The History of DVD

The first-ever DVD player, the Toshiba SD-3000, which went on sale in Japan in November 1996.

The first-ever DVD player, the Toshiba SD-3000, which went on sale in Japan in November 1996.

Back in 2007, just as Blu-ray was being introduced, I authored a history of DVD for the now-defunct magazine DVD Etc. Since the magazine is gone, I thought I’d rescue this history from publishing obscurity. So here is the story of DVD.

The History of DVD

Panasonic, Philips, and Pioneer are marketing the bejesus out of their respective recordable DVD decks. There are likely ads for one, two or all three companies and the varying DVD recordable offerings in the magazine you now hold in your hand.

The problem is, a disc recorded in one of these decks will likely not play in one of the others. Why? Each company wants to have the winning format. Winning the DVD recordable format war means market dominance. Market dominance means licensing dollars when other companies put out decks using your format. And, of course, Winning the DVD recordable format war means technology bragging rights. So, we get a DVD recordable Tower of Babel.

This format brouhaha also extends to high definition DVD recording. There are at least three different HD-DVD-R schemes being floated for consideration, and there’s no sign that a consensus will be reached any time soon.

It could be worse. The same sort of format war could have broken out when DVD itself was first being developed in the early 1990s. But largely through the efforts of one man over a two-year period, the warring DVD camps came to a consensus on a unified format and copy protection scheme, resulting in the one and only DVD we know today.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Several people have been either credited with, or claim credit for, “inventing” or being “the father” or “the godfather” of DVD. In reality, there is no “inventor” of DVD. Several people and companies contributed important technology and marketing bits to what was an obvious product.

Putting video on a disc is an idea older than television. In the late 1920s, British TV inventor John Logie Baird devised several Gramophone-based video disc schemes, and in 1935, such a system using a wax disc and yielding a whopping 30 lines of resolution, was actually demonstrated at London’s Selfridges department store. It wasn’t until the 1960s that serious work on a consumer video disc system was started. At least four other development efforts were underway to develop a video disc system during the 1960s and 70s. A partnership between 3M and Stanford Research Institute resulted in the LaserDisc, introduced by Pioneer and Philips in late 1978. In 1981, RCA entered the video disc fray with its capacitance electronic disc system — CED — which used a stylus to electronically read peaks and valleys from grooves in a 12-inch disc, eerily reminiscent of Baird’s 50-year-old ideas. CED’s commercial failure three years later nearly destroyed RCA.

The 12-inch LaserDisc was not a hit with mainstream consumers either, and it seemed that VHS would remain the dominant format for prerecorded video. That changed with the introduction of the CD in 1982, its computer counterpart CD-ROM in October 1983 and Philips’ interactive video version CD-Interactive (CD-i) in 1987.

Capacity Squeeze

All these video disc formats used analog video that barely matched VHS in quality. Every consumer electronics engineer worth his pocket protector knew that the next logical step was putting digital video on the five-inch disc. There was one major problem: how do you squeeze enough multi-gigabytes worth of the digital video necessary for a two-hour movie on a 4.75-inch disc designed to hold just 650 megabytes?

The first solution was a higher density disc with tighter pit geometries. Engineers managed to shrink the microscopic pits that hold the digital signals on a polycarbonate disc, then moved the pits closer together. This shrinkage and compacting resulted in a capacity boost seven times that of a standard CD.

But even the increased disc space wasn’t enough. The digital video needed to be compressed as well. The solution came in 1988 out of a newly-formed subcommittee of the International Standards Organization (ISO), the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG). MPEG’s first digital video compression specification, MPEG-1, was capable of a 1- to 1.5 megabit per second bit rate, the same as CD, and was used to create the first digital video disc, the VideoCD.

Essentially, the MPEG schemes examined the digital video signal and eliminated redundant data, primarily in stationery backgrounds and static scenes. VideoCD, and its MPEG-2 successor, Super VideoCD, both of which hold around about an hour’s worth of video, is still a popular product in Asia, and VideoCDs will play on any current DVD player.

In the early 1990s, all the major consumer electronics companies had begun experimenting with the next generation of MPEG digital video compression algorithms, MPEG-2, capable of a bit rate of 10 mbps.

The most serious MPEG-2 and disc technical research was taking place at the Tokyo research labs of Toshiba, Matsushita and Sony, and at the Eindhoven, Holland-based Dutch labs of Philips. At Toshiba, the corporate effort was led by Koji Hase, who would become general manager of Toshiba’s DVD division, and the technical work was led by Toshiba’s chief technical officer Dr. Hisashi Yamada, although both lacked any real corporate mandate, at least at first.

“My mission was to create something that went beyond television and videos,” Hase recalled. “I found Philips’ new format called the CD-ROM, which can take 800 megabytes. Now, in those days, people were pretty happy with the floppy disc, which is one-and-a-half megabytes. So my attempt to sell CD-ROM, which is 800 times bigger, was received as an outrageous proposal. I persuaded the industry that video files are pretty big and therefore you will need this, and that’s when the companies accepted it.”

Warner and Lieberfarb

While Toshiba, Matsushita, Sony and Philips and others were working on the technical problems, the more conceptual commercial groundwork was being laid by Warren Lieberfarb, president of Warner Home Video.

Warren Lieberfarb is not often described in flattering terms, but is admired for his DVD prostyletising and zealousness in seeing the format born healthy. After graduating from Wharton, he went right to the top, almost. In 1967 at the age of 23, he got a job as an assistant to a succession of Paramount Pictures presidents. After serving a stint as a consultant to videogame pioneer Atari, he moved to Warner.

In 1984, Lieberfarb was named president of the studio’s home video division, just as the video business was exploding. He was the right man at the right time, but he often rubbed people the wrong way. According to Newsweek, in his nearly 20 years at Warner, Lieberfarb had been fired twice for being too pushy. In 1989, for instance, he enlisted the help of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and boldly predicted that the LaserDisc would doom VHS.

Lieberfarb was concerned about the possibility that the next generation of digital television and video-on-demand would render VHS obsolete.

“Here I was, enjoying a nice life, running a billion-and-a-half dollar business unit and reading that we were going to be put out of business,” Lieberfarb recalled to a group of students at his alma mater of Wharton last March. “I decided that if we were going to compete, we had to change the rental model. My conclusion was you had to be able to sell movies at places where the customer does conventional shopping, like Wal-Mart, and make up in volume what you lose in margin.”

Lieberfarb also knew that the next generation home video format had to be higher quality and half the price of VHS tapes.

In 1990, Lieberfarb formed a collaboration with Philips on a next-generation disc format, but was unimpressed with Philips’ MPEG-1 efforts. In the early 1990s, Hase had met Lieberfarb as part of the negotiations that led to Toshiba buying a chunk of Time Warner.

In April 1992, Hase, knowing Lieberfarb’s desire for a next-generation video disc, finagled a half-hour meeting with Lieberfarb to explain Toshiba’s development efforts. The 30 minutes in Lieberfarb’s Burbank offices stretched to six hours, then spilled over to dinner at LA’s famous Morton’s steakhouse. Lieberfarb told Hase what he and the Hollywood community wanted in a next-generation disc, and Hase, knowing that Toshiba was helping develop MPEG-2, promised he could deliver.

“Warren had been looking for a next-generation format anyway,” Hase said. “He had approached Philips, and the answer they gave him was less than adequate. And then I showed up.”

The result was a partnership between Warner and Toshiba to develop a consumer digital video format, code-named “Taz,” after the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil character.

Back in Tokyo, Hase, now with a mandate from Lieberfarb, turned Yamada loose. Yamada consulted with engineers at Matsushita, which had developed a dual-layer technology that would help solve the capacity problems. In February 1993, Yamada traveled to LA and demonstrated the fledgling Taz to Lieberfarb. But Yamada’s prototype wasn’t compatible with music CDs.

Lieberfarb once again enjoined Philips, which owned core optical disc patents as the co-developer of CD, to make it a DVD development threesome. But in early 1994, Philips decided to partner with Sony on a slightly different digital video disc effort.

“Philips obviously thought that their technology was better,” Hase explained. “They must have thought their solution was the best. We did not agree, and that’s when we parted.” Lieberfarb saw this defection as betrayal.

“We laid out the specs for a single disc standard—the data capacity, wavelength of laser, variable rate encoding, the physical structure,” Lieberfarb told the Wharton crowd. “Philips and Sony agreed, but that turned out to be a subterfuge for delaying us and stealing our trade secrets… They had a compact disc and if you wanted to use it, you’d have to get a license from them, and any improvements you made belonged to them. They invited Matsushita to join them. They were out to make it impossible for us to compete. I announced that we would bring action against them for collusion, conspiracy and violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. When you are betrayed, you have to get back at the betrayers, right?”

Without Philips, Yamada, working with Warner’s senior vice president for technical operations Chris Cookson, finished what came to be known as the Super Density disc (SD).

SD was a dual-layer disc, essentially two .6mm discs bonded together with a clear glue to enable the laser to see through the top layer to the layer below. Each .6 mm disc could store 5 GB, which meant the dual-layer result held 10 GB. The bonding resulted in a disc less subject to warping. Dual-sided play would eventually double the capacity.

Sony and Philips, meanwhile, had come up with a single 1.2mm disc capable of holding 3.75 GB of digital video, and which used an enhanced version of the CD signal modulation scheme called EFM+. The Toshiba-Matsushita SD format used a more experimental but more efficient modulation scheme. Sony and Philips also began working with 3M to develop its own dual-layered technology.

In May 1994, hoping to cut the legs out from under the Sony/Philips effort, Lieberfarb formed the Digital Video Disc Advisory Committee, comprised of Disney, Time Warner, Sony Pictures Entertainment, MCA, Paramount, MGM and Viacom. On September 21, Lieberfarb’s committee released a 12-point list of performance requirements for what the movie studios wanted in a next-generation disc format. These requirements demanded at least 135 minutes of playing time, room for three to five languages, multiple subtitles, multiple aspect ratios, Dolby Digital multi-channel sound, and a parental lockout feature.

SD complied with these stipulations. The Philips/Sony version did not.

Bell ringing

Once DVD’s co-evangelizers-in-chief Hase and Lieberfarb teamed up, Philips and Sony realized it needed a high-powered partner of its own. Optical disc recording was a hot topic in the computer industry, and when you spoke about the computer industry, only three letters mattered:

IBM.

In the spring of 1994, executives from IBM’s optical storage research facility in Tucson, AZ, got a call from their counterparts at Philips. “We’re working on a second-generation CD-ROM for data storage,” said Philips, “and would IBM like to help us develop it?” IBM executive John Kulakowski was appointed point man for Big Blue, and enlisted the help of Dr. Alan Bell, a noted optical disc expert and, at the time, program manager in IBM’s Almaden Research Center and in San Jose.

The London-born Bell was sort of an accidental optical disc expert. After earning a Ph.D. in physics from Imperial College, part of London University, he came to the U.S. in 1973 on a post-doctoral fellowship at the Sarnoff Labs in Princeton, NJ. The fellowship was supposed to last only nine months, but he decided to stay to work for RCA. Within six months, Bell got involved in optical disc storage. In his five years at RCA, he worked on the ill-fated CED project but also collected 25 patents. After three months at Exxon, Bell took a job at IBM’s San Jose Almaden labs in 1982 as a researcher, specializing in magneto-optical systems. By the early 1990s, he was heavily involved in computer science application systems when he got the call from Tucson.

On May 19, Kulakowski and Bell met with Philips executives, along with representatives from Apple, Compaq and Microsoft, at Philips’ component group offices in San Jose. The computer executives got a preview of a new CD-based optical disc format Philips called high density compact disc (HDCD, not to be confused with the current high-end audio CD format). Philips wanted PC industry input for the data file system, capacity and error correction. The same group met again a month later at IBM’s San Jose offices, discussing the same PC-compliant technical nuts and bolts.

As far as IBM’s engineers were concerned, there was nothing overtly unusual about the request or the new format. There were dozens of potential next-generation optical disc formats floating around, and Philips’ effort wasn’t any more or any less intriguing than the others, including IBM’s. The computer company had no idea that Philips was developing a consumer digital video format, and according to Bell, Philips didn’t tell them. At the time, the IT community didn’t concern itself with what Hollywood was up to, according to Bell: “No one had briefed us on that and the computer industry in those years had no idea of what was going on in Hollywood.”

During the summer, Bell received several calls from Philips and from his own bosses in Tucson for progress reports. Kulakowski finally asked Bell to take over as point man on the pending partnership for what IBM believed was simply another potential optical storage format candidate. “My initial reaction was silence,” Bell said. “It didn’t look like an exciting thing to spend time on.” Without Bell’s enthusiasm, the Philips-IBM partnership went on a lengthy summer vacation.

Then, a week before Christmas 1994, all DVD hell broke loose.

Until the winter of 1994, few people outside the concerned parties knew of the development of a replacement for LaserDisc. But with Lieberfarb cornering the market on Hollywood content partners, and its own IBM partnership moribund, Philips and Sony decided to take their disc efforts to the court of public opinion.

On December 16, Philips and Sony issued a press release proposing specifications for a high-density multimedia CD, or MMCD. The release stated that the two companies had “begun discussions with motion picture companies and consumer electronics manufacturers with the aim of preparing an acceptable application specification for the ‘Digital Video Disc.'”

It was the press release heard ’round the world. The DVD format war had begun.

Shake Hands and Come Out Fighting

To bolster its best-format claim, the Dec. 16 Philips/Sony release noted that “a voluntary group of experts from major computer hardware and software companies – IBM, Apple, Compaq and Microsoft – are discussing extensions of the volume and file standard…”

That was semantically correct, but implied a certain imprimatur by a group that had only met twice. Even worse, Bell and his group didn’t even know that they had been looking at a consumer video product, much less endorsing one.

Oops.

The newly formed SD Alliance, consisting of Toshiba, Hitachi, Matsushita, Mitsubishi, JVC, Pioneer and Thomson, couldn’t very well concede the field to Sony and Philips. On January 24, 1995, the SD Alliance counter-punched with its own “no, we have the format” release. The announcement billboarded the actual support of Time Warner, MGM, MCA (Universal) and Turner Home Entertainment, and touted how the SD format “meets or exceeds all requirements…[of] the Hollywood Digital Video Disc Advisory Committee.”

Now that Philips had shined the light on them, Bell and his ad hoc computer group suddenly gained a new level of importance. Instead of simply advising on computer compatibility for a new optical storage format, it would play kingmaker for the next big home entertainment movie format. On February 10, the group met at the San Francisco Airport Westin and formalized itself under the generic name of the Technical Working Group (TWG), with Bell as chairman. Much to the stunned dismay of the attending Sony/Philips executives, the TWG decided it wanted a demonstration of SD before it made any recommendations.

The TWG clearly stated that it would endorse neither DVD format. It would merely examine the technical details of the two proposed formats and develop a list of non-binding recommendations for computer-based applications.

That was the public pose, anyway. The cold, business reality was something else.

Sony, Philips, Toshiba, Matsushita and Warner may have been tough guys in their respective neighborhoods, but IBM was, well, if you weren’t “IBM-compatible,” you weren’t in the computer business. And all the DVD contestants either were or wanted to be in the computer business. The unstated fact was that both the SD and MMCD camps would be forced to abide with whatever IBM and the TWG “recommended.”

And what IBM and the TWG wanted was a single, unified DVD format. Fortunately for all concerned, Bell would be the final arbiter.

“What I value most is that he’s fair, he’s very fair,” Hase stated. “He did not side with Toshiba, he did not side with Disney or Sony for that matter. He tried to be as fair as possible.”

On February 28, Bell and the TWG met Warren Lieberfarb, Hase, Taizo Nishimura, soon to be president of Toshiba, Warner’s chief technical executive Chris Cookson, and representatives from the other SD Alliance companies, at the Warner studios in Burbank. Cookson demonstrated SD with the bus crash scene from The Fugitive in full-blown surround sound. Bell and his TWG compadres were suitably blown away. Bell and the TWG had, of course, already seen MMCD. After several technical sessions, it was clear to Bell and the TWG that SD was the superior format.

On May 3, the TWG, by this time joined by Hewlett-Packard, issued a press release entitled “Requirements for Future High Capacity Compact-Disc Format Announced by Computer Industry Technical Experts.” In the release, the TWG listed nine “objectives” that the PC companies expected from a new optical disc format. Many of these “objectives” dealt with backward and forward compatibility with both current and future entertainment and PC-based optical disc products.

While TWG’s objectives seemed fairly obvious, the press release put additional pressure on both the SD and MMCD camps to come to an accommodation.

“The press began to ask each camp, ‘What do you think of the computer industry requirements and their demand for a single format,'” Bell recalled. “It put them on the spot.”

Neither the SD nor MMCD specifications included PC data storage compatibility, even though that was why Philips had originally approached IBM. The solution came from the Optical Storage Trade Association (OSTA), via the TWG. OSTA had issued a file system specification called the Universal Disc Format (UDF), which specified how data files are arranged on a disc. OSTA contributed a modified UDF called Micro UDF, which would enable a disc designed to be played in a consumer electronics DVD player to also be able to be played in a PC.

The unification battle once again moved behind closed doors, but both sides continued to dig in. By late July, disgusted by the lack of compromise, Bell privately let everyone know that IBM was ready to endorse SD.

This threat prompted new high-level discussions between the camps. In August, Nishimuro made several covert visits to the nearby Sony offices in Tokyo. Faced with IBM’s threat, Sony finally agreed to compromise, but wanted one concession in order to save face. Sony asked that its EFM+ modulation scheme be used. Bell agreed.

With the outlines of a compromise in place, the MMCD camp diplomatically surrendered. On August 18, 1995, the TWG received a letter signed by Philips’s Key Modules Division Director Jan Oosterveld and Sony’s MMCD project leader, Teruaki Aoki. The two companies were prepared to support the goal of a unified proposal by combining the best approaches of each.

On August 24, at a press conference at the IFA show in Berlin, Sony and Philips made their concession public.

Not So Fast

At first, the SD Alliance was cool to the idea of the Sony/Philips compromise. After all, SD seemed as if it would be the winning format and was hesitant about backing down on the modulation question.

Bell and the TWG decided it was time for a final showdown. The annual OSTA meeting was scheduled for September 7-8 in Maui, Hawaii. Using the OSTA meetings as cover, the TWG met for six hours with each camp at the Sheraton in Waikiki. On the 7th, the SD camp tried to convince Bell and the TWG that its modulation scheme was better, and that the EFM+ modulation scheme would mean the loss of more than a quarter of a gigabyte in capacity. On the 8th, the MMCD camp argued that the SD modulation scheme was too experimental.

After its MMCD meeting, Bell and his TWG cohorts conferred over dinner. Around midnight, Bell and fellow IBM executive Vic Jipson wrote out a one-page technical report in longhand, which they faxed back to IBM executive Pat Toole at IBM headquarters in Armonk, NY. At 3am Hawaii time (9am eastern time), the two called Toole to discuss the report. Since no one in the PC industry cared about the extra quarter of a gig, Bell recommended accepting the Sony/Philips compromise. After consulting with Lieberfarb, Bell, Jipson and Toole sent a letter to Sony, Matsushita, Philips and Toshiba, informing all concerned that IBM would endorse the compromise format, and was “looking forward to a strong public announcement.”

The relieved MMCD camp quickly responded in the affirmative. The SD Alliance members, however, still weren’t so keen about the compromise. After faxing Bell that he was working on the SD Alliance’s response, Nishimura gathered together the seven members of the SD Alliance. Five voted yes, two voted against. Nishimura, however, wanted unanimity. After eight hours, Nishimura got his unanimous vote.

The SD Alliance’s made the decision public on September 15. But the press release petulantly complained that “partial modification of the SD format, which was designed on a consistent concept, is expected to bring about a number of new difficulties.” None that couldn’t be solved, however. The SD and MMCD engineers conferred, and the final compromise specifications were announced on November 13, 1995, at Comdex.

Not Ready For Prime Time

But there were still three problems. The first was what to call the unified format. In its September 15 statement, the SD Alliance proposed that the SD name be retained. Fat chance, although the name lived on in Toshiba’s DVD alphanumeric DVD model number nomenclature. As co-developers of the compact disc, the core technology at the heart of DVD, Sony and Philips wanted “CD” as part of the format name. Fatter chance. Bell recommended SMCD (Super Multimedia CD), but neither Toshiba nor Matsushita wanted “CD” in the name.

The answer, of course, had been staring everyone in the face. Lieberfarb had been calling the new format DVD – digital video disc – for more than a year, and the press had followed suit. But that didn’t suit the newly-formed DVD Forum or Toshiba in particular. Digital VIDEO disc implied that the format was for entertainment purposes only. There was nothing in the name that implied the format’s far more expansive computer capabilities.

“Mr. Nishimura was determined to unite the systems, otherwise there’d be no industry,” Hase remembered. “He picked up a dictionary from his drawer in his office and flipped through the pages to the letter ‘V’ and he stopped his finger and asked me, ‘What does “versatile” mean?’ I said, ‘multi-purpose.’ And Mr. Nishimura said, ‘Fine, then let’s call this digital versatile disc instead of digital video disc.'”

On December 8, 1995, the final unified digital versatile disc specifications were released, and Toshiba announced that the first players would go on sale the following September for between $500 and $700.

Well, not really. There was one last hurdle to overcome: Pirates.

Against all odds, the monumental job of getting the cats and dogs of the consumer electronics and computer world to sleep together had been successful. But the Hollywood studios had no desire to face the kind of piracy rampant in the videotape world, especially since DVD would provide video pirates with a perfect original from which to make their black market copies.

Lieberfarb and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA, the ratings people), along with the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) wanted DVDs to be absolutely, positively copy-proof. The normally natural enemies of hardware and Hollywood ganged up on Congress to pass federal legislation making it illegal to copy DVDs. But the MPAA-CEMA legislation would have made it impossible for computer users to manipulate DVD content. The Information Technology Industry (ITI), representing the computer industry, made it clear that “there’s a lot more out there than just movies,” and vehemently opposed any legislation.

Once again, the DVD world rang for Bell. After all, the TWG had clout enough to force Sony, Philips, Toshiba and Matsushita to agree to one format. Surely it could use its clout to find and endorse a copy protection scheme.

In May 1996, Bell helped organize the copy protection technical working group (CPTWG). The CPTWG consisted of representatives from Hollywood, the consumer electronics industry, the PC/IT industry (represented by Bell), and the record industry. On October 29, 1996, after studying several proposals, the group endorsed a scheme from Matsushita called the Content Scrambling System (CSS)

Instead of scrambling the whole movie, CSS simply scrambles the beginning of each scene, which lowers the cost of encoding and decryption circuitry. The world was then divided into six “regions,” with different encryption codes for each region, designed to limit if not eliminate the black market trade.

Now DVD was a done deal. Once the copy protection scheme was finalized, it didn’t take long for hardware to hit the streets. Pioneer, Toshiba and Sony flooded store shelves with decks in February 1997, followed a month later by the first software titles from – who else? – Warner Home Video. Sony-owned Columbia TriStar followed its it own slate of titles a few months later.

But what if you gave a format and nobody came?

Where Are The Titles?

It had been nearly five years since Warren Lieberfarb started lobbying for the DVD format. He’d spent a good deal of those five years cornering other studio executives, and convincing them to get on the DVD bandwagon when the time came.

Well, the time had come, the DVD bandwagon had pulled up, and – no one got on.

True, the Hollywood community supported SD, then the unified DVD format. But when DVD players became a reality, the studios froze. First it was fear of piracy until the CPTWG completed its work. Then, it was fear of yet another new format, and the fear of cannibalization of the still healthy videotape business. And on top of these fears, there was jealousy and greed at work. Many studios balked at the idea of paying Warners a few cents a disc in DVD licensing royalties.

Of course Warner and Sony’s Columbia TriStar were on board, along with long-time supporter MGM. But it wasn’t until the fall of 1997 that the next two studios, Universal and Disney signed on. “I did breathe a sigh of relief when I got the news (that Disney would embrace DVD),” Lieberfarb said in a September 1997 interview with Variety. That left Fox and Paramount.

Fox announced its first DVD releases in November, then held back. In mid-August 1998, Paramount titles finally hit retail racks, leaving Fox as the remaining hold-out. It took almost another year for Fox to get its movies onto DVD and into stores.

According to Newsweek, it took some major prodding by Lieberfarb and much backroom wheeling and dealing to get these two recalcitrant studios to release titles. Paramount signed on only after Warner agreed to a favored pricing plan for Blockbuster, owned by Viacom, which owns Paramount. And Rupert Murdoch agreed to release Fox titles on DVD only after Time Warner backed down in a bitter and highly-publicized dispute over airing the Fox News Channel on Time Warner cable systems.

DreamWorks announced its first titles in October 1998. And a week before Christmas 1998, Universal announced that the first movies directed by Steven Spielberg would be available on DVD. It wouldn’t be until spring 1999, however, more than three years after the format unification and more than two years since the copy protection problem had been solved, that DVD decks and DVD titles from all the major studios were available nationally. The most glaring DVD MIAs are the original Star Wars Trilogy, which likely won’t be released until after the third new Star Wars episode is released.

Ironically, the industry’s fear of a new format killing VHS have been realized. Last year, DVD players outsold VCRs, and rental outfits such as Blockbuster are now stocking more DVDs than VHS tapes. But the loss of the VHS business has simply meant new profits from DVD by both hardware vendors and the studios.

Ironically, after losing the format battle to Toshiba, Sony is winning the war. According to NPD Intellect, a market research firm that tracks consumer hardware sales, Sony sells nearly as many DVD players as Toshiba and Matsushita combined.

Sadly, times have changed. Both Bell and Hase now work for Warner Brothers, and IBM no longer has the muscle to force the recordable DVD format combatants to the bargaining table, much less negotiate a compromise. As a result, look for a long and confusing recordable DVD format war, a war that cannot possibly produce any winners. Only we, the consumer, are a sure loser.

Be thankful for small favors. At least we got DVD.

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1 Response to The History of DVD

  1. jeremiah says:

    hi i am doing a report on dvd’s and i was wondering if you had your history of dvd’s part one somewhere

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