Believe it or not, but I am actually quite interested in electronics and technology! Sure I still have a cel phone with a green display but nevertheless I endeavor to keep up with current gizmos (I just may not buy them)
(Update: As of May '05 I have a modern cel phone. Just so you won't worry)
So the topic on my mind today, well, at this hour, is the next-generation videogame system war and also the upcoming HD-DVD and Blue-Ray war. I feel they will be interconnected. Before I explain why, let's talk about the new movie disc formats and HDTV.
Buy a DVD lately? Have a lot in your collection? You do? Well, you'll be glad to know that the powers that be are already hard at work making them obsolete (yahoo!) The reason - HDTV! (High Definition Television)
HDTV started getting proposed and pushed a long time ago - even before 3D Realms began working on Duke Nukem Forever! But it (HDTV) had to go over a bunch of hurdles like bandwidth and crap like that. Since it was high-rez the video stream was going to have to be compressed to order to work. Finally it was decided that the MPEG-2 compression scheme (the one used to encode your DVD's, for example) would be sufficient to deliver the HDTV picture, so it became standardized and sets started to become available.
These sets weren't (and aren't) cheap at all... even the bargain-basement ones run for about $2000! Of course this didn't stop the Pentagon and bars from buying them (which is where you see them the most it seems) If you walk into a bar and they've got 10 widescreen HDTV's don't be surprised when the beers are $5 each. (Making airports look like a bargain almost)
But eventually when the price goes down enough (say, sub $750 for a decent-sized set) HDTV will take over, especially since the FCC decided that NTSC (the standard type of TV) was to be "phased out" starting this year I believe. In reality for the transition to take place not only do the price have to come down but also enough time has to pass that a new TV you bought in say, 1999, breaks and you need a new one. (People who dropped $1200 on a Sony Vega a couple years ago are probably not running out and buying $4000 HDTV's I bet)
Ok, so how does this affect DVD's? Well a DVD's resolution (how many dots make up the picture) is 720x480, which also the limit of what a standard TV can display. Whereas an HDTV can display something like 2048x1024 (don't quote me on that, but it's somewhere in that neighborhood). A DVD played on such a screen will have the picture blown up, which will reveal the limitations of the DVD. (I think any size LCD display reveals the limitations of a DVD, but that's just me) To put it in laymen's terms, it's like downloading a small picture off the internet and having it look like crap when you blow it up or print it - same deal. (Unlike the movies where they can "zoom in" on, say, a license plate and "clean it up" to make it crystal clear. That's not reality!)
-HD-DVD versus Blue-Ray-
So tech companies came up with HD-DVD and Blue-Ray. Both are high-definition next-generation movie disc formats that contain a higher quality version of the movie to take advantage of HDTV's... but the two formats are not compatible! So which will be used? It's kind of like the age-old "Beta -VS- VHS" thing... only 1 can really make it. Regardless, machines to play both kinds of discs are coming soon...
So how does this relate to videogames? Well, the next Playstation (cleverly titled - get this - the PS3!), due out supposedly 2006 is going to be using Blue-Ray discs (which are Sony's brainchild as it were) Whereas it's rumored the next Nintendo console (yes, they're making another one) called "The Revolution" will use HD-DVD for its games.
The thing to think about now is what is your average consumer more likely to do in the next year and a half?
A) Buy an expensive HD-DVD or Blue-Ray movie disc player to use on their $4000 HDTV, even though both formats are "up in the air" as to which will be the de facto standard. Then proceed to buy new versions of all the movies they already own on DVD, using the DVD versions as coasters or trap-shooting targets.
B) Buy a new game system to replace their 5 year old (and showing it) PS2.
So speaking from a logical standpoint people will be more likely buying new game systems before getting new HD disc players (Choice B) Recent history would point to the PS3 being the most successful, but the XBox is making some progress into Sony's territory and could give them a run for their money in the next generation.
-The Game System Connection-
While the final disc formats of the new game systems are still up in the air what really matters is that at any rate millions of different-format HD disc players (in the form of game systems) will be in people's homes by late 2006 - early 2007. Since HD movie disc players THEMSELVES will be mostly owned by "early adopters" at that time (and therefore not a significant factor - kind of like the number of people you knew who had laserdisc players back in the day) it's very very likely the HD disc "format of choice" will be decided solely by whichever game system sells the most and therefore has the highest installed base.
On top of that a game system's life is usually 5 years - meaning people will be using them until 2010 or later. Most likely by then HDTV's will be low enough in price (with the onset of OLED's or some other breakthrough) that average households will be buying them to replace their old TV's. And hey - they can play new high-definition movies on it using their game system, bonus!
Just from a numerical money standpoint movie studios will release titles for the format in the widest release, or if they do sell multiple formats they'll give the popular format the most support. If the PS3 is the top system, with it's Blue-Ray disc player, then it'll be Blue-Ray. If by some act of God the Nintendo Revolution wins, it'll be HD-DVD. Or whatever format XBox 2 uses.
What's even more interesting is that currently most studios are supporting HD-DVD and only (surprise!) Sony Pictures/Columbia are pushing for Blue-Ray. But if the PS3 sells as well as the PS2 did then the Blue-Ray players will easily outnumber the HD-DVD ones and the other studios will likely give in to Sony's format. Call it "The Revenge of the Beta"
-Conclusion and Things To Think About-
The possibility of a game system's popularity having the potential to dictate the new movie disc "format of choice" is a pretty interesting and frankly, rather revolutionary in the realm of electronic home entertainment. The merging of a game system/movie player is still a fairly new concept, but I'll leave you to ponder how such a "merging" of popular game system / new movie format might have affected things in the past...
VHS tapes existed at this time but no home had them. But WHAT IF the original Atari 2600 VCS - which sold in tens of millions - had a VHS player built-in? The home video revolution would have started YEARS before it did and Beta (in the home) would have never stood a chance.
In the 80's the home video market was just emerging. And since it was young a format battle was going on - Beta VS VHS. Beta is actually a better format (Similar to what TV studios use) but in the end it lost to VHS.
But WHAT IF the uber-popular original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System had a Beta player built in? Even in 1988 (the NES's first HUGE year of sales) VHS players weren't in every home and even the ones on the market were behemoth dinosaurs that most people replaced in the early 90's (with models SMALLER than a table saw) So a different format (in this case, Beta) could have "infiltrated" the market en masse and created a huge demand for a better format.
Remember, early videotape movies were quite expensive (sometimes like $80) and the low-price mass sales of them didn't really start until around 1988 (with titles like ET) So this isn't a totally whacky WHAT IF (unlike the next one :)
Nowadays we're all familiar with VCD's - not so great quality movies stuffed onto standard CD's. Most disc-burning software can use video files on your computer to burn these, and some DVD players will actually run them. Microsoft Movie Maker will also create them, I guess so you can mail disc to your friends so they can watch your toddler fall down. And unfortunately online movie piracy has helped "resurrect" the format.
But it's actually a pretty old standard - from around 1990, back when MC Hammer still was around! It (VCD's, not MC Hammer) used the MPEG-1 compression scheme, the predecessor to what your DVD's use. On top of that MP3 files actually use the audio portion of the old MPEG-1 scheme. So this format has been around the block a few times!
In the early 1990's VCD's were meant to be a possible VHS replacement. There was even talk of playing them on a standard CD deck which sent signals down the audio line (or some ridiculous idea like that) and then to a TV. Some machines could actually play these things (like certain model 3DO's with adapters in 1993) but it pretty much went nowhere.
But WHAT IF the SNES ran off VCDs? That system sold a lot, so many people would have FREE VCD players. Maybe then they'd search out the 5 VCD movies available and give 'em a try...
Granted this one was a long shot... but how about:
The first dedicated CD-ROM based game systems started coming out, the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation. Also in development at the time were DVD's, though they weren't standardized yet and studios will still working on getting them "unbeatable" copy protection.
But what if DVD players had come out a few years earlier than they did (which was possible, as stated above piracy-scared Hollywood was a big factor in their delay) WHAT IF the Playstation 1 could play DVD's?
It probably wouldn't have devastated the N64 or anything, but the DVD craze would have gotten a huge jump-start with the stellar sales of the PS1. The demise of VHS (and the start of people buying movies they already owned) would have certainly happened sooner. And then perhaps today we wouldn't look at HD-DVD and Blue-Ray and think "They're outdating DVD's ALREADY??"