Thursday, March 23, 2006

The ever-changing world of audio and video technology

Remember vinyl records? If you're 25 or under, probably not. I recall listening to my brother's 45 rpm records in my room in the 1970s. They liked artists such as Chicago, the Beatles, the Jackson 5, and Stevie Wonder. Some of the first records I bought were "Disco Inferno" by the Tramps and "I Just Want to be your Everything" by Andy Gibb. I endured endless razzing by my older siblings when I purchased a Barry Manilow record. I remember buying the "Out of the Blue" 33 rpm album by ELO which was a double album that unfolded to reveal a cool spaceship photo.

Anyway, the explosion of mp3s and i Pods got me thinking about all the audio formats we have seen over time. Before my time, my parent's generation listened to big band music on 78 rpm records. Then we saw 33 rpm and 45 rpm vinyl. Next were the 8 track tapes from the 1970s. Cassettes ruled in the 80s, and in the 90s we advanced into the digital age with CDs. Some people liked mini discs in the 90s but that format didn't seem to catch on. Just try to find records or cassettes in a retail outlet today. It's not easy. The record labels probably love the different formats since most people don't have albums or cassettes anymore and they have to buy their favorite tunes on CD or mp3. I wonder what format will be the next big thing?

It's the same story with video formats. Do you own mostly DVDs or VHS tapes? Most video stores have just a few VHS tapes, if any. In the 1980s I had heard that Beta format tapes would be the next big thing. My parents asked me if we should buy a VHS or a Beta machine. I said Beta--oops! If you know anything about broadcast television, the Sony Betacam SP and SX are commonly used tape formats, but for home use the public embraced the VHS machines. I remember VHS machines in the 80s would set you back $500 at least. No you can get one for $50. After VHS tapes, some may recall the video disc format, which featured large platter like digital discs the size of 33 rpm records. The smaller DVD format proved to be much more successful. These days it seems like more and more are using the digital hard drive recorders such as Tivo. These require no tapes and they can store more recorded footage than VHS tapes. Also you don't need to worry about dirty tape heads, tracking problems, or the tapes getting creased or worn out.

We're in the age of high definition TV. The FCC has said that by 2009 all stations must be broadcasting in HDTV and people will need high definition sets, or puchase a digital converter. The date of conversion has been pushed back many times and I wouldn't doubt it if it was pushed back further. It seems unfair that all will be forced to switch to the new format. It should be voluntary like the switch from black and white to color TV. I have compared high definition to standard definition and often times the difference is not noticeable.
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