Storage is probably the biggest personal-technology hurdle we face--most of us wouldn't dream of buying a PC with less than a 100GB hard drive. External hard drives, network-attached storage, and even personal RAID arrays are as much a fixture in the modern home as a computer and a monitor. And a whole lot of companies are hoping that megastorage DVDs will be the silver bullet to help solve some of those storage concerns. Plus, they're hoping to offer the killer device for storing HD video.
The disc masters
Blu-ray and HD-DVD, if you're not familiar with them, are competing technologies for creating high-capacity DVDs--from 50GB to 100GB, in the case of Blu-ray. Today's dual-layer DVDs, by comparison, max out at 9GB. Backers of each standard hope their discs will become the go-to solution for massive data storage and, more importantly, for recording high-definition video. For a complete primer on HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray, read my colleague David Carnoy's excellent breakdown of the brewing standards fight. For now, though, just know that Blu-ray is backed by Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Dell, HP, Philips, and Mitsubishi and offers much higher capacity, while HD-DVD takes a more evolutionary approach (meaning, hopefully, cheaper media, players, and recorders), and now enjoys more movie studio support than Blu-ray (other than, of course, Sony).
As it grew in intensity, the standards battle appeared to be reaching a stalemate--each format had a powerful coalition behind it, and each coalition made a strong case for its standard. Lately, though, the industry has developed fear of a big format war, and Sony has recently made overtures that suggest it's willing to find a compromise. Unfortunately, not everyone is cooperating; Toshiba said yesterday that it does not intend to suggest any sort of unified format, and most experts think it'll be a year or longer before there's any actual movement--either toward picking a winner or starting work on an entirely new format that could take more years to develop.
So, here's the thing about that, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Dell, HP, Philips, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, NEC, Sanyo, Memory-Tech, Microsoft, and company. You're the only ones who still care about the outcome. You go ahead and have your little battle over who's going to make the most money off of next-generation DVDs. Me? I'll be looking for a real storage solution, and I bet I'm going to find one by the time you get it all worked out.
A third solution, please
What these companies are arguing over is who will make the most money off of the new storage formats, and, of course, how they'll force consumers to come along with them--buying not only the new discs, but new players, new recorders, and whatever other new accessories come along with the new format. Then there will be the royalty costs to recoup and the expensive DRM technologies that must be developed to keep you from pirating HD content--which, if you're honest with yourself, is the biggest reason you want all that mega-HD storage in the first place.
But if I'm honest with myself, I see right off the bat that a 100GB DVD (and that's assuming Blu-ray wins, since HD-DVD doesn't offer that kind of space) is just a drop in my storage bucket. Heck, I'm close to using up the space on my 160GB external hard drive, and that's not counting all the data, photos, and video I have on my 80GB internal drive and stored on my TiVo.
I don't need some midsize, expensive DVD; a brand-new recorder; a new DVD player; and a stack of discs. I need bigger, more portable hard drives (give me a 200GB hard drive in the form of an iPod, and you'll be thinking along my lines); big, big network-attached storage solutions; and cheap, high-bandwidth online storage. And that's just the storage element--when it comes to home theater, I want to be rid of physical media. I want a DVR with a terabyte of storage so that I can record all the high-def video I want. I want that DVR to be completely networked over my gigabit Ethernet connection so that I can download high-def video, transfer it to my DVR, watch it on my high-def TV, and completely cut out the DVD middleman.
In fact, if anything's going to kill Netflix, it won't be Blockbuster. It'll be video on demand. I heard a story just the other day about how movie studios are considering releasing movies in the theaters, on DVD, and on television all on the same day--now that's what I'm talking about. I'll still buy movies, but I won't be buying DVDs. In the storage future of my imagination, DVDs are long gone--and the longer these companies keep fighting over profits, the more they assure their disc obsolescence.