Future format wars

Famous format wars I VHS versus Betamax I 8-Track versus cassette I Sega versus Sony versus Nintendo I Blu-ray versus HD-DVD I 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.”

Future Format Fights

T3 writers pick winners in some looming battles

Duncan Bell, Podcaster and Operations Editor - T3

Active versus Passive 3D

Today, everyone except LG is trying to flog you their own brand of active 3D, with
shutter glasses that cost the same as a bottle of decent Champagne. None of them are compatible with each other. Pretty soon, people are going to realise that passive 3D is what they’ve used at the cinema, figure that Avatar looks just a little better than Blackpool versus Stoke on Sky 3D and ask why TV manufacturers are so keen to push active 3D. Naturally the answer to that question is, “So you’re locked into their proprietary hardware, cheese!”

Joe Svetlik, News and Play Editor - T3

Motion gaming

This autumn sees the dawn of controller-less gaming with the launch of Kinect,
while PlayStation’s Move controller also adds HD and more responsiveness to the
Wii’s original motion control. Game over? Maybe not. The Wii already has huge penetration, with just under 50 per cent of the console market. Kinect and Move may be more advanced technically, but if VHS versus Betamax taught us anything it’s that success is down to a lot more than just specs. My prediction is that the Nintendo Wii will be sitting pretty for a while yet.

Luke Peters, Editor - T3

Techno or House?

The last ten years has seen compressed music filling up MP3 players and replacing the once-familiar sound of CDs. However, as multi-gigabyte iPods mature into terabyte (and petabyte) devices, and 4G networks arrive giving us super-bandwidth streaming, it’s conceivable that we’ll revert back to file formats that are larger in size but are also phatter tonally. WAV, uncompressed AAC, FLAC and MP3s that contain multiple bit-rate options could all be vying for your pocket space in the next few years.