Greg Smith

August 1997

The DVD Skinny

Everybody wants to know about DVD lately. I keep getting e-mail from our readers; why don't you write about DVD?, they ask. That's easy--DVD is, at the moment, a video format. The number of audio-only titles on DVD is minimal. SoundStage! doesn't cover video issues, so we don't cover DVD, either. My head isn't in the sand on this one, though. If you're in the market to buy a new CD player, or a new laserdisc player, you might very well be considering a DVD player instead. And if you're not, maybe you should be. With that in mind, let's take a quick run through the issues I see as being important things to know before buying DVD right now:

Where do I see the market going? Let's look at the facts. VHS tapes cost over $2 each to manufacture, while laserdiscs run closer to $8. DVD disc costs are closer to $2 right now, but should in short order drop to the approximately 50 cents that CDs cost. Compared with VHS tapes, DVD doesn't degrade over time and has overall better reliability. Compared with laserdisc, the quality ranges from just as good to better, with the occasional MPEG-2 artifact being insignificant from the perspective of public acceptance. DVD is far easier to manage because you can fit an entire movie on a disc; the public at large gets bad LP mojo if they have to flip sides during any performance. Every manufacturer of note is making players, and everybody big in the video industry has signed up except Disney. Considering the economics involved, the manufacturers have got to love DVD. I expect market penetration to continue to rise, to the point where DVD only imposes a slight price penalty over a regular CD player or CD-ROM in your computer. The pricing is going to fall a lot faster than CDs did when originally released, because the manufacturing techniques involved are a lot closer to CD than the CD techniques were to LP--going from one little digital format to another is far less of a learning curve. There's still a battle to finish with the audio industry before you can start buying all your regular music on DVD, and expect that to take at least another year to hash out. I don't see any reason why the video side is going to change anytime soon, but if the price of a DVD player represents a lot of money to you it's wise to wait at least until Disney starts making discs--that will be a good sign everything is going well with market acceptance.

As for me, the only units I see that's worth buying right now are the Pioneer DVD players that also play laserdiscs and will track my CD-R discs. If you've got different priorities, these may not be the best choice for you. The information here should help you get a good start shopping for DVD. For the really in-depth scoop, read the DVD FAQ or check out the listing of sources on our buddy Robert's DVD Info page.

.....GS (