sunnuntaina, lokakuuta 21, 2007

DVD, a standard or not? And why would it be?

I have learned that Mac mini (G4 1.42 GHz, OS X 10.3.9) cannot play DVD discs recorded with Sony RDR-HXD870B, a digital set-top-box with a built-in DVD-recorder.

This seems to be the case no matter if the DVD is recorded as DVD-VR or DVD-video. The disc was finalized.

The discs can be played on the Sony itself and on a Philips DVDR-3400 player.

I will try to get more data points before pointing an accusing finger to somebody. Right now I'm just pissed that it won't work. DVD is such an old standard that it should have matured by now. But I guess I should not be surprised. After all, I did own an old PlayStation 2 that would not recognize some of our Disney DVDs as playable discs.

But surely it was just a glitch that Sony PlayStation 2 would not play some Disney content. After all, what would Sony, itself a major movie studio, benefit from such a situation?

I can't help but recall the olden days when all the VCRs played all the videos, provided you were trying to insert a VHS tape into a VHS device and not into a Betamax device. This mistake would have been difficult to do, given the different physical characteristics of VHS and Betamax systems. You would immediately know you were trying to shove a Betamax tape into a VHS device, even in dark and your eyes closed.

After you managed to insert the cassette into the device, it would play back the video. If the recording device and playing device were not very well compatible, you would get a slightly fuzzy or noisy picture, but if the story of the video was any good, you could overlook little things like the picture quality.

Your chance of getting satisfaction were pretty high.

Fast-forward to present day of digital entertainment systems and high-definition TV screens. There are several incompatible systems on the market from several consortiums of companies who have realized it is not in their best interests to have a level playing field where every device just plays any medium.

If you were an alien who was just dropped on this planet, you might think there was a level playing field with a standard medium. The medium was a shiny, plastic disc, about 12 cm in diameter. The alien would probably be surprised to find, even though the discs all look alike (although they might have different coloring or images imprinted on them), the data on the disc can be encoded in a number of different ways, all ever so slightly different and incompatible.

The alien would need to study the economy and culture of this planet to realize the entities called companies, who the capitalistic system relies on to bring new wonderful things for people (who are called consumers), are really afraid of the the very system they are part of. In the capitalistic system, companies compete on the marketplace and the one to make the superior product will win the hearts (and pocketbooks) of the consumers.

But in this system nothing is permanent. Any time another company could arise and make an even better product and steal the customers from the previous winner. This means the winner cannot rest on its laurels, as they say, but must keep on innovating. This is hard work. It is much easier for the company if it can create a product that locks people into the system, makes it hard for them to switch the product of one company to a product of another.

The first step of creating such lock-in is to make products that are incompatible. Once the consumer has invested into one product, it would cost him a lot of money to switch to a better system because he would have to buy everything new instead of using his older products.

Hmm... this is developing into a nice conspiracy theory. Perhaps I should just take a deep breath and get a grip of myself. Obviously I'm just getting overexcited over such a little thing as Apple failing to make proper DVD player software. I'll try the disc in some other Macs first...

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