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Musings on the HD Format War

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Plenty of people are covering the death of HD DVD so I thought I’d take a different tack here. Listening to NPR last night I heard a story that played tape from an old, old interview with a Sony executive on Betamax. Yes, Beta tapes died a sad death much like the HD DVD format (hey, Sony gets to be the winner this time!), but what was really interesting to me were the buzz words coming out of the executive’s mouth. He described the Beta technology as giving consumers TV in a new way – “what you want, when you want it.” Sound familiar?

It’s amazing to me that we’ve been talking the same talk for almost thirty years. Granted, the technology’s come a long way in that time, but it’s amazing how much things haven’t changed. I remember being a little girl and hearing about VCRs for the first time. They sounded like magic. Today I feel much the same way about my DVR.

One other interesting point about the latest iteration of the TV evolution: Here we’ve spent all this time fighting over a format for a physical medium when digital streaming and downloads are becoming ever more common. I’m not silly enough to predict the death of DVDs, but they’re certainly going to decrease in importance over the next few years with continued growth of on-demand video from service providers and Internet video. We’ll likely continue to have some sort of physical medium for a long time to support the perennially-popular “sneakernet” approach. But will that medium be digital disc?

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