Friday, January 7, 2011

Greener Pastures


Over the past fifty years, the importance of entertainment in our daily lives has increased astronomically. The mere thought of having to wait for something does not compute because our mentality, conditioned by accessibility, is so focused on possession and obtainment. However, as little as ten years ago, just as DVDs were taking over the market, people would have to wait an average of six months for a movie to go from the theater to home video. Considering a quarter century before that home video didn’t exist in a popular form, six months wasn’t that bad.

It wasn’t until the advent of magnetic video/audio tape, in the late 1970’s, that home video became commercially available. Before then most people either had to wait for a theatrical re-release, or for a network television broadcast, which would usually be edited for time and content. In some cases there was the alternative of owning movies available on the Super 8mm format, but again, these films would be edited down to fit on the 200 - 400ft. film reel. For today’s generation, and maybe even yesterday’s generation, it is probably quite difficult to imagine a world where home libraries were filled with books instead of DVDs, and televisions acted as a centerpiece in the d├ęcor of a room instead of an electric window mounted to a wall.

"Oh, no. Beta!"
Throughout the late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s a home video war was waged between Sony’s Betamax system and everybody else’s Video Home System (VHS, invented by JVC). While the quality of a Beta system was superior, the length of its recordable tapes was only one hour, as opposed to two-hour VHS tapes. When cable television came about in the 1980’s and people were able to record their own copies of Hollywood movies at home for repeated viewing that sealed the deal for VHS. Beta became an industry standard for it’s superior quality, and it’s limited running time didn’t impact broadcast programs, which usually ran between 25-50 in the day. Now it is substantially less. Commercially, Beta systems became a joke, not even appealing to thieves. Because of it’s mass-market appeal, VHS cornered the home video market where it reigned for nearly twenty-five years.

Ultimately flaws began to appear on the face of this young medium. It’s commercial availability made it incredibly easy for bootlegging and pirate videos to compete with studio releases. Camcorders could be snuck into theaters and after the first screening the film could be bought on the street corner for less than the cost of a a ticket.

Another shot at marketing superior quality was made with Laserdiscs. This time the image was 100% digital, being played off of a disc, rather than a magnetic tape. Much like the way records were to compact discs, Laserdiscs were the forerunner to DVDs. There appearance was very similar to a silver record. Also, like a record, they had to be flipped to continue watching the film, and depending on the length even changed to view the conclusion. Any remaining time on the discs were usually filled with “Special Features,” like behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes, trailers, music videos, or other material, Since the films were digital they could store additional audio tracks, allowing filmmakers to provide a running commentary on their films. The commercial appeal of these industry insights did not go unnoticed, but they had to scale down the format for it to become more affordable and acceptable.

Laserdisc (left), compared to DVD.
As the popularity of VHS grew so did the amount of space the tapes themselves took up in people’s homes. Brand new furniture had to be designed, bought, and built to store these things. Finally, cracks began to emerge in the VHS foundation. On top of the aforementioned flaws in the system, VHS tapes took up a lot of resources to produce. The product itself is difficult to get rid of because while the plastic casing can be recycled, the magnetic Mylar tape inside can’t, and very few people care to separate the two, resulting in one giant carbon footprint.

The late 1990’s saw the introduction of Digital Video Discs, later renamed Digital Versatile Discs, to the home video market. This perfected the technology used in Laserdisc production, but on a much smaller scale. On a medium the size of a compact disc you could have an entire movie, plus several special features. They were smaller anything that had come before it, and offered more to the consumer as well. With that, home video had entered the digital revolution.

In the last ten years formats have come and gone. Quality has continued to improve not only in the home video presentation, but also in the filmmaking process. Digital duplication has crushed the real time transfer of magnetic tape, and digital encoding has opened all kinds of new doors to distribution. All of the advances in technology only made it easier for the pirates. Now movies can be downloaded directly off the Internet before they even make it into the theater. There are websites that host streaming movies accessible any time of day. With so many formats available, you can't blame people for wanting to cut the cost of updating their personal library. If you own the material on VHS, or Laserdisc, or even DVD, you should be entitled to a digital copy because you already paid for it. On the legal end movies can be purchased, or rented, in any number of digital formats, with the preferred method still being DVD, leaning towards Blu-Ray. The problem is these formats still leave a trace and can’t be recycled or broken down.

Hypothetically, if you were to collect all the copies, of all the formats, of all the titles that ever existed, of both video and audio, you could probably build another Mount Everest starting at the base of the Grand Canyon. That’s only after thirty-five years of heavy production. The question becomes, “Where do we go from here?” The answer, “To greener pastures.”

In this digital age there should be an even stronger push towards the overall acceptance of technological advances. Inferior products should cease being manufactured so the ultimate waste they create will be at a bear minimum. Instead of producing separate soundtrack albums, the studios should partner with the record labels and put digital copies of the songs on the DVD as an accessible ROM feature. The most intelligent and beneficial thing would be for all films to be converted to digital formats and accessible online, along with any and all special features. As we trek further into the future that is the direction everything is headed, so why not cut to the chase? They should take everyone developing storage technology, for a home video market, and redirect them to developing secure software for digital video distribution – or 100% GREEN DVDs. We made it thousands of years without this trash, there’s no reason we should bury ourselves in it before we even understand it.

1 comment:

  1. Yes DVD has taken the entertainment market. You can gift movies, Videos or musics to your friends or relatives by duplicating or replicating on a DVD or CD. 8mm Film Transfer to DVD