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Friday, May 6, 2016

BASIC BIITTNER : Here we go again...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Changes in technology are wonderful. it boggles my mind when I think of the many advancements that have occurred just in my 57 years, and I would imagine the minds of those who are 70+ years old are even more boggled than mine (though that's hard to imagine, I know).

Anyway ... here's a brief run-through of the changes I've seen in the electronic communication field. Our family's first television was a black-and-white t.v. in a blond cabinet. Of course, there was no color t.v. yet, because television itself was a pretty new thing. When a friend's family got color TV, we were invited over to watch either the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade or Rose Bowl Parade - two of the few shows televised in color (the top-rated "Bonanza" was another). My own family got our first color TV in 1965, and we were still in the minority at that time, though "I Dream of Jeannie" was about the only series not broadcasting in color then.

On the audio scene, the phonograph was the method by which we listened to recorded music, and the 78 rpm record was giving way to the 45 rpm. 33 1/3 rpm long-playing (LP) records became more popular in the mid-sixties, thanks to the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

By the late 1960s, we were listening to 8-track tapes - a mode which was thankfully short-lived,soon giving way to cassettes. CDs (compact discs) became popular in the 1980s, and the digital movement progressed from there to mp3s and ipods in the late 90s and on into the 21st Century.

On the video side, video cassette recorders came onto the scene in the mid-1970s, when Sony came out with their Betamax recorder. RCA and other companies chose another format- called VHS - and of course, consumers couldn't play one type of tape on the other type of player, so the "Betamax-VHS format war" was on. I fortunately chose the VHS format myself, so I didn't have to replace a bunch of Betamax tapes a few years later, when VHS was declared the winner of the VCR format war. The thing that amazes me, in retrospect, is how much consumers who just had to get the new VCR technology, like me, had to spend in those early days. My first VCR cost over $1000, had a maximum recording time of 4 hours, and a BLANK tape cost $25. One thing about consumer electronics - if one can just be patient, one knows that the price of both the hardware and software will drop.

At about the same time, a different video format war came about, with the introduction of Laser Discs and another type of video disc, the CED, marketed by RCA. Laser discs "won" the war, based on picture quality. However, the large, LP-sized disc didn't really catch on with consumers, When the smaller DVD came on the market, though, it became very popular, to the point that videotapes are fast becoming the latest "obsolete" format.

Which brings me to the latest "format" war, that between the DVD- HD format (championed by Toshiba) and the Blu-Ray DVD format (Sony). Most of us probably aren't even aware that there was such a thing, as most of us who have DVD players use "standard" DVDs. The video and audio on DVD HD and Blu-Ray DVDs is of even higher quality than the standard DVD, which I've always thought was pretty darn good. Anyway, the Blu-Ray DVD has won that battle, and Toshiba will cease production of DVD-HD players and discs at the end of March. Sony, the loser in the earlier format war, has emerged victorious in this one.

As I understand it, though, having a player that plays Blu-Ray DVDs is only useful if you have a High Definition Television (HDTV) on which to show your Blu-Ray DVDs. Which leads me to another point ...

We keep hearing about the federally- mandated switch from analog to digital broadcasts on Feb. 17, 2009 . Let me clear up one thing for you here and now - you will not need to run out and buy an HDTV before that date, despite the message that some companies are putting out.

If you currently receive your TV broadcast signal via satellite dish or cable, you'll be fine sticking with your current television setup. Your DVD or VHS player will continue to work as before on your analog t.v.

If, however, you currently receive your signal via a rooftop antenna or "rabbt ears," you will need to either purchase a special converter box (discount coupons are available), buy a satellite dish and subscription, or sign up for cable reception. If your TV is only a couple of years old, check to see if it has a digital tuner.

You will probably want to purchase an HDTV eventually and, if you watch DVDs, also a DVD player which plays Blu-Ray discs. If consumer electronic trends continue as they have in the past, the odds are if you can hold off and wait awhile, you should be able to purchase the digital equipment at a lower price than you'll find today.

Most Blu-Ray DVD players are "backwards-compatible," in that you can play your standard DVDs on the Blu-Ray player, which "up-converts" the standard DVD to "near" HD quality. With millions of standard DVDS sold, it would certainly be nice to not have to replace your current DVD library if/when you need to switch over to Blu-Ray discs.

I'd like to think the Betamax-VHS war taught the industry something.

If you have any other questions about Blu-Ray, check out http://www.blu-ray.com/faq/.

For more information about Digital TV and HDTV (they're not quite the same thing), see http://www.dtv.gov/whatisdtv.html.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner