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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: The First Thousand Years Are the Hardest

22 Dec, 2000 By: Bruce Apar

The epic, epochal election that just climaxed the 20th century may have been agonizing (for about half those who voted), but, for cosmic-conscious optimists, it bodes well for the next 1000 years -– or at least the first 12 months of the next 1000 years.

(Lest anyone is confused by the near-hysterical hype that had millions believing 2000 to be the first year of anything, simple logic suggests 2001 is Year One of the next millennium, making 2000 the coda year of the previous one.)

By working up the country –- not to mention other parts of the world -– into a state of total befuddlement, the election signalled in neon lights that nothing is what it seems and everything exists to be challenged and questioned.

How does this affect the home entertainment industry? Glad you asked.

Take Sony Playstation 2. Earlier this year, it looked to be the slam-dunk next-generation game platform of choice that would blow all competitive systems to smithereens. Going into ’01, we expect to see earnest competition for a system that has seemingly managed to tick off more people than it has impressed. Sony did a masterly job of spiking demand for its sexy DVD-equipped game machine, then underestimated how frustrated the consumer public and retailers would become when faced with marketing hype and empty shelves. Will the ill will last, or is it just a momentary spat? We’re curious to see whether other game systems sporting DVD drives, and there’ll be several you haven’t heard of, will exploit that public awareness to their advantage, and Sony’s chagrin.

Etailing is another area that already has seen its comeuppance, with more to come in 2001. For honest and dishonest e-commerce sites alike, PS2 was like nectar. Unsuspecting online shoppers paid for the system, only to discover the Brand X sites had no inventory to ship. Some sites thought they’d have product, while others knew darn well they were scamming the customer. The result is that pure-play etailers are fast losing credibility, to the benefit of clicks-and-mortar sites with brand reputations that precede them in the bricks-and-mortar marketplace.

As part of the post-apocalyptic return to simple pleasures the turn of the century will afford us, the coming year will bring a sensible rejection of those so-called personal video recorders in favor of replacing old VCRs and acquiring new DVD players. For now, the digital hard-drive video recorder is another box we can do without. Besides, our media-stupid culture would do well to reverse the obsession with TV-viewing. PVRs, or whatever they’re called this week, simply are not a quantum improvement over either VCRs or DVDs.

Digital cinema is the current darling of slick film journalists, but it’ll continue to be written about a lot more than it will be projected in theaters. Who will pay for the very costly equipment necessary to retrofit all those multiplexes already in financial quicksand?

Video-on-demand, it goes without saying, is still going nowhere fast. Bandwidth remains a bandmyth. I would gladly tell you my personal stories of disgust in dealing with cable modems or DSL, but by now you probably have your own to tell or have heard from others. Like cable companies sending high-speed modems to homes that aren’t properly connected to high-speed pipes.

My favorite anecdotes involve, what else, AOL, which seems intent on demonizing itself as the 21st century’s answer to Ma Bell. Click on an AOL banner offering to tell you if DSL is available in your neighborhood and, in a flash, you’ve ordered DSL when you never intended to. Somebody could make a fortune selling form letters to state attorneys general if AOL keeps up those shenanigans.

If you go with a modem from your cable company, you get to pay only $9.95 a month for your AOL, but if you order DSL through AOL, your monthly AOL fee stays at $19.95 plus you pay another $19.95 a month for DSL. Well, it has to pay for Time Warner somehow. Might as well be out of your pocket.

Does that mean a resurgence of VHS rentals? Not so fast, although there are signs of retro trends in amusement, such as a 23% increase in the sales of board games. And for those who bemoan a downturn in VHS rentals, there are others who celebrate the onrush of DVD sales and rentals.

What about downloading music files, which is threatening to transform the music industry before our very ears. Take this test. Ask a dozen twentysomethings how many actually rip CD tracks and download them to their computers or to MP3 players. I bet you’ll be asking a long time before five of them answer in the affirmative. It’s more involved and time-consuming than most casual users care to commit to.

Digital devices are sexy and designed to improve the quality of life, after a fashion. They also remain complicated, glitch-prone pieces of a glitzy future that can clutter our existence.

It’s enough to jolt some of us back into reflecting how lucid and light-hearted life can be at the turn of the century, in the elegant simplicity of our analog cabins.

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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