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If You Can't Play Nice Together, Consumers Will Separate You

20 Mar, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

I wholeheartedly believe that if you don't learn from history you are bound to repeat it.

At this moment, I'd like nothing more than to rent an airplane and write this in big bold letters in the sky over the homes of some of our industry's leaders.

The brutal format wars between Beta and VHS almost killed the home video industry before it could fly.

DVD, in contrast, took flight and soared largely because disagreements over specs had been ironed out in compromise before the format was even introduced.

But those two examples are apparently lost on our industry's key decisionmakers, who are now rallying support for two competing next-generation audio formats (the Super CD and DVD-Audio) and three (three!) competing next-generation DVD formats.

Sorry, guys, but unless you agree on a single standard ahead of time, none of these noble experiments will succeed.

Look at the mess that next-gen audio is in. DVD-Audio has something like 300 titles, while Super CD has maybe 700. At this point, it seems unlikely either format will take off and replace the CD, simply because the force required to advance consumers to the next technological level is divided, split, ripped right down the middle.

The situation in the high-definition DVD camp is even worse. At first there were two noncompatible formats; now, there are three. Two of them use a blue laser: Blu Ray Disk, now known by the catchy nickname “BD,” and the Advanced Optical Disk. The third player is a high-definition red-laser DVD, backed by Warner Bros.

Each camp is churning out as much press as it can muster, in the hope that it will triumph.

But despite the public's love affair with all things DVD, I don't see any victory, at least not anytime soon, for any of these competing technologies. With apologies to President Bush, you don't win a war by defiance — in the world of technology, experience has shown that those who stand alone inevitably stumble and fall, and those who succeed only do so by mastering the genteel art of compromise.

That's how DVD got off to its rocket start, and that's really the only way any next-generation variant can take us to the next level.

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