High-definition purgatory

Marketplace Staff Oct 1, 2007
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High-definition purgatory

Marketplace Staff Oct 1, 2007
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Scott Jagow: Sony showed off its new thin TV today.
It’s only 3 millimeters thick — about the same as a coin. The TV also uses a new organic light-emitting diode. Sony claims this is better than liquid crystal or plasma displays because there’s no need for a back light.

The high-definition TV and DVD technology just keeps coming. But for the most part, people haven’t made a choice between Sony’s Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Commentator Bill Hammack says he isn’t going to choose either.


Bill Hammack: Dante, in his “Inferno,” reserved a special circle of hell for those who could not decide. Its inhabitants had no hope, living in a terrifying limbo that makes them envy any other fate.

I risk then my technological soul, because I advocate not choosing in the stand-off between high-definition DVD formats.

I know it seems a titanic battle, akin to the High Noon showdown of VHS versus beta in the 1980s. Not in the 21st century: The entertainment world has become “hardware agnostic.” The choice between blu-ray and HD is a false dichotomy.

Will I choose either? No. We no longer live in the entertainment “monoculture” of the 1980s. Instead of a DVD, regardless of its format, I might choose YouTube or my video iPod.

Even the incompatibility of the blu-ray and HD isn’t going to be real for long. Last year, NEC came up with a computer chip that will allow a machine to play either format. Only licensing prevents its use.

But you can bet that if one format begins to fail, the other will push for dual machines to be licensed. And in a snap, the format wars will be over. Now, watch for this notion of “hardware agnostic” to revolutionize other technologies.

Here’s an example on the horizon: Google just acquired a company whose technology allows them to display Powerpoint presentations on the gmail platform. And that completes Google’s office suite. You can now do word processing, spreadsheets, and powerpoint-type presentations at any web browser, be it a PC, a Mac or something else.

If it catches on, that means Microsoft’s new Vista operating system, or its next incarnation, will meet with indifference, instead of a battle ground. As the historian Daniel Boorstin once said, “it’s fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake.”

Jagow: Bill Hammack teaches chemical engineering at the University of Illinois-Urbana.

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