When we visited the Children's Museum in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, we looked through a large display they had on Star Wars collectibles. As a child of the seventies, this is something not to be missed! While looking through the displays, I laughed as I saw an old VideoDisc cartridge. If you do not know me and have not figured out by now, I am king geek. I love technology. My idea of a gift is either something I can cook with or something that runs on electricity. So, the sighting of this old video format really took me back. I remember in junior high the old RCA players. You would push the sleeve into the player and the disc would remain in the player. After side one was finished, you would put the sleeve back in to flip the disc over and finish your movie.
Since I was a child of the seventies, I was also a teenager of the eighties and thus, a participant of the videotape format wars. I guess I developed some of my geek status from my Dad. Except for the parts that allow my Dad to fix his own computer problems apparently (that's another story). Anyways, we were early adopters of a VCR...in BETA. Yes, when all of my friends families got VCR's, they got VHS. Not us...nope. It was almost if as a family, we shared talking points to prove that BETA was the superior format. The picture quality is better! Our push button TV channel selectors react quicker! Our corded pause button remote is four feet longer than a VHS machine's corded remote! Unfortunately, as we visited our local video store in Northern Virgina, where we lived at the time, it became quite obvious that as the VideoDisc and BETA sections got smaller, VHS was going to win out. At some point, we ended up caving into defeat and purchased a VHS VCR. The sad thing is, Mom & Dad still have a boatload of BETA tapes and a working BETA VCR.
Well, as technology changed, LaserDiscs made a comeback. By this time in my life, I was headlong into movies and LaserDiscs brought something that VHS did not: widescreen, original aspect ratio format. You could actually see a movie the way it was meant to be seen - in glorious analog video and stereo sound quality! This time, I felt we were on the cusp. Sure, you still had to get up and flip the disc half way through the movie, but that picture on our old analog television was glorious. As progress rolled on, I was lucky enough one Christmas to get a LaserDisc player that flipped sides all by itself. In reality, it was the laser that changed sides, the disc remained the same and it took several minutes...but I didn't have to get up! What next portable computers that fit in your lap?
By this time, I was in college at Purdue. I was blessed to find a movie rental store that catered to moviephiles and rented LaserDics. Besides owning StarWars and of course, the Naked Gun films, I was able to rent a wide variety of movies and watch them like never before seen on VHS. I was set.
Then one day came a little thing called a DVD. My Dad, once again determined to be on the right side of technology, went out and bought a DVD player at Circuit City that played a disc called a DivX. Ever heard of a DivX DVD player (The player, not the codec)? Probably not, it failed. The idea was that you buy a disc for cheap and after watching it five times, you throw it away...or something like that. The quality was nice, except if memory serves me right, they were all pan and scan. Eventually we got a "proper" DVD player and life was good once again.
Truth be told, I still have my LaserDisc player and only disconnected it once Star Wars was released on DVD. Until the release of the non-special editions, I was glad to know that I still had the version of Star Wars where Han shoots first.
So here we are in 2006 and there is talk of High Definition DVD. Once again, a format war looms. I have followed this battle for some time and feel that since Sony's PS3 includes a Blu-Ray drive, there is no way they can lose. So far, that appears to be happening. We purchased a PS3 last Christmas and have been periodically buying Blu-Ray discs, hoping they do not go the way of BETA. The release of 300 last week and the start of Blockbuster to rent Blu-Ray in stores shows that Blu-Ray is picking up steam. Needless to say, the Blu-Ray experience takes me back to my first days of watching a LaserDisc after watching years of videotape. We may just have a winner this time. Oh, I almost forgot. The picture quality? Incredible! The sound...great, but I have yet to experience true HDMI audio because of something I will leave to another post.
Funny enough, Zoe was lamenting over the lack of Blu-Ray selection at Blockbuster last week. I reminded her back to when we first had our DVD player and no one rented DVD's because they only had VHS. Now look at the rental stores. I then thought back to my LaserDisc rental days and my BETA rental days. As formats change and technology progresses, I will always be there. It is the geek code. All I can say is that I just hope they are no BETA missteps in my future. No excuses Dad on just how good the picture is!