-capacity disc able to hold 50GB of data close to nine hours of high-def video and 23 hours of regular standard-definition video. Blu-ray uses a 405-nanometre-wavelength blue-violet laser compared to a DVD's 650-nm-wavelength red laser, which allows it to store more digital video and output a sharper, more lifelike picture. Most important for the consumer, Blu-ray is backed by major studios such as Sony, 20th Century Fox, Disney, Paramount and MGM. The upcoming Sony PlayStation 3 will house a Blu-ray player.
In the other corner, looking a tad lonelier, is HD-DVD, able to hold 30GB but costing less to manufacture. HD-DVD is backed by Toshiba, Microsoft, Universal Studios, HBO, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks. Microsoft's Xbox 360, the PS3's chief rival, uses an HD-DVD player.
High-def players for both formats debuted five months ago, and the response has been lukewarm. First, there's the price players range from $500 to $1,000, and you can only take advantage of the crisp picture quality if your TV set is also high-definition. Second, manufacturers rushed to the market with faulty products: Samsung's BD-P1000 player has been accused of producing inconsistent image quality due to a noise reduction circuit.
Third, and perhaps most important of all, the transition from standard definition to high definition isn't eye-popping. At press events in the summer, I saw Blu-ray and HD-DVD in all their over-hyped glory, and while I was impressed, it wasn't a technology I would support wholeheartedly. I have too many DVDs I don't wish to replace, and a 27-inch set that serves me just fine. These next-gen discs may deliver more realistic images that should excite any home-theatre nut, but what about the regular consumer? It's a shame tech companies only think with the bottom line in mind. Sometimes we don't want to upgrade every few years just because advertisements and Best Buy tell us to.
What will be the likely fallout from this format war? UK-based research firm Screen Digest published a thorough report on this matter, concluding that the two formats will coexist until they give way to affordable dual-format solutions.
Also across the pond, British-based New Medium Enterprises is looking to do just that by producing a multi-layer disc able to contain one film in various formats. Conceivably, blockbusters like Superman Returns could be released in regular DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray, and this breakthrough technology could hold all three formats on one disc. The war could be over with fewer casualties than expected.
Buying DVDs doesn't have the cachet it once did. Adams Media Research forecasts total DVD spending will only increase 1 per cent next year. Further hurting the high-def DVD successor (whoever it may be) is Apple's recent announcement of its upcoming movie-download device, called iTV, allowing technophiles to wirelessly stream movies from a computer to a TV set. And there's no need to buy The Simpsons on DVD, fancified version or not, when sites such as AllSimps.com are streaming every episode imaginable.
Even if one format does win over the other, the loser will still be the consumer. Or, rather, the consumer who bought the losing technology. Stuck with a unit that doesn't play the pervasive format, these early adopters will be flaming on forums with the intensity you'd expect from jaded lovers.
Just ask the Beta supporters. They could offer some condolences.