Earlier this week, Toshiba announced that they would no longer be manufacturing or marketing HD DVD players, which effectively ended the HD disc format war going on between HD DVD and the victorious Blu-ray format. Later that day, author and tech gadget enthusiast Steven Johnson twittered the following:
Chuckling at the fact that the ENTIRE PLATFORM died a month after I bought my HD-DVD player.
Thinking that it would be interesting to hear the tale of an early adopter in the age of hyper-obsolescence, I sent Johnson a few questions that he was kind enough to answer.
Jason Kottke: Warner Brothers went exclusively Blu-ray on January 4. When did you buy your player?
Steven Johnson: Basically our old DVD player broke, and so I figured we might as well buy a next generation player if we were buying a new one. Being the renowned technology futurist that I am, I analyzed the marketplace and decided that the HD-DVD/Blu-ray standoff was going to be around for a long time, and so I might as well just pick one and go with it. I think I had HD-DVD in my head because I had been thinking about buying the XBOX-360 HD-DVD accessory, so that's what I bought. Right around December 20th I think.
Kottke: The pace of HD DVD's collapse was dizzying, even by contemporary standards. How do you feel about owning a brand new piece of obsolete technology? You're an early adopter...is this just how the game is played, even at this fantastic velocity?
Johnson: I thought it was pretty funny. I mean, the Betamax adopters at least had a few years to nag their VHS friends about the better picture quality, before the format died a slow death. But HD-DVD -- they just took it out back and shot it! I think that's what's so striking about this. I can't remember a standards war where the winner was crowned so definitively. For a few weeks there, I felt like the technology world was taunting me for my decision: I got email from Netflix saying that they were NEVER going to buy another HD-DVD again.
The consolation prize is that Apple introduced HD rentals with the AppleTV -- which we also have -- right as HD-DVD was dying, so I might be able to bypass Blu-Ray altogether, just out of spite.
Kottke: Do you think Blu-ray will achieve the popularity that DVDs did or is the age of shuttling bits around on silver platters over?
Johnson: I really hope so. I've been using the new Apple TV version for the past 48 hours, and the whole HD movie rental process is just completely painless, other than the fact that they should give you 48 hours to watch the movie once you've started it. (By the way, I don't think enough people have commented on that Take Two upgrade: it is basically an entirely new product, and Apple just gave away the upgrade for free -- I think as an implicit acknowledgment that the first iteration wasn't fully baked. Still, how cool.)
Kottke: So you're the owner of a machine that will perform its task perfectly for many years to come but is de-facto useless because you can't buy any new media for it beyond the ~400 currently available titles. Is this becoming a more commonplace situation for consumers?
Johnson: Yes and no. There are more new standards proposed, and new innovations, and thus more obsolescence, but more and more of the new standards are coming in the form of software not hardware, so the transitions aren't nearly as painful as my HD-DVD misadventure. My AppleTV box that I bought last year wouldn't let me watch HD movies or browse Flickr photos, but after twenty minutes of a software update, I can now enjoy both with ease. I think that experience is probably going to be more commonplace than my getting burned buying into the wrong silver platter.