DVD Forum turns 10

Got a press release Thursday, where the DVD Forum is celebrating its tenth anniversary, notwithstanding the fact that it was founded in August of 1997.

What struck me about the release was the self-congratulatory tone of the first paragraph, in which they say the Forum has been "hailed as a model for collaboration between the consumer electronics, IT and entertainment industries." And they deserve it -- as I recall, some tech publications in the mid-1990s reported on the strain of so many companies working together (and sometimes at cross purposes), occasionally threatening to split into factions. But the alliance held together, a unified standard was born, and the little disc went on to change those three industries mentioned earlier.

What the press release doesn't say is that things started to come apart a few years later, with the advent of recordable DVDs. DVD-RAM already existed, though its main purpose was for backups; but when it came to DVDs for the average home user, the various companies came to loggerheads over technical issues. The end result was a breakaway group called the DVD+RW Alliance and two formats that would come to be known as DVD-R and DVD+R, along with their respective rewritable formats. The recordable DVD market sputtered along until Sony came up with the DRU-500AX and DRX-500ULX, drives that could write to both formats -- a revolutionary idea that is now the norm.

If the lesson hadn't already been clear after the VHS/Beta thing, it should have been the moment the DRU-500 drives started selling out: unity sells, discord doesn't. (Why is that a surprise? After all, it's the same principle that governments and most industries use.) But we've since run headlong into the HD DVD/Blu-ray fiasco, and though several solutions have since presented themselves, it doesn't look like the peace will be brokered as easily as with the recordable DVD formats.

But thinking about it further, is that really a surprise? "Incompatibility" and "consumer electronics" are words that seem to go together as often as not. Betamax and VHS. DAT and DCC. Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio. PCI and VLB. The many floppy disk formatting methods (oh, for those days when I had PC, Amiga and Mac floppies scattered around the office). I could go on for hours.

When all is said and done, though, the DVD Forum is still right to pat itself on the back. For a few brief years, they managed to hold things together well enough to produce a format that profoundly affected multiple industries and altered the habits of millions of people. It's arguably one of the most incredible inter-organizational achievements in the history of the modern world. So happy tenth, DVD Forum, and here's hoping that more companies learn from that short but phenomenally fruitful period.

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Emru Townsend

Digital World (US)
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