The Shinebox: Oh well, DVDs like the trashcan better, anyway

By and

The format wars are on, folks-and it’s not going to be pretty.

For the last two years, both sides have been carefully calculating their respective strategies, hoping to obliterate the other in the battle of the home-video marketplace set to commence in the summer of 2006.

The planning has been organized, on both sides, with cautious precision. The publicity machines are ready and waiting. War is imminent?and if animosity between the two continues, the carnage promises to spill out into the streets.

Yes, I’m talking about the pending competition between the latest advances in DVD technology-HD-DVD and Blu-ray-which will go perfectly with our high-definition, big-screen, widescreen, flat-screen plasma TVs. (Oh, if only I had an extra $40,000 on hand.)

Ground troops have been assembled and now outline the perimeters of U.S. retailers in the form of gaudy signs and brightly colored advertisements designed to titillate all our high-definition fantasies.

The alternatives have been exhausted. About a year ago, it looked as though the two competing formats would be able to create a hybrid of the two that would eliminate potential confusion and make everyone happy. But the deal was called off. HD and Blu-ray aren’t even speaking to each other anymore?and battle lines have been drawn.

Blu-ray is supported by Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Philips and TDK. HD-DVD has Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo in its corner.

Blu-ray has Apple. HD-DVD has Microsoft. Can’t you just feel the animosity in the air?

Those of you who don’t pay attention to trends in the technological marketplace are no doubt sitting up in your seats right now, fretting at the thought that your precious DVD players will soon be relics of the past, that you will once again be forced to start your home-entertainment center from scratch.

I feel your pain. Believe me, there is nothing more distressing to me than returning home, looking around my fabulously constructed home theater and realizing that, alas, it will all soon be out of date. I’m getting nostalgic already.

My DVD collection is nearly 200 strong right now-I’m not ready to start over. I don’t have the money, and worse, I don’t have the patience. Which means I’m just going to turn into an impulse buyer once the HD-DVD and/or Blu-ray frenzy finally hits.

I don’t mean to complain-after all, the new formats are of an infinitely higher quality than current DVDs. Twice as good, technically speaking (I could go on with details about higher resolution, storage capacities and pixel counts, but I don’t want to bore you).

And so, in that way, I’m beyond excited. I will be the first in line when players and discs hit stores (paying rent can wait a month or two). It’s just that there are a couple of problems with this.

First is the issue with money. Both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players will cost a hell of a lot more than standard DVD players, and for all the DVDs many of us already own, it will be difficult enough to gradually replace all of them and their lame, outdated 20th-century technology.

Second, and most important, is the inevitable divide between the two formats. Right now, the people are satisfied. They like their DVDs. They are content. They needn’t be confused by the pending influx of new formats. But it’s coming, and it’s going to be VHS vs. BetaMax all over again.

We all know what happened last time. VHS kicked BetaMax all over the proverbial map-even though many people still feel the latter was a better product. I wouldn’t know-I was but a wee child in those days.

That debate has me-and others-apprehensive. Which format do we spend our money on? Which format do we support? What if we choose one, and then it goes out of business? Then we’ll have to rebuild our collections twice!

From what I can tell, Blu-ray is a better overall product. It offers more space and even a reportedly slightly better picture quality. But HD-DVD has a more recognizable name and will be released this month, while Blu-ray has been delayed until the summer.

For those of us simultaneously drooling about and dreading the oncoming changes in home entertainment, it’s going to be a difficult summer.