January 31, 2008

Format Fracas

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My sister knew what to get me for Christmas because I told her, in no uncertain terms, that if I didn’t get a special-edition copy of Steven Spielberg Presents Michael Bay’s Transformers I was going to Grinch the holy hell out of the month of December (literally). And so it came to pass that I received Steven Spielberg Presents Michael Bay’s Transformers on DVD on the 25th of December. When the family all left, Your Columnist retreated with a leg of turkey and a bottle of scotch, to the BFP (Big F-ing Plasma) in order that he might experience the true spirit of Christmas: watching giant robots murder each other.
But there was something wrong.
And it wasn’t just that Your Columnist was growing habituated to the film’s subtleties after seeing it five times in theaters over the summer. No: the problem was with the format. HD-DVD is currently locked in a death match with Blu-Ray for optical-disk format supremacy. They’re basically the same, except HD-DVD sucks and Blu-Ray is awesome. Since Paramount sold its soul to Satan and decided to back HD-DVD, Steven Spielberg Presents Michael Bay’s Transformers exists on HD-DVD only. And Mikey Bay is pissed. First he made some waves on the Intertubes by saying that he wouldn’t make Transformers 2 with Paramount until they agreed to release the film on the superior Blu-Ray format. He later took that back, but came out swinging once more to say that Microsoft was fomenting a quagmire in the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray conflict in order to buy enough time to perfect their digital download format.
That’s why I asked Sissy for Steven Spielberg Presents Michael Bay’s Transformers on DVD — to hedge my bets just in case a third format comes along to upset the two contenders. The War of the Disks seems more imminently pressing as people across the country search for leadership in the upcoming presidential election. Let’s get to know our candidates.
Democrats: Barack Obama believes that Blu-Ray will bring hope and change to the home theater experience, but many doubt his ability to actually hook up the player to the TV, surround sound, etc. Along similar lines, Hillary Clinton promises an immediate withdrawal of HD-DVDs from shelves and a universal disc scratch repair plan. John Edwards intends to sue himself and then cover the nation’s remaining stockpiles of DVDs with hair gel.
The Republican response has been more varied.
Giuliani supports VHS cartridges half taped over with The Taking of Pelham 123. McCain lobbies for a return to 16mm. Mitt Romney has promised to sue John Edwards and then cover the nation’s remaining stockpiles of DVDs with hair gel. And when pressed on the issue of what format to distribute video, Mike Huckabee says “Jesus?!”
But hold on a sec. Is optical video storage really a battle worth fighting? Perhaps the more important one is the battle for format supremacy going on in the realm of online video — even if 98% of the candidates (except for Ron Paul) even know what the Internet is. Let’s get to know our warring factions:
Flash monopolizes a lot of the scuttlebutt these days because it is speedy and plays well with other page elements in a browser window. In fact, if we were going to break down the streaming video contenders by their presidential candidate it would be a safe bet to say that everyone supports flash. Its use on YouTube virtually cements its status as the most democratic codec. However, it is like your incontinent drunkard uncle. It’s fun to party with in your own house, but it doesn’t travel well. Flash provides quick and dirty in-browser viewing, but doesn’t readily make the jump to mp3 players and other portable devices.
For that you need Quicktime, specifically Apple’s H.264 codec. Not only does Apple encode video for sale in their iTunes store in this format, but this last spring inked a deal with YouTube to code all the Flash video into this format for viewing on Apple TV and the new iPhone. H.264 is a pretty young thing who likes to take it slow, and looks great on your arm as you stroll about town. Personally, I love Quicktime. It doesn’t run on my four year old Dell laptop anymore, but hey, I’m not going to stop loving a piece of good software just because it doesn’t work all.
RealPlayer is like the Easter Bunny —except that instead of bringing you candy one day a year, it shits all over your computer every time you use it. RealPlayer has been around for so long, why doesn’t it work? For the love of God why?
Windows Media Player is omnipresent, but is pretty low quality and often has problems streaming. Like your incontinent drunkard uncle’s liver, par example. Also, for some reason people with Macs tend to hate this one. Why? Who cares. Asking a Mac person to talk about Microsoft software is like asking anyone who doesn’t eat a certain food why they’ve given it up. You always think the answer is going to be a lot less bullshit than it ends up being.