Almost right from the start, DVD media threatened to fragment into competing standards and specifications despite industry efforts to avoid a repeat of the costly Betamax and VHS videotape format wars of the early 1980s.
Though they have been around for well over a decade now, DVD media can still occasion some confusion for the common consumer of home electronics. In the very beginning, there was even a little confusion over their very name, with some claiming that the acronym stood for Digital Versatile Disc, as any kind of information can be encoded on it, while others believed it meant Digital Video Disc, since that’s been the only real application they were typically put to, as a video format. Today the confusion has been engendered by the introduction of extensions to the format such as Blu-ray DVD and HD-DVD. The second in a series that will survey everything related to DVDs, this article will look back at one of the earliest confusions concerning the DVD.
You see, competing DVD media is nothing new. Barely three years after their debut in the marketplace a new kind of DVD threatened to destroy the DVD format as we know it. Indeed, it was touted as a new kind of DVD, but had it actually taken hold there would be no such thing as the DVDs we know today – which is an impossibility, given the sheer inanity of the scheme to begin with (which inanity will be evident soon in the retelling).
This new kind of DVD was supposed to have been an alternative to video rental at the time, which involved people going to a video rental store like Hollywood Video or Blockbuster Video and physically taking out and returning discs. The brainchild of now-defunct Circuit City and an entertainment law firm (but wait, it gets even weirder), DIVX, or Digital Video Express, created some confusion in the marketplace as it was promoted as being something more than DVD, with DVD being labeled “Basic” DVD. However, in contrast to so-called Basic DVD, DIVX required special hardware capable of DIVX playback. Not only that, DIVX discs often did not offer the extras or special features associated with DVDs. Moreover, DIVX titles were typically in pan-and-scan format, instead of the original theatrical aspect ratio usually found on DVD titles. Those two “design” flaws really turned the home theater enthusiasts against DIVX. Finally, though DIVX movies were available for only four dollars each, they were also only viewable for a two-day period after the initial screening, after which the DIVX player would “lock out” the disc – until additional money was paid, via a telephone hookup between the player and company headquarters. Privacy advocates were concerned about the transmission of personal information.
DIVX meant, in effect, that you would buy a disc to watch, and store the disc until such as time as you decided to watch it again – for another fee. What would be the point? Indeed, consumers couldn’t figure it out, either, and barely a year after its debut, DIVX was forced to suspend operations due to a very predictable lack of interest.