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The Complete History of Format Wars 277

TheFrozenSink writes "The UK bit of Cnet have put up an article on old formats that should have won their respective format wars. The piece makes some pretty spectacular claims, like if Apple had bought BeOS then there would have been no iPod and of course, no iPhone. The article also claims that the Atari ST was better than the Amiga and that MiniDisc should have won over CD."
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The Complete History of Format Wars

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  • Minidisc??? (Score:4, Informative)

    by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:34AM (#19954491)
    No way. The CD is superior to the minidisc in every way with the execpetion of size. There have even been several audio tests where people picked cassette tapes with Dolby S noise reduction over minidiscs.

    • I thought the same thing. The CD sounded better (it had a limited sample rate but the MD used compression) was simpler (fewer moving parts than the MD) and due to that simplicity (along with wider industry support) became much cheaper to make.
    • Re:Minidisc??? (Score:5, Informative)

      by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:50AM (#19954615) Journal

      The CD is superior to the minidisc in every way with the execpetion of size.

      Not a chance. Minidiscs have caddies, which made physical damage to the discs, or the drives, extremely unlikely. The format allowed for a million rewrite cycles, compared with CD-RW about 1,000, and the disc format was far more stable.
      • Re:Minidisc??? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:21AM (#19954923)
        In all fairness, how many people ever came close to even 1,000 rewrites on a single CD-RW?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by CastrTroy ( 595695 )
          Due to scratches and all other factors, I've found you don't usually get more than 10 rewrites on a CD-RW. Maybe if you're really careful you could probably get 100. Maybe under lab conditions in a clean room, it's possible to get 1000 rewrites. I think consumers should really call false advertising on that number. I don't really think it's possible under normal use of a CD-RW to get anywhere close to 1000 rewrites. It's off by at least a factor of 10.
          • by antdude ( 79039 )
            I still use my old 2X CD-RWs that I got with my Yahama CD-RW burner back in 1998 or so. I just do a lot of session imports. Does that count as a write? Or is write considered a full CD burn? Either way, it hasn't failed yet!
      • FWIW Panasonic PD and DVD-RAM discs have 1e6 write cycles. The main issue with the other RW formats is that they are designed for backwards compatability with audio CDs and rely on a manufactured pregroove for the burner to find the track. This groove becomes wiped out after 1000 cycles. the PD based technology has hard sector indices instead.
    • There have even been several audio tests where people picked cassette tapes with Dolby S noise reduction over minidiscs.

      Bullshit. Perhaps you're talking about the later ATRACv3 formats with it's low bitrates comparable with MP3, but the high bitrate ATRAC (v1/2) was entirely transparent.

      • Re:Minidisc??? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:38AM (#19955145) Journal
        I was at a lecture on digital compression techniques in the early '90s, when MiniDisc and VideoCD were still new and shiny. The lecturer brought in a decent HiFi and did a blind test between MiniDisc and CD. Around 70% of the audience could hear that MiniDisc was inferior, the rest couldn't tell the difference.

        I don't know how the newer compression algorithms, but the original was an ugly hack to get 650MB of audio data onto a 140MB disk by doing some very rough frequency cuts. Even on a half-decent pair of headphones you can hear the frequency holes.

        The newer 1GB disks are a bit more interesting, but now they are competing with 8GB flash drives. I'd quite like a 1GB MiniDisc drive in a laptop, but for data small enough to fit on a removable disk it's usually easier to use a network these days, so there isn't much call for one unless you can make it bootable.

        • by fbjon ( 692006 )
          The quality of Sony's ATRAC compression tech has vastly increased since the early 90s, every generation was better than the last. Recent MD-recorders are essentially transparent on short play, and pretty decent on LP speeds.
          • Re:Minidisc??? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @10:12AM (#19955593) Journal
            True, and the lossless compression facility makes them even more interesting. 1GB with lossless compression lets you put around 4 CDs worth of audio onto one small disk. Unfortunately, it's too late; I can put 80 or so CDs at the same quality onto something about the same size as a MiniDisc player, and not have to worry about changing media.
    • Re:Minidisc??? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:11AM (#19954805)
      Sound quality aside, MiniDisc shot itself in the foot as Sony refused to open up the format to allow for direct access to the disc. You were never able to "rip" tracks from the MiniDisc which limited it's ability to succeed as a digital recording format. It was effectively a tape.

      If you could have plugged them into your computer and used them as general purpose media they would have taken off like a flash.

      The MiniDisc is a perfect example of a product that could have been much larger but was curtailed due to anti piracy measures.
      • Re:Minidisc??? (Score:5, Informative)

        by wiredlogic ( 135348 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @11:00AM (#19956237)
        Sony did actually produce a minidisk drive for computers. It was SCSI only and $700 which were the main factors in keeping it from taking off. It used special MD data disks and was unable to copy an audio disk, further limiting its usefulness.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) *

          One more problem was that they charged a significant premium for the "data" disks, which were *exactly* the same as the music disks, only enabled via pre-recorded flags to be used for data purposes. I had a minidisc based 8-track recorder that used the data disks, and they were freaking expensive. Sold that puppy on Ebay.

          I still have MD in my system, a Sony MD+CD player, because I own some interesting MD's (like a hand-signed Joe Satriani MD) but I certainly haven't been looking for new MDs, or recordin

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by hcdejong ( 561314 )
            What I'd really like is a memory stick / card / flash / whatever music recording/playback system in a hi-fi equipment format. Wouldn't mind a rackmount version, either.

            Marantz [] has several of those, in rackmount and portable formats.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rageon ( 522706 )
      I disagree, I loved Minidisc. I was a DJ for years, and Minidiscs were pretty much the coolest thing ever, as they allowed me to make "mix CD's" so that I wouldn't have to lug hundreds and hundreds of CD's from job to job. And the fact they were more or less indestructible was great. But granted, that's a pretty specific use. As far as MDs being of lower quality, ummm, anyone ever heard of the iPod? People today are buying music with crappy quality, so I'm not sure that argument works. Lossy formats will a
    • You forgot durability. I've thrown Minidiscs across the room and left them on my desk, underneath a pile of papers for months, and still had no problems reading them. You could probably take a piece of sandpaper to a Minidisc and have no problems reading it, maybe even using an orbital sander. Because they actually come in a protective enclosure, they are many times more durable than CDs. That is the one true advantage of Minidisc over CD. I would gladly take a little bit if extra thickness in my disks
      • I remember minidisc players having a moderate amount of success a few years back, because they were aimed at the right market. By targeting the personal stereo market, their advantages were played up (smaller than CDs, durable) and their disadvantages were played down (who really cares about sound quality when you're listening through earbuds?). The digital optical recording aspect was of its time, allowing near-perfect copies of CDs straight from the stereo, at a time when requiring a PC was still unacce

  • Minidisc? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ubi_NL ( 313657 ) <joris@id[ ] ['eee' in gap]> on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:34AM (#19954493) Journal
    Minidisk was having a format war with Philips Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) which it easily won, despite having a higher compression ratio. Compression on minidisc is about 10x higher compared to CD and even I can hear it.
    • by Crizp ( 216129 )
      About 10x higher compared to CD? Nope. First of all, CD's are lossless audio that does not remove any information from the sound (I'm not going into resolution here, just compression). The ATRAC compression on Minidisc works like MP3 (in principle) with approx. 290 Kbps and DCC's PASC was 384 Kbps.

      Shame that ATRAC sounds so nasty though, a decent 192 Kbps MP3 easily sounds just as good.

      Sony's official claim is that ATRAC3plus at 48 kbit/s rate provides a quality comparable to MP3 at 128 kbit/s, placing this

      • by fbjon ( 692006 )

        Shame that ATRAC sounds so nasty though, a decent 192 Kbps MP3 easily sounds just as good.
        Only on bad/old hardware, as has been pointed out. Also, 48 kbps ATRAC3plus is obviously not geared for maximum quality, if that's what you were thinking. It's biggest problem was the locking-in which prevented it from flourishing like MP3/LAME.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evilviper ( 135110 )

      Compression on minidisc is about 10x higher compared to CD and even I can hear it.

      Actually it's less than 5X higher than CD. And more to the point, I've never heard any credible source claim audible artifacts (with ATRAC v1/2), except as the result of crappy hardware that didn't encode ATRAC properly, which was unfortunately the case with at least RCA's models (IIRC).

  • Minidisc (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nimsoft ( 858559 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:36AM (#19954505)
    The MD failed because it was yet another proprietary Sony format which offered too little too late, especially as the CD market was already well established. MDs may have had a place in portable media but soon after they started gaining traction MP3 players saw to that.
    • by DrXym ( 126579 )
      I remember shaking my head when someone told me they'd bought one. There was interest in the format, but it was hampered by horrific DRM and costing 10x as much as a cassette player. At the end of the day it was just too expensive, too restrictive and it had the misfortune to soon be competing with MP3 players. As memory got cheaper, MP3 players wiped the floor with MiniDisc. I think if Sony hadn't crippled it, it could still be a popular format, even for data storage.
  • minidisc? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by toQDuj ( 806112 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:36AM (#19954507) Homepage Journal

    We had two minidisk players in a studio, and always, always always when you put a minidisc recorded on the left player into the right player, the TOC would be messed up, and the disk became unreadable in both.
    Then, the MD's had to be sent to Sony, who recreated a TOC, but without any of the titles, or other data.

    In other words, MD was crap besides the compression algorithm of which I will not speak here.

    • Re:minidisc? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:44AM (#19954561) Homepage Journal
      Agreed. MDs were notorious for being highly flaky. I've used these suckers, and the people who love these things were are always apologetic about MDs that go bad, saying stuff like "Well, we can just send it back to Sony who can recreate the TOC."

      That's the only thing you can do? Sheesh. Plus, these things are locked down in a way that the only way you can get audio off of them is to use the 'analog loophole'. Which sucks, because when you want to do post-processing on the raw audio you just recorded, you want it to be as clean as possible. And of course you always lose something in the D/A->A/D conversion process. *sigh*

      Gimme a good hard disk recording system and a CD burner any day over that crap.
      • Plus, these things are locked down in a way that the only way you can get audio off of them is to use the 'analog loophole'.

        Or the digital optical output.

        • Or the digital optical output.

          Very few portable MiniDisc devices -- possibly none of the models produced by Sony -- had digital optical output.

  • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:39AM (#19954517) Homepage Journal
    Mod article troll!

    No, seriously, though, who knows what Apple would have done if it had bought Be or BeOS? And stating that the Atari ST is better than the Amiga -- well, that claim is specious at best. The Amiga was wayyyy ahead of its time -- it had separate graphics, sound and I/O processors and made use of DSPs years before the equivalent began showing up in 'IBM-compatibles' and Macs.

    But then again, these arguments are old and tired. What's next? An article on Editor Wars? vi! No, Emacs! Ha! Real men use ed!
    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:48AM (#19954605)
      Real men use tiny magnets on their hard drive.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      The Amiga was wayyyy ahead of its time -- it had separate graphics, sound and I/O processors and made use of DSPs years before the equivalent began showing up in 'IBM-compatibles' and Macs.

      Er... the ST had separate graphics, sound and I/O processors as well. Ok, the graphic (less colors) and sound ( less channels if I remember) ones weren't as good as the amiga :) but on the other hand, the ST had high-res and midi i/o, which is why it was a great machine for DTP (Calamus) and music (Cubase), and why it

      • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )
        From what I know, the benefits were divided amongst both.

        Music - Atari pwned pro usage with it's MIDI support alone. Sound chip on the early Amiga's was better than Atari's of the same age. Amiga never really updated the sound whereas Atari did in later models. Right about the time both Amiga and Atari were becomming obsolete. I think Macs basically took this crown when they started offering MIDI support, though digital audio on Mac was on par with PC's; well behind both Atari and Amiga.

        Graphics - Compare A
      • by sqldr ( 838964 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:09AM (#19954779)
        Ok, lets clear up the ambiguities here..

        The amiga had a separate sound processor that could play samples through hardware. The atari ST could only do it through heavy CPU usage (about 30% to play an amiga mod).

        The amiga had a separate graphics processor - the blitter. The ST didn't get that until the STe, and nobody made any software for it, ever. The graphics chip could also do hardware sprites (the ST had no such thing), hardware scrolling playfields (the ST had no such thing), and HAM, which effectively used the hardware to muck about with the palette. The ST could do this in software if you could be arsed.

        The amiga had a separate "io" chip - the copper, which could be used to control the chips above without the CPU intervening. The atari had no such thing.

        As for midi IO, you could plug a gadget into the amiga that did this, and it didn't cost much at all. I'd like to see an STFM owner plugging in a hardware sprites chip.

        I had an ST and an Amiga, and programmed both, and the Amiga was way more fun.
        • As for midi IO, you could plug a gadget into the amiga that did this, and it didn't cost much at all. I'd like to see an STFM owner plugging in a hardware sprites chip.

          This could be handled in two ways on the Amiga, as well.

          One way was to actually plug it right into the serial port, which has a 31,250 speed specifically for the purpose. Little hardware was actually involved. But there are also a zillion devices that plug into the amiga's parallel port, which was kind of like a predecessor to the BeBox's Geekport in that it was highly configurable. Each main I/O line can be configured as an output or an input (or you can toggle them all or some of them back and forth.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by uradu ( 10768 )
          > The amiga had a separate "io" chip - the copper, which could be used to control the chips above without the CPU intervening.

          Right, and I believe you loaded sprite and sound instructions into it as a sort of multimedia script, which then ran independently of the main CPU. That's why you could often find an Amiga locked up solid but with the sound and sometimes sprite animations still happily running. There's no way they could have done Dragon's Lair without all the co-processors.

          You also forgot to menti
    • by Cadallin ( 863437 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @10:55AM (#19956159)
      The whole article is a troll. It's a bunch of outrageous bullshit and specious claims.

      1. Betamax vs. VHS - Betamax was technically superior in a few ways, but lost due to Sony arrogance and vendor lock-in strategies. Which we will see repeated down the line.

      2. Laserdisc - actually a very cool technology. In terms of geeky cool factor, possibly only second to Capacitance Electronic Discs (a true Video LP whose needle read data by measuring changes in Capacitance in the grooves, also the last format designed by American Engineers). However, both were unable to do home recording, and prohibitively expensive.

      3. 8-Track - Nobody gives a shit. LPs sounded better, and CDs were better than both.

      4. HD-Audio - Again, for the most part, nobody gives a shit. DVD-Audio, while truly superior to CDs, had no market, and the 1-bit 1Mhz "Super-Audio CD" actually has worse dynamic range and fidelity than a correctly mastered 16-bit 44.1kHz Compact disc.

      5. Minidisc - Sony blew another one. A somewhat cool technology ruined by Sony Lock-in/Lock-down now rendered completely irrelevant by FLASH memory, and shakey even in its day due to CD-Rs.

      6. BEOS - A competitor in the overcrowded consumer OS market. The Execs tried to push Apple for waaaay more than they were worth, and the rest is history. A history of the triumphant return of Steve Jobs, and Apple riding OS X and the iPod to great success, making BEOS irrelevant.

      7. DTS - the differences between DTS and DD are irrelevant except to Home Cinema Afficianados.

      8. AtariST - Interesting machine, but nowhere near the technical Marvel of the Commodore Amiga. Another Footnote in history.

      The article is bunch of recycled pap on a slow news day.

    • Well one could have separate graphics sound and IO processors in an appleII. DSP too. The strength of the Amiga was that nobody had such powerful graphics back in the time (3D and photorealistic HAM mode was quite impressive at the time) and that the c64 crowd flocked to it. I guess couldn't be a serious contender with pcs and macs because for the first years it crashed often, and at that time people were used to much more stability.
  • by Zedrick ( 764028 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:40AM (#19954529)
    "The article also claims that the Atari ST was better than the Amiga"

    Thanks for the heads up.

    Obvously the article is written by a drooling moron. No need to waste time on this.

    • But if you do RTA, he never actually says the ST was superior: "The Atari ST was ultimately kicked into touch by IBM PCs and Apple Macs -- even the Amiga managed to get the boot in before disappearing itself." ...although he certainly implies it. He is obviously deranged.
    • Re:No need to RTFA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AVee ( 557523 ) <slashdot AT avee DOT org> on Monday July 23, 2007 @11:34AM (#19956727) Homepage
      /. summary:
      10. It puts Betamax up agains VHS, a format war which should have been won by Video2000
      9. It puts Minidisc up agains the CD, although it competed with DCC at the time as the next-gen compact cassette. Recordable CD's didn't exist at that time.
      8. They put laserdisc up agains VHS, even though laserdisc's where never writable. There never was a format-war around laserdisc, it was just a product which was released ahead of it's time and failed because of that.
      7. Selecting 8 track tapes over Compact Cassettes because, erm, their fixed length 'tracks' are so convenient. Sure, if you enjoy listening to silence... 6. Here is a format war for you, DVD-Audio together with SA-CD again the normal CD. Just ignore the actual format war... And, I quote: "The copy protection is good too, which means less of that pesky piracy the music industry keeps banging on about." Right. 5. Right after the 'All hail HD Audio' part comes the argument that Mini-Disc should have won because of the lossy compression. 4. Yes, BeOS should have survived. But it doesn't explain what an OS has to do in an article about format-wars. 3. DTS should be used instead of Dolby Digital because it's handy in theaters, so we should all use DTS at home. And DTS can use any number of channels which is a good thing, because standards exist to make sure everybody does things differently. 2. Atari-ST, it's not just operating systems in this format war, whole computers count as 'Format' these days. 1. No, its not a top 10, the last page just sums up the ideal world of BeOS operated Betamax recorders with 8-Track laserdiscs and Atrac compressed DTS sound stored on a separate minidisc to be played on and HD-Audio Atari. Or something like that.
  • 8-track tapes... (Score:4, Informative)

    by MyNameIsFred ( 543994 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:46AM (#19954571)
    The author needs to study history a little more. One example -

    all he would need to do is go back to the groovy 60s and introduce home recorders so people can make their own compilations
    I was in high school in he 70s. My friends and I routinely made our own 8-track tapes. My group of friends would buy an album and several 8-track tapes and make copies.
    • Heck, prior to that you had 1/4" reel to reel. Home recording isn't anything new, it's just a lot cheaper.
    • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Monday July 23, 2007 @11:49AM (#19956977) Homepage Journal
      8-Track tapes aren't the only example where his history is a bit... off. LaserDiscs, for example, really took off in Japan. The reason? LaserDisc players and discs were kept artificially high in the states because the movie companies were worried about box office losses due to the potential "home theater" experience. The Japanese market was by no means constrained by this artificial inflation, and became incredibly popular for Japanese anime. As a result, the format floundered here in the states only because the fools pushing the format kept the price too high.

      Similarly, the article overlooks why there were tons of VHS tapes at video rental stores. Early on in the format war you had some of both. It was only after VHS won that Betamax started to fall off. While the article does mention that adult entertainment played a role in the fall of Betamax, what really did it in was the recording time. With VHS able to record 2 hours, then 4 hours, and eventually 6 hours (!) it was a lot more useful to home viewers who wanted to record their favorite television show. The quality was a non-issue because nearly everyone had rabbit-ears or rooftop antennas. With the cruddy quality of over-the-air transmissions, why would anyone worry about "better color response"?

      Furthermore, I find the article's implication that a world without Mac OS X and iPods would be somehow "better" than the situation today to be... a bit disturbing. Putting aside for a moment that NEXTSTEP was just as good of a choice (perhaps better?) than BeOS, without the market push from Job's and Apple, we'd still be waiting for the ability to purchase music and television online. Technology would be potentially held back by as much as a decade due to the short-sightedness of the media conglomerates.
  • 10 pages, each with an illustration larger than the text and of course a lot of advertisements.
  • by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @08:47AM (#19954583) Homepage
    From the article: The key to getting the Atari into the mainstream would have been more games... No, the problem was that is was seen purely as a games machine by the mainstream, not as the decent workhorse it actually was. And at gaming, it lost to the Amiga hands down.

    His other points about the system are hit and miss. It was the musicians' machine of choice, true. It was the CAD users' machine of choice? Not really, no. It could have been, but it wasn't. The hardware was there, the nice "hi-res" (for 1985/86!) mono monitor was excellent, it had a faster clockspeed than its other 68000-based rivals and utterly outstripped the frankly miserable x86 line of that time, but even so there were attributes of the system that meant it just wasn't going to win. Those attributes were often chosen to cut costs (the awful keyboard for instance) and the costs were being cut because the machine was primarily seen by the market as being for games.

    I owned an ST. For years it remained the most productive system I ever owned, running its own code, Mac code via Spectre GCR and PC code via a hardware 286 emulator (ATSpeed or Vortex - not sure I remember which one I used). With Protex, Signum, Calamus and Steinberg 12 it made for a superb home system. But to say it failed to dominate the mainstream due to lack of games? That's just madness.

    • I think the whole "game machine" thing is one of the things that helped to kill the Amiga, so I don't see how that would have been an advantage to Atari either.

      Back then computers were still divided into "home" computers and business computers, and Atari and Amiga were placed in the "home" category because of the games (and color, hi-res graphics, audio, etc...). They were never really taken that seriously by business which really hurt their market share.

      Amiga was really hurt too because not many people bou
  • I can't believe that the person who compiled this list actually thought 8-track tape (of all things) was a superior format. I can only assume that they're someone who never actually listened to an 8-track tape player, which were notorious for having an audible rumble from the playing mechanism. To recreate the experience of listening to an 8-track tape, take a jambox and set it on top of your washing machine while running a large load. That's the pure sonic fidelity of 8-track.

    Now get the hell off my lawn...

    • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:19AM (#19954893) Homepage
      The 8 track was the superior format at the time that it peaked in popularity. At the time when 8 tracks were the format for car audio, cassette players were horrid little things with mediocre quality.

      8-tracks also offered a true 4 channel audio system that was better than anything available on cassette or disc.

      Once cassette tape moved to high end formulations like chrome tapes, and added Dolby etc, the game changed significantly and 8-tracks faded away.

      The people who run down 8-track as a format usually have little experience with it and don't recall, or weren't born early enough, to recall that it represented the very earliest move away from radio towards a car audio that allowed an individual to choose what music they would listen to.

      Arguably the 8-track is the ancestor of what would eventually become the iPod.
      • Arguably the 8-track is the ancestor of what would eventually become the iPod.

        No, that would be the cassette tape and the WalkMan.
        • by rueger ( 210566 )
          Not in a car. That's where 8-tracks took off before cassettes became good enough to replace them.
          • Right. But the form factor (small box w/ headphones) was specifically the Walkman. There were over the shoulder 8 track players, but few and far between.
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Yeah, but the 8-track could be played IN A CAR, man! The LP always skipped when my van was a rockin', but the 8-track kept the groovy sounds coming!
  • The Atari ST had MIDI ports. That was what made it stand out for musicians. There really wasn't enough development of it to justify its continued existence.

    The minidisc suffered from entering a market saturated with a format that was superior in several ways and didn't offer sufficient advantages over the other recordable medium (compact cassette) to justify its price tag.

    If Steve Jobs hadn't gone back to Apple, Creative would probably have dominated the mp3 player market.

    8-track was abysmal. You
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:05AM (#19954749) Homepage Journal
    I think every example in this article is absolutely accurate. But then again, I'm posting this from a parallel universe on my Commodore 1024 running OS/2 XP in the Confederate States of America.
    • by sootman ( 158191 )
      Greetings! I'm also posting from a parallel universe--a world where Mac OS is based on UNIX, is respected by geeks, and runs on Intel CPUs. Freaky huh?
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:07AM (#19954761) Homepage
    Every single one of these format wars is between two formats that were, in fact, reasonable comparable. This is all war stories and middle-aged nostalgia. As Pete Seeger put it (in his added stanza to "Both Sides, Now") "Something's lost and something's gained in living every day."

    Each of the defeated formats had some nice stuff about it, but it's not as if there was anything so terrible about their passing, other than angst for those who bought into the orphaned formats. Some of his comments are just weird. For example, he praises 8-track tapes basically because of its being marginally easier to find individual songs on them... which is true only if you're comparing it to cassettes, not to CDs.

    Yeahyeahyeah and what's more a B24 Liberator was soooo much better than a B17 Flying Fortress, the U. S. should have adopted PAL instead of NTSC, and a Pickett and Eckel slide rule was way better than a Keuffel and Esser.

    I mean, it's not like Cinerama. Cinerama was great, so much better than CInemaScope or IMAX or any of the other wide-screen processes, and it just blew away anything you think you've seen on HDTV. Cinerama really mattered. The world would actually have been a better place if CInerama had won the format wars. In all likelihood, if only Cinerama had survived, movies would be better, the Beatles would never have broken up, and the Arabs and Israelis would have put aside their differences, united by the joy of watching widescreen movies.
  • Lets see...

    "The copy protection is good too, which means less of that pesky piracy the music industry keeps banging on about." - From the SACD/DVD-Audio page.

    Oh yeah, everybody wants that. The only SACD player I ever saw didn't have a digital output, apparently because the standard didn't allow it due to copy fears. You had to connect a block of six analog outputs. Genius!

    "Later on, further innovation came with the NetMD range, which allowed you to copy music on your computer to a MiniDisc at high speeds. M
  • by ishmalius ( 153450 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:09AM (#19954775)
    I guess that the author never actually used any of these things, as some of the fact or impressions are a bit off.

    First of all, the 8-track was a -terrible- design. Having the 4 channels run physically parallel on the tape led to awful tracking and crosstalk problems. Also, the way that the tape feed operated was awful. As the tape played, it would be peeled out from the center of the tape spindle, run over the head, and then reeled back onto the spindle. This horrible way of feeding the tabe resulted in tangling, unravelling, and twisting. It also contributed to wear and tear on the tape and shortened the cartridge's life.

    I didn't see any place where they compared the Atari ST to the Amiga. I only saw the passing reference to Amiga as an "also ran." Although both of these machines had their RAM configured as 8-bit or 16-bit, both operated on a 32-bit model. It didn't matter, since the MC68000 had a linear memory model. Either one was a joy to use. I learned MC68000 Assembly on the Amiga. IMHO, the Amiga was more advanced, though the Atari was faster. And in spite of their brand differences, a lot of the same people designed the multimedia capabilities of both. In speed and capability, these boxes were remarkably similar.

    By the way, TOS was, maybe unofficially, the "Tramiel Operating System." AmigaDOS was fun, somewhere between DOS and Unix. Maybe more like MP/M.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:15AM (#19954849)
    The BeOs claim sounds reasonable. It _was_ a much better OS than anything available at the time, except for NeXTStep. However, most of the rest of his claims miss the mark.

    He gets it badly wrong in the VHS vs. Beta war. I was around. I remember clearly why VHS won -- you could record 4 hours on one VHS tape, whereas you could only record 1 hour on a comparably priced Beta tape. Sony fixed that eventually by adding Beta II, but by that time, VHS had added the SLP speed for 6 hour recording. Blank videotapes cost $30 each back in 1978, so it really mattered if you could record 4 TV shows, or just one, on a single videotape. That killed Beta and they never were able to catch up.

    The Atari ST was a great machine. Shoot, I still own one. I even still use it. But the IBM PC and the Mac both had hugely popular killer apps (Lotus 1-2-3 for the PC, Pagemaker for the Mac) and the Atari ST never came up with a comparably popular killer app. The Atari ST boasted many fine apps, but they were always johnny-come-latelies churned out after the Mac or the PC scored a huge monster hit with some new application like PhotoShop. Ultimately, the ST never had a large enough developer community or a big enough user base to score a huge killer app. Also, the ST was always aclosed box -- you could never upgrade it. After 1987 the Mac changed to an open box and you could upgrade it with new video cards, more memory, etc., etc. With the ST, you bought a closed box and couldn't change it easily. (Ever try to install a 4 MB upgrade in a stock ST? Non trivial.)

    8 track had a bunch of problems. The rumble, the wow and flutter, and worst of all, you had to FF through the whole bloody tape to get to the part you wanted.

    MiniDisc, as everyone has noted, had rotten sound quality. Sony's ATRAC codec was initially very bad. It improved, but never anywhere near enough to compete with, say, LAME's mp3 encoding. CD remains the king for great sound quality. Nothing beats uncompressed 16 bit linear PCM.

    Hi-def audio failed not because of format wars, but because no human can hear a difference between 24 bit 192 khz sampled hi-def audio and 16 bit 44.1 khz sampled audio. Double blind testing shows that listeners just can't hear any difference. A well-dithered modern CD playing 16-bit 44.khz sampled audio sounds as good as it gets. Bats may be able to hear a difference between that 20 khz rolloff and the 80 khz rolloff of hi-def audio, but humans can't.

    I'm inclined to agree with him about laserdisc. Great format. I stil own a bunch of 'em and still play 'em. There's minor analog noise visible in the background by comparison with DVDs, but overall, laserdisc looks incredibly good -- worlds better than VHS or Beta. BTW, I've never been able to see a difference twixt Beta and VHS on an ordinary consumer SD TV set. On a studio TV monitor, yes, there's slight visible difference, but not on consumer televisions.
    • by samkass ( 174571 )
      I happen to think they were wrong about every single one. Even laserdisc-- who wants to pay $50 instead of $5 for a movie? And NeXTStep was certainly not better than BeOS-- Jobs was better than Gassee. (Heck, even today MacOS X is hobbled by NeXTstep's ObjectiveC slowness.)

      You're spot-on with VHS vs Beta. I remember getting my hands on a pirated version of Star Wars on BetaMax-- which took 3-4 tapes. Swapping out tapes in the middle of a movie? No thanks, I'll take VHS.

      And I wouldn't say DTS has lost
  • 8-track? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:17AM (#19954879)
    TFA is ludicrously positive about the 8-track. In practice, this is one format that deserved to die a quick death. The 'endless loop' cassette format meant that 8-track was very susceptible to jamming, and that the tape wore down rather quickly. It also makes fast-forwarding difficult, and rewinding impossible. Incredibly, TFA tries to sell this as an advantage.
    Also, the cassettes were large and unwieldy. Had 8-track been the dominant format, the Walkman wouldn't have happened.

    No, for once, this was a format war that ended as it should, with the superior format (Philips Compact Cassette) wiping out all competition.
  • The piece makes some pretty spectacular claims,

    It does. In fact they're really just listing the POSITIVE traits for any failed technologies, and ignoring the negatives. However, the ones listed in the summary aren't spectacular at all.

    like if Apple had bought BeOS then there would have been no iPod and of course, no iPhone.

    If Apple bought BeOS, instead of NEXT, they wouldn't have gotten Steve Jobs back in the deal. Certainly, that would have meant huge changes. Even if they still introduced the iMac and

  • Atari ST (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by Spacejock ( 727523 )
    The Atari ST WAS better than the Amiga, although not for gaming. I used to design full page ads and Yellow Pages ads on the ST, some of those ads costing $6000-$13000 each to place. A comparable PC to do the same job would have cost many, many thousands of dollars. (Just for comparison, two years later I was selling 386DX20 machines for $8000 each.)
  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve ( 949321 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @09:34AM (#19955079)
    So much bad information. Where to begin? ...

    1) MiniDisc was never intended to replace audio CDs. It was intended to replace audio tapes . Yes, certainly Sony mismanaged the format, but what killed it mostly was the availability of small, portable CD players and the eventual availability of cheap CD burners and burnable discs.
    2) DTS lost, sort of, but since a rather large number of DVDs have DTS soundtracks, it's not a terrible loss as DTS is still in business. Plus, it's not entirely correct to say that DTS uses "fractionally more space on a disc" unless 100 to 400% more meets your idea of "fractionally more". However, given the size of dual-layer DVDs, it's sort of accurate in that there's enough space to put a DTS soundtrack out there on most movies if they don't have too many extras on the disc.
    3) As far as high definition audio goes, it does still survive, although many don't know that. SACD was horribly bungled by Sony, again, who at first said that it was "impossible" (I believe that is an exact quote) to make hybrid SACD discs which would also play in normal audio CD players. Strangely, smaller independent labels managed to make such discs almost from the beginning of the format. Lack of product, price, and lack of hybrid discs on Sony owned labels had strongly negative impacts on the format. SACD still survives in classical, jazz and some European pop recordings.
    DVD-Audio is still alive on some classical and jazz labels, but it's not doing well. The lack of compatibility with CD audio players seems to have really hurt it. While the Dolby AC-3 part of a DVD-Audio disc is easily rippable and convertible to audio CD format, most consumers don't know that and just viewed it as another incompatible format.
    • Sounded like there was more going on, more details in the sound coming from behind me. This is compared to the Dolby soundtack on the same Extended Edition DVDs, listened to on fairly low-end consumer grade gear. The 5.1 speakers came in box together!

  • Surprised that they didn't add the PS3 to the list.

    Boom boom.
  • Back in My day... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Subgenius ( 95662 )
    we had 1/2" EIAJ (and EIAJ-2) reel to reel videotape, and we liked it! Of course, there was 1" or 2" Quad that were better.... Hell, lets look at 3/4" (umatic) vs. VHS vs. Beta vs. Cartravision (hooray USA). The winner? UMATIC. Better resolution than VHS or Beta, more players than Cartravision, and it has been in use since (gasp....) 1974, and is still going strong.

    But really, 8-track?
  • My own observations (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thumper_SVX ( 239525 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @10:46AM (#19956019) Homepage
    Well, for all those slamming this article as a bunch of crap, bear in mind that this IS from a UK perspective where the 80's and 90's technological marketplaces were quite different from the US. These days, pretty much a wash except that the UK is still far ahead of the US in terms of cellphone tech.

    Anyway, as an ex-pat myself I can say the following;

    Yes, it WAS a good format. Yes, it was a good technology. Yes, it was way too expensive. I think I knew one person with an LD player, and while the quality was really nice it was really not worth the incredible price premium for most users. There was also the fact that at the time, there was a certain "leeriness" about the scratch resistance of the discs themselves; remember this was a time when LP's and cassettes were the formats for music, way before CD's.

    8 Track
    Well, this is a subjective thing but the sound WAS better from 8-track than from a regular cassette. Well, dolby noise reduction reduced that advantage. Plus, the non-linear format of the tapes was both its saving grace and a factor in its downfall. How many 8-track tapes cut in the middle of a song to flip to the next track and continue playing?

    HD Audio
    I've got three letters for you; DRM. Yup, a great idea hobbled by DRM that rendered discs almost unusable. The record companies still haven't learned the lesson from that format failure. Personally, I loved it... and the quality was incredible.

    Mini Disc
    See HD Audio :) The iPod would've killed it if it weren't already dead :D

    Good and powerful OS, hobbled by lack of developer support, lousy negotiation skills of the marketing folks and a general feeling from the company that "... we'll succeed because we're better, we don't need to sell it..." A bad attitude to have when your competition is Windows and Mac OS, or the increasingly (at the time) nimble Linux. I'd say Linux had a much bigger hand in BeOS' downfall than the article gives credit for; by the time BeOS was commercially viable, Linux already had many of its advantages with the EXTRA advantage that it was free. Plus, computer power accelerated quickly during the same period which reduced the advantages in media with a new paradigm; let's throw more power and money at the problem. Ironically, this actually worked. Oh, and the fact that initially it was only available for PowerPC was a problem; by the time the Intel version appeared the advantages had all but vanished.

    Atari ST
    It WAS a better computer, but it wasn't a better game machine. It was also more successful in the UK due to the fact it was significantly cheaper than the Amiga. Hell, an affordable Amiga didn't really appear on that side of the pond until late 1988, by which time the low end ST was already in its second iteration (the 520STFM) and incredibly successful. The Amiga 500 was still 100 pounds more expensive at best (and you could get package deals on the ST). Plus, since most of the games developed for the platforms seemed to be coming out of Europe (at least from my perspective), the fact that the ST was more successful meant that most of the games got released on that platform first.

    Bear in mind; the CPU was faster, the operating system and desktop were in ROM and the addition of MIDI ports was an inspired move on Atari's part that got the interest of the music crowd. Plus, add in the beautiful high-res mono screen for desktop publishing and you had a winner.

    Now, that's not saying the Atari was perfect. The keyboard sucked, and the early ST's being hobbled with single-sided drive was a stigma the Atari had throughout its life because everything was written with single-sided disks in mind. Now, there were some fancy formats that meant that single-sided users could use the disk but it contained extra stuff for double-sided users (as I recall Starglider did this) but it remains that everyone always tried to write to the lowest common denominator... and that hurt
    • by DigitalSorceress ( 156609 ) on Monday July 23, 2007 @11:31AM (#19956679)

      DRM most certainly is the reason for HD audio's lackluster adoption. Sony hobbled MiniDiscs in the name of the almighty content protection as well.

      I used to work in television in the '90s and indeed, we used those cart machines.. they were great for that purpose, but I wholeheartedly agree that the 8-track was as buggy as heck. I remember having one in our family car when I was little... I seem to recall the tapes wearing out rather quickly.

      As to the ST, YEAH! I was a dedicated Atari fan with my 1040STfm. I'd say that here in the states, Atari just dropped the ball. They did indeed have the better computer for getting things done, but everyone just too closely associated the name Atari with games. We had a strange situation where the Gamers favored the Amiga over the Atari on game availability and quality, while business folks never took it seriously because they so closely associated Atari with video games from the arcade and the 2600 consoles. Atari pretty much gave up on the US to the point where I had to mail order my software from Europe before finally giving up.

  • FTFA:
    While pre-recorded VHS tapes were as cheap as chips, Laserdiscs were $50 each.

    Except when pre-recorded VHS tapes never dropped below the "$99 priced for rental" level, while the letterboxed LD was available for $20-35...
  • The title should have read The Complete History of A/V Format Wars. Here I thought that it was going to document such things as CDF [] versus RSS [] versus Atom [].

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson