DVD-ed we stand

“So, bought a DVD player yet?”

If I had a quid for every time someone had asked me that, I would, indeed, probably have bought a DVD player. But as yet, I remain mired in the oh-so-80’s technology of laser discs, and must look on in wonder as more technologically advanced work colleagues witter on about the latest movies they’ve got on DVD. Well, less “wonder”, more “mild annoyance”, for I can’t help thinking that if laser disk had received one-tenth the promotional push DVD has got, then it’d still be a viable medium rather than one being replaced by one which is technologically only marginally superior. Smaller, sure, cheaper to make, certainly (though rather a lot of the savings seem to have gone missing between manafacturers and consumers), but in terms of picture and sound quality, the results are, by most unbiased accounts, somewhat variable — DVD is perhaps a little better, yet nowhere near the same leap you get from tape to disk.

For anyone who just has VHS at the moment, I’d still heartily recommend DVD, although for the foreseeable future, you won’t be able to replace your household recorder. This will prove a large stumbling block to its general acceptance, since Joe Public, who’s perfectly happy with video quality, won’t want to add another box and remote control to his living room. Sure, Net-savvy people like you are aware of the untrammeled delights of personal import, allowing you to get movies well in advance and without censorial tampering. But since Blockbuster Video and Virgin have to stick to the rules and rent or sell pretty much the same titles they have on tape, it’s not much of a selling point for Mr. Public.

For those with laser-disc, the problem is different; new titles available have been steadily drying up, though the price of back catalogue has been a source of rampant delight: $9.95 in a lot of cases. Needless to say, I’ve been plunging in headlong. But do I really want to buy Blade Runner for the fourth time? [Tape, widescreen tape, laserdisc, DVD] Frankly, no. Not unless there’s some value added, which is how I got into laserdisks in the first place; things like a widescreen version of ‘Cat People’, unavailable on tape, were among the dozen or so discs bought before I actually had a player. This advance preparation was partly due to memories of my first CD machine: I blew all my money on it, and had precisely one disc, a gift, to play on it until next payday. I don’t think I’ve listened to the Human League’s ‘Travelogue’ since.

There’s another problem looming; back catalogue. Obviously, new films will come out on DVD, but what odds on releases for the likes of ‘Reform School Girls’, ‘Edge of Sanity’, ‘Date With an Angel’ or ‘Miracle Mile’? I’m not holding my breath, and am damned if, like some, I’m going to sell my collection off in expectation of replacing them. However, there is also a hardware issue here. My laserdisc player is a good five years old, and is not immortal — it’s already been to the repair shop a couple of times. But as laserdiscs dry up, so will the supply of machines, and I risk getting stuck with hundreds of discs, and nothing on which to play them. I am seriously contemplating buying a new, but now cheap, player, and stashing it in the attic against this contingency.

But even I accept the inevitability of DVD, and am contemplating stocking up on new titles as they come out: A Bug’s Life is probably the leading contender for My First DVD. Although my main fear is that it’ll become just another lame-duck medium, which kills off laser-disk but fails to break out of the niche market and ends up limping along with a small following, despite its technical superiority. I really hope it doesn’t happen, but…can you spell B-E-T-A-M-A-X?