Format Funk

Franco Vitaliano

So I had this problem in my apartment where I live. The maintenance guy who came up to fix it noticed all the computer stuff hanging about, and so he reasonably asked,   "What's the best way to record the videos I download off the Net onto my PC so I can play them on my TV and DVD player?"   He might has well have asked me to explain the details of George Bush's Love in the Mid-East Forever Peace plan.

OK, let's see, you could buy a DVD-RAM, but that's only good for writing and retrieving PC-based data and the discs won't work on your DVD player. Or you could buy a DVD-RW/-R unit for your PC, which would give you the best compatibility with your regular DVD player. You can write once ("dash R") or erase and rewrite repeatedly ("dash RW", good for a 1,000 read/write burns). But DVD-RW/-R is 30% or so slower in burning a disc than the competing (and incompatible) DVD +RW/+R technology. But the latter's "plus" media typically costs more and its compatibility with older DVD players and drives, industry hype to the contrary, is not as stellar as DVD-RW/-R. And unlike DVD-RW/-R, which is an industry standard, DVD +RW/+R is a proprietary format being aggressively pushed by Sony, Philips, HP, and some others.  

Then again, while you are it, you may want to take into account the upcoming blue laser DVD players, like Sony's new Blu-Ray DVD (on sale in Japan in April 2003) with a storage capacity of nearly 23 gigabytes of data; a storage density achieved by using blue lasers that have a narrower wavelength of light compared to conventional red laser DVDs, which top out at 4.7 gigabytes per layer per side. These blue laser units are great for recording digital TV shows, which consume huge amounts of data. You can supposedly play DVD, DVD-RW, DVD-R, CD and CD-RW discs on a Blu-Ray machine.

But Sony archrivals Toshiba and NEC have also announced next-generation blue laser units they claim are cheaper to make than Blu-Rays. Toshiba and NEC also say their blue laser system format would allow greater compatibility with current red-laser DVD discs, better even than the Blu-Ray. However, it would be incompatible with Blu-Ray. In any event, Blu-Ray won't be able to read DVD-RAM or DVD+RW discs. Of course, you will also want to watch what the Hollywood studios are doing as they are taking a serious look at current red laser DVD movies being even further compressed using several different video compression algorithms, including MPEG-4 and wavelets, as an alternative high density DVD migration path to blue lasers. Hollywood is reluctant to endorse any blue laser technology yet, mostly because it's afraid of wholesale digital piracy by consumers but won't admit that publicly. The upshot is that blue laser system availability in the US may be pushed back until 2004 or 2005 while the Frightened Lion Kings try to figure out how to once again stop the digital revolution.

However, the bright side is that absolutely none of this may matter as new generation digital TV's have special connectors that can prevent "videotaping". If you are not careful, that four or five grand you just plunked down for your new HDTV may not allow you to watch TV at all if you don't have the right encryption pass through interface. So be sure to buy an HDTV that has DVI (digital video in), and a high-definition STB (set top box) with DVI out, as well as supports the HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection) spec. Otherwise DVI, blue laser, plus or dash or not, you may just be watching a blank screen. If you want the very latest technology, wait for DVI/HDCP/HDMI TV sets, which are arriving at the end of 2003. Sets with HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) are backward compatible with DVI, but not all of the information, such as audio, will be transmitted, so you are probably better off waiting for these three-tech-combo sets to arrive.

So, you got all that? Hey, where the hell did that maintenance guy go?

Copyright 2004, Franco Vitaliano, All Rights Reserved

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