DVDs can still cause some confusion for the average consumer of home electronics, even though the format has been around for nearly two decades now. Indeed, at its very introduction there was even some disagreement over the name, as some claimed that the acronym stood for Digital Versatile Disc, due to the fact that any kind of information can be encoded on it, while others believed that Digital Video Disc was meant, because the only real application they were put to was as a video format. Even today there can be some confusion, given the proposal of successor formats such as Blue-Ray DVD and HD-DVD. The second in a series that will survey many aspects of the DVD, this article will review one of the earliest of DVD confusions.
Yes, competing formats is not anything new to DVDs. Barely three years after its debut in the marketplace, a new kind of DVD threatened to undo the DVD format as we still know it today. Indeed, this new format had even been promoted a new kind of DVD, but had it actually taken hold there would be no such thing as the DVD we now know – which is impossible, due to the sheer inanity of the scheme in the first place.
Conceived as an alternative to video rental at the time, which involved people going to a video rental store like Hollywood Video or Blockbuster Video and physically taking out and returning discs, DIVX, was the brain-child of now defunct Circuit-City and an entertainment law firm (yes, lawyers, not engineers) and was infamous for having created some confusion in the marketplace with its promotional marketing touting itself as being something more than DVD, which was labeled “Basic” DVD. However, unlike so-called Basic DVD, DIVX required special hardware for playback and usually did not feature any of the extras or special features that’s come to be associated with DVDs. Moreover, DIVX titles were practically always available only in pan-and-scan instead of the original theatrical aspect ratio usually found on DVD. Such “design” flaws turned home theater enthusiasts against DIVX, and even privacy advocates were against it because DIVX usage could have involved the regular transmission of very personal information over telephone lines.
With DIVX, you would buy a disc to watch, and keep the disc until such as time as you decided to watch it again – for another fee. Sounds odd? Indeed, consumers couldn’t figure it out, either, and DIVX was out of business hardly a year after its introduction.