Two weeks ago, after my movie buddy and I had left a Saturday morning screening of "Zodiac," we ventured into the electronics store across the highway from the theater. We browsed the DVD aisles, laughing at some releases while marveling at others. TV Sets, New Releases, Drama, Action, Sci-Fi…High Def. Just looking at the burgundy HD-DVD and blue Blu-Ray discs sitting on the shelf all nice and neat made me jealous.
Why was I jealous, you ask? Me, the guy who vowed not to take any "side" in the Hi Definition format "war" until one side "won." I definitely wasn't jealous because of the titles available on either format. I already had "V for Vendetta," "Superman Returns," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Willy Wonka," all of which looked just fine in the standard definition editions I had at home. No, I didn't want the increased picture resolution or even the slimmer cases. I really didn't care about the new-fangled special features or whatever it is that makes some people jump through the Hi Def hoops.
All I wanted was something new.
A new toy to play with, something bright and shiny to take my attention away from the old. DVD has become such a common technology now that it's no longer novel. I remember the first DVD's I ever bought. "Top Gun," "Star Trek: Insurrection" and "Pleasantville." I got all of them on a whim at Tower Records in East Lansing, either late 1999 or early 2000. My roommate at the time hadn't jumped onto the DVD train; really, not a whole lot of people had. I was probably the first on my floor to adopt the new format.
DVD offered a brand new world for movies where we didn't have to rewind the film after it was done playing. Much slimmer than their VHS counterparts, better video and audio quality, special features like commentaries, trailers, deleted scenes…I was in heaven.
Seven years later, over 300 movies later…I have a hankering for something more. That's exactly what happened that Saturday afternoon as we browsed the Hi Def discs. Most of the extras on the titles I would be interested sounded familiar; they were probably direct ports from their standard DVD counterparts. Standing there with "V for Vendetta" in my hand, I could help but ask myself: where would we be if the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray camps had put away their swords and played like nice children from the very beginning, bringing one unified high definition format to the market? Would I have already jumped onto the bandwagon with a new DVD player? Or would I find yet another reason to keep away?
Frankly, the format war isn't all that's preventing me from taking a side. I'd need to buy a new DVD player--the Blu-Ray player we saw ran $999, enough to make me nearly faint. Then I'd want a new Hi-Def TV to replace my current Sony model that works fine. Not to mention investing in the discs, which run anywhere between 1 ½ to 2 times more money than the regular versions. I'd have to begin the arduous process of upgrading my entire collection. I don't know about you guys, but I'm not made of money. As much as I love this little "hobby," I have to be a realist.
It just continues to baffle me with each passing day the sales both camps are throwing away. I don't know what the inside battle was between the two and I don't care. There are international corporations behind HD and Blu-Ray, international companies with multi-million dollar lawyers and other litigators at their disposal. You're going to sit there and tell me that no one could come to an agreement about whatever they argued over? I don't buy it.
I'm not an advocate of bigger government, but the DVD industry is one place, which is completely unregulated. Sure, the MPAA slaps on their ratings sticker, but that's where the rules end. No one stands up for the consumer, telling the studios we don't need a fifteenth version of "Evil Dead" or cut episodes of a TV series. If we had some organization watching over the industry as a whole, we'd be able to have the same quality control across the board. And we'd have someone to arbitrate disputes like this one.
Instead, two formats are clocking themselves over their collective head in an attempt to be "the one" HD format. Brilliant strategy, guys.
My biggest fear, one that I hope is completely unfounded, is that these studios put their collective heads together and decide to stop producing standard definition discs to force the consumer to take a side. Yes, it would be a massive shot in the foot to everyone concerned to do this, just like HD and Blu-Ray have been. However, there is more money, at least in the short term, in making everyone upgrade. New players, higher priced discs…most likely new television, new audio systems…and just as soon as we're all safely in the HD age, that'll go out the window in favor of downloading.
I'm quite stubborn when I feel I'm being played for a fool. If Warner, Sony, Fox, Paramount…any of them, really…get it in their minds to force the conversion, I will sit it out. Completely and without reservation. No more DVD's for me. I'll record more movies on my TiVo and see all new material in the theater (at $5 showings, in order to cut profits even more).
This "format war" is foolish. I like new toys as much as everyone else. But this is ridiculous. Kids on the playground are forced to play nicely; why aren't the studios?