What Next-Gen DVD Will Survive the Next Three Years?
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Sony is fighting to be the winner in a storage media war again, this time against Toshiba. It's Blu-ray vs. HD DVD in a battle that looks suspiciously like the dust-up Sony lost about 25 years ago. Or is it? This one has a couple of interesting twists, though, thanks to some smart thinking by Samsung and some heavy duty research by Fujifilm. With expansions in electronic storage, you just might have a lot more physical space three years from now.
How many of you remember Sony’s Betamax? I know, I’m flashing back to a battle over the format for video storage that was lost a quarter of a century ago. But it still has relevance today. Most articles that I’ve seen covering the war for the next generation of video storage like to mention that old fight for TV viewers’ hearts and minds – and pocketbooks – at least in passing.
Up until very recently, there seemed to be several good reasons for that preoccupation. Let’s start with the most obvious comparison: Sony was an active combatant in that first war. Back then, it was Sony’s Betamax against JVC’s VHS. Now, it’s Sony’s Blu-ray against Toshiba’s HD-DVD. Needless to say, Sony lost. In fact, Sony lost so badly that Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that follows an open source model, observes that “The VHS format's defeat of the superior Betamax format became a classic marketing case study, now identified with the verbal phrase ‘to Betamax,’ wherein a proprietary technology format is overwhelmed in the market by a format allowing multiple, competing, licensed manufacturers, as in: ‘Apple Betamaxed themselves out of the PC market.’"
Another point worth noting about the Betamax vs. VHS war is that Sony was widely considered to have the better, more advanced technology. Betamax cassettes were smaller than VHS cassettes, and many videophiles said they produced a sharper picture. Betamax tapes were also supposedly faster to start up, and transitioned faster to “play” from “fast forward” or “rewind.” Additionally, not many people may have been aware of this, but the Betamax format had an audio-only mode that allowed for very high-fidelity sound reproduction as compared to normal tape recorders of the time. Another cool point about the Betamax format was that, despite the tapes themselves being smaller, they were capable of storing more video than the VHS format, because the tape ran more slowly.
The final point I’d like to mention is that Sony launched a huge marketing effort in an ultimately vain attempt to make the Betamax a success. The company was clearly committed to the product. While the Betamax format came out in the mid-70s, it wasn’t until the beginning of 1988, one year after Rolling Stone ran a story announcing that “the battle is over,” that Sony admitted to plans for a VHS line of VCRs.
There can be little doubt that, if the Japanese giant has a halfway decent corporate memory, the Betamax vs. VHS war still gives Sony executives nightmares. This point is worth keeping in mind as we look at the news dispatches covering the Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD format war.
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