After a bit of a summer break where we have been trying to avoid the heat (and we’ve seen gold prices shooting up to record prices!) we’re going to go back to talking more about consumer electronics…specifically, some of the things you may want to watch on that new television…to paraphrase a catchy old jingle, let’s go out to the movies!
Early days of home movies meant breaking out the 8mm projector and sitting through those boring stories summer vacation stories. This changed in the 1980s when home video cassettes, already on the market for a few years, started gaining popularity. There were two main formats for video cassettes, the Sony-backed Beta-max, and the JVC-backed VHS (which stood for very high speed). While more popular in the Asian market (and still having a cult following that still argue their superior playback and performance over the rival format) the Beta-Max format did not get the corporate backing that VHS did, becoming obscured by the massive marketing to make VHS the standard format for video cassette recording and playback. Most experts agree that from a technical standpoint, both formats are near identical in video playback, but VHS had a lower cost thanks to a better marketing strategy, and the popular advantage of having longer recording and playback times by running the tape slower, giving a two and a half hour tape a maximum capacity of 8 hours. There was significant video loss from these slower speeds, of course.
The next popular leap in home video technology was the digital video disc or DVD. While it’s predecessor, the 12-inch laserdisc, had been around since the late 70s, the cost related to manufacturing the discs and the players themselves, along with their fragility, made the discs unpopular. Their playback capacity was limited to 60 minutes per side, which meant viewers would need to ‘flip sides’ halfway through most movies, and some movies requiring two discs. DVDs (as well as compact discs and laserdiscs) are an optical based disc, where a laser is bounced off the disc and the signal is read digitally, with a more durable design than laserdiscs, near loss-less playback compared to VHS tapes, and larger capacity (4.7GB, or up to 3 hours of standard definition video). Also, having the ability to select a chapter to start at, not having to rewind, and adding special features such as deleted scenes, director commentary and alternate languages and subtitles, made the DVD a popular next-choice for home movies.
So what now?
DVDs, while great, were still limited in their capacity, especially with the new trend of high-definition. Higher definition means higher video and audio data, which means more capacity to hold all that, and DVDs just did not have the room to hold all that. The next jump was for a larger-capacity disc that could handle all of that, and just like the VHS vs. Beta-max showdown, there were two contenders fighting to be the next standard for hi-def home video this time as well. There was HD-DVD (which was the standard backed by companies like Toshiba, NEC, and to a degree Microsoft), and Blu-ray, which had the backing of MIT and nine other major electronics manufacturers, including Sony, Pioneer, Panasonic and others. Instead of the red laser that DVDs used, both formats utilized a blue laser for reading the data, since it’s shorter wavelength allowed for data to be grouped tighter and more compressed. HD-DVDs were essentially the same as DVDs, just with their data compressed to a higher degree, giving them a 15GB capacity. Blu-rays, on the other hand, were redisgned specifically for use with the new blue laser diodes, and could be single, double, triple or even quaduple layered, giving a maximum capacity of 128GBs, though most movie Blu-rays are on double-capacity discs, which are 50GB (roughly over 10 times the storage capacity of a standard DVD). Again, marketing strength became the ultimate decider, with HD-DVDs not able to compete with the features Blu-ray discs have. Along with the same extra features that DVD movies had, Blu-rays have almost an unlimited number of features that can be added to the discs, especially when combined with an internet-capable Blu-ray player. Some Blu-ray movies allowed a viewer to go online and comment on the movie as it is being watched, see scenes from different camera angles, even having trivia and actor/director bios display as the movie is playing. Perhaps the most impressive feature of Blu-ray discs that largely goes unnoticed is part of the standard that was set for the manufacturing of Blu-rays, which included a comprehensive digital rights managements(DRM) which helped protect discs from being copied or ‘pirated’ and thus kept prices down, and also the scratch resistant hard-coating, which increased the durability of the discs considerably.
The next big leap?
Most people, both consumers and experts, will agree that instant streaming is now a major player in home movie viewing, with companies like Netflix and Amazon offering video streaming directly to a customer’s computer or internet-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players, even to cell phones! This means movies and television shows can be seen whenever you want, some even in high definition. The downsides? Currently, there’s not as extensive of a library of titles available to watch, and you do need high-speed internet connection. Also, nearly all the features that made Blu-rays and DVDs popular, such as alternate scenes and commentary, aren’t available on most streaming video, so there will porbably always be a place for physical media in your home library, such as Blu-ray discs.
Which ever format you go with to enjoy your movies at home, before you pop that popcorn and settle in, come in to TB Goods and see what we can do to help you get the best home movie watching experience!