The Times They Are A-Changin'
The quality of affordable electronic equipment has improved a lot over the last several years, and there's quite a bit of new technology out there that might enhance your enjoyment in watching movies at home. But before you spend your hard-earned money, you need to have some idea of what you're getting into. So let's take a look at where technology is today and get a little perspective by seeing where it's been in the past.
VHS: A Technology Fading Into Obsolescence
Videotapes. You once saw them for sale everywhere. On the Web, at the drugstore, at the Wal-Mart, even at the grocery store. And there were countless places where you could rent videotapes, from chain stores to Web sites to mom-and-pop operations. VHS videotape is a technology that during the last two decades of the 20th century provided an enormously popular way of watching prerecorded movies at home. Studios would release movies recorded on magnetic tape, then consumers could play those tapes using a device known as a VCR, which would be connected to a TV set. However, DVD offers video and audio quality superior to that of VHS, and after the introduction of DVD in the late 1990s, VHS began to die out. In late 2006, major studios stopped putting out movies on VHS tapes because they were no longer profitable. But keep in mind that there are still thousands of older movies available on VHS tapes that have never been released on DVD.
DVD: A Still-Robust Technology Facing Competition From Blu-ray
DVD stands for Digital Versatile Disc, which is a disc 12 centimeters (approximately 4 3/4 inches) in diameter that is used to store data, including video and audio. A DVD looks like a music CD, but has six or seven times the storage capacity, enough to hold a feature film. DVDs containing movies began being released in 1997, and because the video and audio quality is superior to that of VHS tapes, consumers quickly came to prefer the new medium. The most popular way to watch a movie that has been prerecorded on a DVD is on the screen of a TV set which has been connected to a special device known as a DVD player. Another way to watch a movie on DVD is to use a computer that has a DVD drive. In addition, there are small portable devices capable of playing DVDs.
But DVD is facing competition from Blu-ray, although for now the number of titles available on Blu-ray Disc is limited. At present, consumers are taking it slow in migrating to hi-def, and many are satisfied with the way their traditional DVD player works. As more consumers purchase TV sets with larger screens, this situation could change.
Blu-ray is a technology permitting an optical disc to contain five times as much data as a traditional DVD, which means that a movie stored on a Blu-ray disc can be shown with a sharper, more detailed picture. In 2006 movies began being released on Blu-ray discs, but they can't be played on traditional DVD players. To watch a Blu-ray disc, you'll need either a Blu-ray player or a PlayStation model capable of handling the Blu-ray format. Also, to get the full benefit of Blu-ray, you'll need to watch the movie on an HDTV with a fairly large screen.
Of Historical Interest: HD DVD, Laserdisc and Betamax
Movies began being released on HD DVDs in 2006. These movies had a sharper, more detailed picture than those on traditional DVDs, and the video and audio quality of HD DVD was about the same as that of Blu-ray. However, HD DVD and Blu-ray were incompatible with each other, and consumer preference for Blu-ray drove HD DVD out of the marketplace in 2008.
Laserdisc was a technology used mainly in the 1980s and '90s for watching movies prerecorded on optical discs 30 cm (approximately 11 3/4 inches) in diameter. Laserdisc offered better picture quality than videotape, and the discs could also contain supplemental material such as an audio track that could be used for commentary by a director or a scholar. However, Laserdisc players and media were relatively high-priced, and only a small percentage of households ever used the technology. When DVD came along in 1997, it quickly became obvious that the new technology was equal or superior to Laserdisc in every important way. The last movies on Laserdisc were released in the year 2000.
Betamax was a technology used in the 1970s and '80s for watching movies prerecorded on magnetic tape. The tapes were played using a videocassette recorder connected to a TV set. However, there was a competing technology, VHS, which provided essentially the same functionality as Betamax, and the two technologies were incompatible with each other. For several years the studios released movies on both Betamax and VHS tapes, but it turned out VHS eventually became so dominant in the marketplace that Betamax died out.