Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Choosing Wisely

Do you remember when Video Cassette Recorders came out? There were two competing formats called Video Home System, or VHS, introduced by JVC corporation and Betamax, created by Sony. The two were fiercely competing for their share of the market. As people flooded the newly created "Video Rental Stores," they could choose either format, depending on which player they had recently purchased. I remember going to the rental store with my dad to rent videos on the VHS format. "New Releases" back then were in theaters over a year previously and purchasing theatrical videos required around $80!! Our player was a top-loading model that set my parents back $595!!! (they left the hand-written sticker mounted to the side all those years.)

Eventually, Betamax lost out, and so did the people who put their money and faith in that format. Soon, everyone owned a VHS player, video rental superstores emerged, "New Releases" were only a few months out of theaters, and private video collections grew as the cost of purchasing them came way down and people learned to copy them.

Not long after that, Pioneer introduced the LaserDisc format. Videophiles went out and purchased the players and the gaudy, giant sized discs. The Betamax people of old were likely to be a little more cautious in converting to the new medium. The discs did improve the sound and picture quality and were easier to store in the same racks as owners' vinyl records, but they did require that they be flipped halfway through the movie. I should know, I had to do it for my dad. Ultimately, the LaserDisc served only a very small niche market and went the way of the dinosaur, but therein lay the technological concepts of future digital disc formats like the Compact Disc.

Sony got revenge later on with the help of Philips when they introduced the CD and CD player. Vinyl records went out long ago and were replaced with cassette tapes, but the CD seemed destined to replace both of them. With my own personal investment tied up in my cassettes, cassette carriers, and cassette players, I was reluctant to throw away my hard-earned allowance on this new product that hadn't proven itself. But it didn't take long before stores were carrying fewer and fewer cassetes and more and more CDs. I couldn't believe it was happening! You could record your own voice on a cassette and music right off the radio!! CDs were only available for playback. Additionally, cassettes didn't skip when you jogged and boy did those CDs jump around.

By the time I was a junior in high school, both mediums were still around and I proudly sported an impressive collection of both CDs and cassettes. Although my car only played the latter, I purchased a shelf-system stereo that played both CDs and had dual cassette deck for "high-speed" dubbing. . . . Cool! Soon, cassette tapes went out of stores altogether and finding even blank dubbing tapes became impossible. Prices came down on CD players for cars, and I saved up $300 to purchase my first one. By then, I figured CDs were the last great audio medium. I thought to myself, "It would be great if they could shrink movies down from the LaserDisc size to the CD size, but that'll never happen since movies have so much more information, oh well . . ."

And then they came. Sony was the first to put out what was called their MultiMedia Compact Disc (MMCD), but the members of the super density storage community came together in an attempt to avoid the Beta/VHS war of the 80s. They agreed upon a single format, Sony jumped on board, and soon we were seeing TV commercials for videos that were "coming to VHS and DVD!" Those of us with 4-head, Hi-Fi VHS players and substantial video collections were hoping that the DVD thing was just a fad, and so we continued to buy and rent VHS tapes, being kind and rewinding them before we returned them and enjoying the occasional task of unjambing the tape from the player. Most of us, too, had all our our home movies on VHS. We simply had too much invested with a perfectly fine product to abandon it altogether for another unproven medium.

The commercials for home videos kept coming but slowly transitioned towards the phrase "coming to DVD!" I guess I'm going to have to jump on the band wagon once again. I bought a DVD player that also played all my CDs!! I sold most of my VHS tapes at garage sales for a buck or two, and I started buying DVDs. Just a year or two ago, I sold my last VHS tape, got rid of my VCR, and converted all my home videos to DVD format. Even my CD collection began to get dusty as this new Ipod, .mp3 thing began to emerge.

To this day, my CDs sit upstairs high on a shelf unused, and towers and towers of CD-Rs full of created music sit on their spools. It's come to the point that I'm so overloaded with music and new artists that I will just create a new CD or data CD when I'm tired of listening to the old ones. They've essentially become disposable. The video entertainment system in my Expedition goes unused as the VHS player is broken. I've been content to watch all my DVDs on my 27-inch color television with my 5-channel surround sound system. I've been trying to avoid listening to the commercials for new video releases as they now say "coming to DVD and BluRay, and I squint painfully to try to read the scrolling sports scores across the bottom of my TV screen as the TV signal is formated for this new widescreen fad.

Refusing to be one of those unfortunate consumers who chose Betamax, and having chosen incorrectly myself long ago in the 8-bit video game market, choosing Sega 8-bit over the eventual market winner Nintendo, not to mention paying a cool grand 8 years ago for the latest 5 megapixel camera, only to have the digital SLR cameras come out a year later for the same price, I haven't purchased any high-def videos yet. Luckily for me, too, 'cause with my luck, I would have purchased Toshiba's High Definition DVD (HD DVD) format and now been stuck with an obsolete, expensive product.

With technology changing so quickly, as a consumer its very difficult to decide when to enter a certain market. If one can wait it out a bit, not only will the product prove itself, but prices will come down too. Unfortunately by then, something else that is better has likely taken its place. For now, it looks like BluRay and HDTV are here to stay, and although I'm not thinking about buying an expensive BluRay player just yet, I've gotten tired of not being able to see the margins of my favorite programs.

Consequently, I've taken the plunge and joined the ranks of the High-Def, widescreen, slim lined television owners, purchasing a 50-inch plasma unit last Sunday online. Once it gets here, I'll install it over the fireplace and have a proper memorial for my faithful 27-square-incher. I just hope that some new "Super HD, Ultra wide" or "tall screen" model come out soon. I don't think I can afford to keep up with the technological advances. I mean, how much better can it actually get?

1 comment:

bob s said...

I feel your pain. I just turned into our local thrift shop a bunch of "early adapter" surround sound equipment. You know the stuff its $$$$$ per individual box that in the next two years is incorporated as standard equipment on a simple receiver at 1/10th the price.