Future format wars
Has war taught us anything? Will tech companies of the future join hands in unity and universal standards? You know what? Probably not. Even now, 3DTV comes to you in four different flavours of active-glasses tech, as well as the passive option. Early adopters will be forced to nail their colours to the mast and run the risk of backing the wrong horse again.
Blu-ray’s victory in the HD disc wars was clinical and swift, but a shoot-out dual against a direct rival is one thing. Taking on an evolved, nonphysical format is another. In truth, Blu-ray is still struggling to establish itself outside of America. European sales are pitiful, with consumers asking why discs are so expensive and just what is so wrong with DVD anyway? Now, new Sony and Samsung TVs will come loaded with Lovefi lm widgets that allow full 1080p videos to be viewed, streamed or stored over broadband. Hi-def in an instant.
The road to an MP3-like download-only utopia will be a rocky one, however. The UK’s broadband infrastructure means that the viewing experience will be choppy and slow for many. Also, acquiring the rights for digital streaming remains a legal minefield. As a further holding move, digital copies of movies are being bundled with Blu-ray discs.
Simon Morris, chief marketing officer of Lovefilm, is hedging his bets, offering everything and allowing the customer to pick a winner. He is reluctant to etch Blu-ray’s name on a gravestone just yet.
“At some point the infrastructure required to deliver digital easily to a mass market will be there and digital streaming will take over,” says Morris. “Clearly we will move to digital-only in the future, but at the moment I’m increasingly
convinced that Blu-ray discs will be around for a very long time.”
Every great format has its day then dies. The PS3 and Xbox will one day be consigned to history, but their lifespans will be boosted by this year’s Move and Kinect motion gaming add-ons. BSkyB and Japanese network NRK are already working on the Super Hi-Vision tech that has the potential to make HD look like CRT.
A few years ago it seemed certain that Apple and Microsoft would do battle until the end of time, but now Windows and Mac OS will be forced to adapt as Google’s vision of web-based cloud computing gathers traction. Sony will no doubt continue to pick fights with all comers. Maybe it’s no bad thing. Wars are terrible, but they drive innovation as the human survival instinct kicks in. Format wars are no different.
“No one likes a format war,” says Sony’s battle-hardened veteran Eric Kingdon. “But good things do come out of them. They drive us all on to produce the best tech possible. You end up with a much stronger idea than you ever imagined possible.”