Format war

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

A format war describes competition between mutually incompatible proprietary formats, typically for data storage devices and recording formats for electronic media. It is often characterized by political and financial influence on content publishers by the developers of the technologies. Developing companies may be characterized as engaging in a format war if they actively oppose or avoid interoperable open industry technical standards in favor of their own.


[edit] 1900s

  • Player Pianos: In stark contrast to almost every other entertainment medium of the 20th century and beyond, a looming format war involving paper roll music for player pianos was averted when industry leaders agreed upon a common format in Buffalo, New York in 1908. The agreed upon format was a roll 11.25 inches wide with holes spaced 9 per inch. This allowed any roll of music to be played in any player piano, regardless of who manufactured it. As the music played, the paper winds on to the lower roll from the upper roll, which means any text or song lyrics printed on the rolls is read from the bottom to the top.

[edit] 1910s

  • Early recording media formats: cylinder records versus disk records. In 1877 Thomas Edison invented sound recording technology using a tin cylinder record, and soon thereafter mass-marketed the wax "Edison cylinder". In 1886 Berliner invented disk records. By the late 1890s cylinders and disks were widespread. Cylinders were more expensive to manufacture, but most cylinder players could make recordings. Disks saved space and were cheaper, but due to the constant angular velocity (CAV) of their rotation, the sound quality varied noticeably from the long outer edge to the short inner portion nearest the center; and disk record players could not make recordings. Edison refused to produce the disks until Berliner's patent expired in the late 1910s.

[edit] 1920s

  • 78 rpm gramophone record formats: lateral versus vertical "hill-and-dale" groove cutting. When Edison finally introduced his "diamond disc" (using a diamond instead of a steel needle), it was cut hill-and-dale, meaning that the groove modulated on the vertical axis as it had on all cylinders — unlike other manufacturers' disks which were cut laterally, meaning that the groove modulated on the horizontal axis. In 1929 Thomas Edison bowed out of the record industry altogether, ceasing all production of his disks, and also cylinders which he had also manufactured up to that point. In addition, there were several more minor "format wars" between the various brands using various speeds ranging from 72 to 96 rpm. The Edison disks rotated at about 80 rpm. In 1958, the stereophonic record was introduced which uses perpendicular modulations for each channel, providing backward compatibility to the lateral-cut monaural recording.[citation needed]

[edit] 1940s

  • Vinyl record formats: Columbia Records' 12-inch (30 cm) Long Play (LP) 33⅓ rpm microgroove record versus RCA Victor's 7-inch (17.5 cm) / 45 rpm Extended Play (EP) during the years 1948–1950. Ended in a compromise because each format found a separate marketing niche, and eventually record players were designed to play either type. Vinyl records are still used by niche audiences such as disc jockeys and audiophiles.

[edit] 1960s

  • Portable audio formats: 8-track and four-track cartridges vs. Compact Cassette. While notably successful into the mid-to-late 1970s, the 8-track eventually lost due to technical limitations, including variable audio quality and lack of fine control. Similarly the smaller formats of microcassette developed by Olympus and minicassette developed by Sony for applications requiring lower audio fidelity such as dictation and telephone answering machines.
  • FM radio broadcast formats: The Crosby system and the GE/Zenith system. The Crosby system was technically superior, especially in transmitting clear stereo signals, due to its use of an FM subcarrier for stereo sound rather than the AM subcarrier employed by GE/Zenith. Many radios built in this period allowed the user to select Crosby or GE/Zenith listening modes. However the Crosby system was incompatible with lucrative SCA services such as in-store broadcasting and background music. FM station owners successfully lobbied the FCC to adopt the GE/Zenith system in 1961, which was SCA-compatible.

[edit] 1970s

  • Various Quadraphonic encoding methods: CD-4, SQ, QS-Matrix, and others. The expense (and speaker placement troubles) of quadraphonic, coupled with the competing formats requiring various demodulators and decoders, led to an early demise of quadraphonic, though 8-track tape experienced a temporary boost from the introduction of the Q8 form of 8-track cartridge. Quadraphonic sound returned in the 1990s substantially updated as surround sound, but incompatible with old hardware.
  • JVC VHS vs. Sony Betamax vs. Philips Video 2000, the Video Tape Format War. The competition started in 1976 and by 1980, VHS controlled 70% of the North American market. VHS' main advantage was its longer recording time. From the consumer perspective, VHS blank media held more hours and therefore was less expensive.
  • Vinyl record vs. Compact Cassette - The popular 33-1/3 record dominated most of the 20th century, from the 1940s to the 1980s until newer technologies supplanted it. Its main rival the compact cassette was slow in growth but with the advent of boomboxes and Walkmans in the 1970s and early 1980s, cassettes eventually outsold vinyl records in the 1980s. Cassettes provided convenient mobile operation, playback free of scratches or skips, and near-CD quality on Type II pre-recorded music encoded with Dolby B. (See also Vinyl record vs. CD.)
  • Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) vs. LaserDisc (LD) vs. VHD (Video High-Density), non-recordable video disc formats. All of these ultimately failed to achieve widespread acceptance, although LD found a small videophile market that appreciated its high quality images. The Laser Disc remained available until the arrival of the DVD. Mainstream consumers preferred the recordable videotape for capturing live television and making home movies, quickly making VHS the de-facto standard video format for almost 25 years (circa 1979 to 2002).
  • Dolby vs. Dbx noise reduction systems for audio cassettes developed by Dolby Laboratories and DBX respectively. These two were mutually incompatible. Dolby B became the de-facto standard for store-bought, pre-recorded cassettes.

[edit] 1980s

  • Home computers often had incompatible peripherals such as joysticks, printers, or data recording (tape or disk). For example if a Commodore 64 user wanted a printer he would need to buy a Commodore-compatible unit, or else risk not being able to plug the printer into his computer. Similarly, disk formats were not interchangeable without third party software since each manufacturer (Atari, IBM, Apple, et. al.) used their own proprietary format. Gradually computer and game systems standardized on "Atari 2600 connectors" for joysticks and mice (during the 1980s), parallel port for printers (mid-1980s), the MS-DOS-derived FAT12 format for floppy disks (mid-1990s), and so on. The main standards used on today's post-2000 computers for inter-compatibility are USB for external devices or FAT32 for pre-formatted hard drives. Some incompatibilities still exist between computers with Windows-based machines and Macintosh file formats, due to the restrictions on filename length and which characters are allowable as part of the filename.
  • AM stereo was capable of fidelity equivalent to FM but was doomed in the USA by competing formats during the 1980s with Motorola's C-QUAM competing vigorously with three other incompatible formats including those by Magnavox, Kahn/Haseltine, and Harris. It is still widely used in Japan, and sees sporadic use by broadcast stations in the United States despite the lack of consumer equipment to support it.
  • Video8 vs. VHS-C and later Hi8 vs. S-VHS-C tape formats (see camcorder). This is an extension of the VHS vs. Betamax format war, but here neither format "won" widespread acceptance. Video8 had the advantage in terms of recording time (4 hours versus 2 hours maximum), but consumers also liked VHS-C since it could easily play in their home VCRs, thus the two formats essentially split the camcorder market in half. As of 2007, the Japan Victor Company (JVC) still makes VHS-C and S-VHS-C camcorders; Sony announced its last Hi8 camcorder — the TRV238.
  • Compact Cassette vs. CD - The Compact Disc was a clear improvement in audio quality and media durability over all prior magnetic (tape) media. Although CD players were rapidly adopted for home use in the mid-1980s, early portable CD players had problems with skipping due to vibrations and shock. Cassettes continued to dominate the portable player market. By the early 1990s, CD player memory buffering allowed skip-free performance and CD sales finally eclipsed cassettes. CDs are still the main method of pre-recorded distribution in the 2000s.

[edit] 1990s

  • Sony's Digital Audio Tape (DAT) vs. Philips' Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) vs. Sony's MiniDisc. Since CDs at the time (late 80s/early 90s) were play-only, these recordable tape formats were an attempt to bring CD-quality recording to the home consumer. Restrictions by record companies fearful of perfect digital copies effectively banned DAT machines from American markets. In response Sony introduced MiniDisc which provided non-perfect, lossy recordings that seemed to satisfy record companies' fears. Philips' DCC died a quick death, however MD successfully captured the Asia Pacific market (e.g. Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.). The consumers in other parts of the world chose neither format, preferring to stick with analog Compact Cassettes for home audio recording, and eventually upgrading to CD recordable discs and lossy-compressed MP3 formats.
  • Rockwell X2 vs K56flex – In the race to achieve faster telephone line modem speeds from the then-standard 9.6 kbit/s, many companies developed proprietary formats such as V32.terbo (19.2 kbit/s) or TrailBlazer (23.0 kbit/s) or V.FAST (28.8 kbit/s), hoping to gain an edge on the competition. The X2 and K56flex formats were a continuation of that ongoing battle for market dominance until the V.90 standard was developed in 1999. For some time, online providers needed to maintain two modem banks to provide dial-up access for both technologies. (See "modem" for a complete history.)
  • Portable media digital hard drives, with several incompatible formats, both a small market of write-once optical drives (requiring the use of a protective, plastic carrier) and several more successful but also incompatible magnetic read-write cassette drives. The Iomega Zip format ultimately prevailed, with capacities of 100 and 250 megabytes, but these media and their drives were quickly supplanted by the much slower but far cheaper recordable compact disc CD-R (early models used a loadable disk holder to ensure proper alignment). The CD-R had the advantage of existing wide industry standards support (the Redbook standard for both audio and data read-only CD), with the low-level recording format based upon the popular and low-cost read-only compact disc used for audio and data.
  • External bus transfer protocols: IEEE 1394 (FireWire) vs. USB. The proliferation of both standards has led to the inclusion of redundant hardware adapters in many computers, unnecessary versioning of external hardware, etc. Although FireWire has been marginalized to high-throughput media devices (such as high-definition videocamera equipment) and legacy hardware, Serial ATA is arising as a new competitor to USB, which continues to develop.
  • 3D graphics hardware ports: AGP vs. PCI Local Bus. Again, the unnecessary duplication and competition of standards led to hardware incompatibilities, unnecessary versioning of display adapters and ports in motherboards, etc.
  • 3D graphics APIs: DirectX vs. OpenGL vs. Glide API. In the latter half of the 1990s, as 3D graphics became more common and popular, several video formats were promoted by different vendors. The proliferation of standards (each having many versions with frequent and significant changes) led to great complexity, redundancy, and frustrating hardware and software compatibility issues. 3D graphics applications (such as games) attempted to support a variety of APIs with varying results, or simply supported only a single API. Moreover, the complexity of the emerging graphics pipeline (display adapter -> display adapter driver -> 3D graphics API -> application) led to a great number of incompatibilities, leading to unstable, underperforming, or simply inoperative software.
  • Video disc formats: MMCD versus SD. In the early 1990s two high-density optical storage standards were being developed: one was the MultiMedia Compact Disc (MMCD), backed by Philips and Sony, and the other was the Super Density disc (SD), supported by Toshiba, Matsushita and many others. MMCD was optionally double-layer while SD was optionally double-sided. Movie studio support was split. This format war was settled before either went to market, by unifying the two formats. Following pressure by IBM, Philips and Sony abandoned their MMCD format and agreed upon the SD format with one modification based on MMCD technology, viz. EFMPlus. The unified disc format, which included both dual-layer and double-sided options, was called DVD and was introduced in Japan in 1996 and in the rest of the world in 1997.[1]
  • More video disc formats: VideoCD versus the DVD. While the MMCD and SD war was going on, Philips developed their own video format called the VideoCD. While the format was declared a flop in the US, in Europe and Japan the battle waged on fiercely, as the VideoCD's lower production cost (and thus sales price) versus the DVD's superior audiovisual quality and multimedia experience resulted in a split market audience, with one end wanting cheap media without minding the quality and multimedia richness, while the other willing to pay a premium for the better experience DVD offered. The battle eventually settled with a compromise, with VCDs being a cheaper alternative for those on a budget and not minding missing out the special features, while DVDs are for those willing to pay for a better experience of watching a film.
  • Digital video formats: DVD versus DIVX (not to be confused with DivX). DIVX was a rental scheme where the end consumer would purchase a $2-3 disc similar to DVD but could only view the disc for 48 hours after the first use. Each subsequent view would require a phoneline connection to purchase another $2-3 rental period. Several Hollywood studios (Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount Pictures) initially released their movies exclusively in the DIVX format.[2] However, video rental services found the multi-use DVD more attractive, and videophiles who collected films rejected the idea of a pay-per-view disc.
  • Memory cards, a four-way contest: CompactFlash vs. Memory Stick vs. MultiMediaCard / Secure Digital card vs. SmartMedia. The format war became a five-way contest with the introduction of xD-Picture Card in the next decade, although by then SmartMedia was falling into disuse. This ongoing contest is complicated by the existence of multiple variants of the various formats. Some of these, such as miniSD, are compatible with their parent formats, while current generations of Memory Sticks break compatibility with the original format.
  • Hi-fi digital audio discs: DVD-Audio versus SACD. These discs offered all the advantages of a CD but with significantly higher audio quality. The players and discs were reverse compatible (the new Hi-fi players could play most 12cm optical disc formats, and both Hi-fi audio discs could be played at lower audio quality on standard CD or DVD players). SACD was acclaimed by critics as offering slightly better technical quality through its new PDM "bitstream" system and a greater number of SACD titles available. However, the two formats continue to coexist due to "hybrid" players that play both formats with equal ease. Despite the fact that these audio formats offer the best audio quality available as of the late 2000s, neither DVD-Audio nor SACD won a significant percentage of the recorded audio market. Most agree that this was primarily due to the format war, plus the customer preference for easy-to-transport lossy compressed formats (such as MP3 and AAC).
  • Television auxiliary video inputs: Composite video vs. S-video. Composite video inputs had more widespread support since they used the ubiquitous RCA connector previously used only with audio devices, but S-video used a 4-pin DIN connector exclusively for the video bus.
  • Wireless communication standards: Through the late 1990s, proponents of Bluetooth (such as Sony-Ericsson) and WiFi competed to gain support for positioning one of these standards as the de facto computer-to-computer wireless communication protocol. This competition ended around 2000 with WiFi the undisputed winner (largely due to a very slow rollout of Bluetooth networking products.) However, in the early 2000s, Bluetooth was repurposed as a device-to-computer wireless communication standard, and has succeeded well in this regard. Today's computers often feature separate equipment for both types of wireless communication, although Wireless USB is slowly gaining momentum to become a competitor of Bluetooth.
  • Disk image formats for capturing digital versions of removable computer media (particularly CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs): ISO vs. CUE/BIN vs. NRG vs. MDS vs. DAA, etc. Although the details of capturing images are complex (e.g., the oddities of various copy protection technologies applied to removable media), image formats have proliferated beyond reason - mainly because producers of image-creating software often like to create a new format with touted properties in order to bolster market share.
  • Streaming media formats: AVI, Quicktime (MOV), Windows Media (WMV), RealMedia (RA), MPEG, DivX, XviD, and a large host of other streaming media formats cropped up, particularly during the internet boom of the late 1990s. The wildly large number of formats is very redundant and leads to a large number of software and hardware incompatibilities (e.g., a large number of competing rendering pipelines are typically implemented in web browsers and portable video players.)

[edit] 2000s

  • Recordable DVD formats: DVD+R versus DVD-R and DVD-RAM. DVD-RAM has been largely abandoned by the industry, and both recordable DVD formats remain available, as most new DVD recorders support both formats (designated as DVD±R recorders).
  • Digital audio data compression formats: MP3 versus Ogg Vorbis versus MPEG4 Advanced Audio Coding versus HE-AAC/AACplus versus Windows Media Audio codecs versus Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC). Each format has found its own niche — MPEG1 audio layer 3, abbreviated MP3, was developed for audio encoding of the DVD and has remained a de facto standard for audio encoding. A technically better compression technique, MPEG4 (more commonly known as AAC) was subsequently developed and found favor with most commercial music distributors. The addition of Spectral Band Replication (AACplus or HE-AAC) allows the format to recreate high-frequency components/harmonics missing from other compressed music. Vorbis is most commonly used by game developers who have need for a high-quality audio, do not want to pay the licensing fees attached to other codecs, and did not need existing compatibility and name-recognition of MP3. Flac, a lossless format, emerged later and has become accepted by audiophiles. Consumer outcry against software incompatibility has prompted portable music player manufacturers such as Apple and Creative to support multiple formats.
  • High-definition optical disc formats: Blu-ray Disc versus HD DVD. Several disc formats that were intended to improve on the performance of the DVD were developed, including Sony's Blu-ray and Toshiba's HD-DVD, as well as HVD, FVD and VMD. The first HD-DVD player was released in March 2006, followed quickly by a Blu-ray player in June 2006. In addition to the home video standalone players for each format, Sony's PlayStation 3 video game console offers a Blu-ray Disc player and its games use that format as well [3]. The format war went largely in Blu-ray's favor after the largest movie studio supporting HD DVD, Warner Brothers, decided to abandon releasing films on HD-DVD in January 2008[4]. Shortly thereafter, several major North American rental services and retailers announced the exclusive support for Blu-ray products. Thus, Blu-ray won the HD war.
  • Satellite radio: In 2001, XM Satellite Radio launched with the first pay satellite radio company in the U.S. In 2002, Sirius Satellite Radio followed suit. The two companies operated through different receivers, each required consumers to purchase a subscription package, and they offered different, exclusive programming. For example, Sirius had an exclusive contract for all NFL Football broadcasts on satellite radio, while XM Radio owned the exclusive satellite radio rights to broadcast live Major League Baseball games. In 2008, the companies merged to form Sirius XM Radio - although it is still unclear how much combined content from the Sirius and XM will ultimately be available to consumers, and how much of the content will be restricted to premium subscription packages.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

[edit] See also

Personal tools