The Steampunk Satyricon

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Y B Blu?

Patent number 3,931,459 : Video Disc
Inventor: Adrianus Korpel
Assignee: Zenith Radio Corporation
Filed: Feb. 4, 1974
Summary of the Invention [Excerpt]: "Optical image reproducing systems have been proposed as adjuncts to home color television receivers to increase their use by arranging for the play back of recorded program material through such receivers. As heretofore proposed, the program material is stored in a carrier, such as a disc quite similar to well known audio discs, to be read by a beam of energy, usually a laser beam, to develop an electrical signal representation of the stored information." 
In other words, stick the round, flat shiny thing into the right kind of player, and you can watch "Xanadu" whenever you like. Oh, wait, 1974... make that "The Exorcist" or maybe "American Graffiti." Actually, video disc movies and players wouldn't be available to the public until the early 80s, several years after the application for this patent was filed by Zenith. It was one of many disc-related patents filed by many companies even though, two other companies, Sony and Philips, were the primary developers of the technology. Not that it mattered much back then since, in the US, most people wanted their movies on VHS videotape. At least they did until the DVD -- with it's commentary tracks, extra scenes and additional cinematic goodies -- became the format of choice in the late 1990s. Which brings us to Blu-ray (capital "B", lowercase "r", don't forget the hyphen and, for God's sake, don't stick an "e" in there and write "Blue").

You have to wonder: Is the entertainment industry going to keep doing this to us every few years? Getting us hooked on their product like drug dealers and then making us come back, again and again, to re-buy the same stuff in a new form? How many media players and versions of "Blade Runner" do I really need to buy? And what's the difference between a DVD and a Blu-ray disc anyway?

Entertainment industry executives -- entrepreneurial champions of the capitalist ethos or money-grubbing scumbags, take your pick -- love to find new reasons for the media-mad public to hand over some cash. But just as poly cotton blends have replaced bison pelts in our wardrobes, embracing the new video technology is about more than just money or fashion: It's about good science and genuine progress. Progress that helps you experience, with hitherto unimagined clarity and nuance, the campfire fart scene from "Blazing Saddles."