Volume 4, # 1 June 2000
Category: Consumer Electronics
UPDATED: We look at consumer electronics, more specifically, DVD
DVD or Digital Versatile Disc is the next generation storage medium promoted by both the computer and music industry as the eventual replacement for the CD, the CD-ROM and even the laser disk and VHS tape. This format was conceived jointly by Sony-Phillips, the same corporate duo that developed the compact-cassette in the sixties and the CD in the eighties, as well as the relatively unsuccessful DCC (Digital Compact Cassette).
A Personal Historical Perspective - History of CD's and CD-ROM's
In 1979, I read in an article published by the Popular Science magazine about a new medium that would use lasers to play back music, more specifically, digital music, from a 5 1/4 inch silvery disk. Featured in their popular What's New section, they reviewed a Sony prototype of a compact disk player (which had a list price of around $10,000 at the time). The promise of this new technology was a quantum leap in audio reproduction, distribution and ease of use. Of the major features, the most remarkable was the virtual elimination of surface noise such as scratches and nicks that can easily be associated with vinyl (we most all of us still remember records and LP's, right?) and the expansion or extension of the range of sound frequencies that could be recorded and played back, close to studio quality (limited to digital recordings of course). I made a mental bookmark to revisit this new technology when it finally arrived on the market for the consumer...
Well, in 1983, I purchased Sony's and the world's first commercially made model, the CDP-101 for whopping $850! Today you can buy a comparable player for under $100! (us technophiles always pay premium prices to be first)
It worked flawlessly, but had little in the way of features (at least compared to the players of today). At the time, only a handful of CD's were available and they sold for around twenty to twenty-five bucks. What was truly remarkable was the sound quality I witnessed on the digitally recorded classical Telarc CD that featured COPLAND: Fanfare, Rodeo & Appalachian Spring: the drums pounding even through my humble speakers sounded so realistic. I still have the first CD produced for the medium, Billy Joel's 52'nd Street.
Well, I quickly told friends and relatives of my discovery and relished in demos of my new toy. Surprisingly, many thought my purchase and divergence to be dubious and perhaps hasty (not to mention frivolous). Some pointed out 8-track tape and quadraphonic records as parallel possibilities. But I stood my ground and intuitively knew this medium would storm the industry, so much so that I made a prediction that within five years, the CD would stock 50% of the inventory of record stores and departments! History shows I was just a tad too conservative, because by 1986, records and LP's were in the minority at these places and by the end of the decade you were hard-pressed (no pun intended) to locate records at all. Today the music CD is as ubiquitous as the record was fifteen years ago.
Back to 1984 and forward: I was hooked. Eventually CD's were coded with 3 letters, like DDD or ADD, which informed the consumer as to how the CD was recorded or pressed. Before long, I had begun a 12 year quest to replace my vinyl and now have over 300 CD's, and have purchased/owned five new players since then, two of boom box genre, and one in my 1994 car (factory installed). My mother still has my original Sony CDP-101. I wonder if it is a collector's item?
Another byproduct of the CD revolution (along with MTV), was the revitalization of the music industry as a whole which has benefited enormously.
In 1985 having already jumped upon the CD craze, I read about using a CD player and CD as a peripheral for static storage on a computer. This was using existing technology but different storage standards and requirements. CD-ROM or CD - Read Only Memory promised over 600 MB of storage that a computer could access. The possibilities were endless. In 1986 I bought CD-ROM: The New Papyrus, published by Microsoft. In 1987, I ventured out again and bought my first CD-ROM, an Amdek (Hitachi) from Sears for over $900!
Once connected to my computer I could now buy new disks like Microsoft Bookshelf (still available today) or Microsoft's Programmer Reference (which included all of the documentation for most all Microsoft developer software) and now known as the Microsoft Developer Library. What was really remarkable about having virtual books on CD was the search/find and bookmark capabilities; I also could cut and paste snippets of source code! This capability mirrored the Windows help design and foreshadowed the World Wide Web.
Well, I felt the CD-ROM would proliferate much faster than CD, but this time I was too optimistic. It's taken almost ten years for the CD-ROM to become an expected and required peripheral, but the implications are remarkable: computer games and multimedia both fostered and benefited from the CD-ROM and today it is replacing floppy disks as the preferred distribution medium for software installation.
As the speed of CD-ROM has approached over 8 times, improving performance, the music CD has remained relatively unchanged.
But as with many technologies, there seems to be built-in obsolescence. You cannot record on CD's (at least not the average consumer), and storage breakpoints have reached saturation (600MB is relatively small), since new applications - both computer and video are vying for more space and are gluttons for gigabits: Enter DVD!
DVD has remarkable features which practically guarantee success: MPEG 2 video, over 4 GB of storage (17 GB max) and the future compatibility with recordable DVD a.k.a DVD-RAM. Once the DVD-RAM players and software becomes available, we should see steady replacement of current video formats including laser disk and videotape (VHS), with a slower replacement of the current generation of music Compact Disks which DVD is backward compatible with. In the PC/computer arena, the first generation CD-ROMs will experience a similar fate into the next century. However, the DVD-RAM, may be incompatible with the first DVD units available.
The latest DVD news is that industries concerned with copy protection (music, movies, software, etc.) have finally agreed upon a scheme, which paves the way for the first players to hit the streets in 1997...
I recently witnessed my first demonstration of a DVD system at a local consumer electronics store. The Panasonic DVD-100/300 series playing a demo version of "Twister" was unimpressive compared to Laser Disk quality, but an obviously digitally recorded video tape reproduced on a DVD disk was remarkable.
Finally, I have just purchased the Pioneer DVL-700, a DVD/LD/CD combo player. I now have both Twister and Blade Runner which I bought at the only place in Orlando that sells/rents DVDs (also laser disks), LASERIFIC.
1997 PREDICTION: Computer based DVD units and software will explode this year and grow exponentially into the next century, while audio/visual units for TV/stereo will grow at a more moderate rate, not replacing CD's, Laser Disks or VHS tape until DVD-RAM establishes itself when the next century begins...
Other DVD Links
DVD Info a comprehensive site worth looking at with just about everything you would want to know.
Latest DVD news and updates
DVD Revolution (PC Computing)
I now have roughly 120 DVD's in my collection, and bought a new tuner/amplifier, AC3 (Dolby-Digital 5.1), the Sony STR-DE915 (see at left), several new Bose 701 speakers, so I can enjoy the full 5 channel surround sound we all experience in theatres.
2000 Update: I now have over 150 and DVD's now rule! They have by-passed laser disks and are catching up with VHS. Today all major film producers are releasing new and old movies and you can rent them at BlockBuster. Players can now be had for under $300. Most DVDs sell for around $19.95 but can vary from $14.99-27.99 depending on studio and features.
Is DVD DOA? Not Yet - MSNBC via ZDNET