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The Birth and Rise of the DVD

The name has at least two etymologies. It has been referred to as Digital Versatile Disc and Digital Video Disc. A third offering is simply DVD with no specific designation for the initials.

You Say SD; I Say MMCD

In the earlier part of the 1990s, an upgraded format was being researched, one that would hold a lot of data, even more than the VCD, or Video CD. Several interested parties were backing the development including Sony, Philips, Toshiba, Hitachi, Time-Warner and others. The search for high density optical storage standards was underway and two models were finally developed. One was the MMCD, or MultiMedia Compact Disc; the other was the SD, or Super High Density Disc. Sony & Philips backed the MMCD while Time-Warner, Toshiba, JVC, Pioneer, Matsushita Electric, Thomson and Mitsubishi Electric backed the SD.

A Compromise is Sought

Representatives of the SD group asked IBM for format support and advice in structuring their file system. A researcher, Alan Bell, received the request. Alan was also aware of the alternative MMCD system being developed. Not wanting a repetition of the disastrous VHS/Betamax war, Bell asked for a group discussion that included representatives from Microsoft, Dell, Apple, Sun Microsystems and many others. This elite amalgamation of computer industry experts became known as TWG, or the Technical Working Group.

It was decided that Lou Gerstner, IBM’s president, would try to convince the SD and MMCD development groups to come together. TWG also was eager to avoid a situation similar to the VHS/Betamax war that occurred in the 1980s. In the interim, TWG decided they would boycott both format technologies unless a compromise was agreed upon by the two camps. In addition, TWG also cooperated with OSTA, the Optical Storage Technology Association, for the implementation and use of their Universal Disc Format file system.

The Impasse Has Passed

Sony and Philips realized it was to their benefit to adopt the Super Density Disc and include technologies from both the SD and MMCD groups. While the specs were similar to Matsushita’s and Toshiba’s, the dual-layer option and EFMPlus modulation came from the MMCD technology. EFMPlus technology was agreed upon because it was more forgiving of fingerprints and scratches.

The evolved format was initially introduced to the Japanese market by Toshiba in November 1996. In March 1997, it was test marketed in the United States. In October 1997, it was brought to Europe and, in February 1999, it was marketed in Australia.

The VHS and the Dodo

By 2003, Rentals and sales of DVDs surpassed those of VHS. In 2002, Circuit City had already ceased selling VHS format. In 2003, Best Buy followed suit and discontinued selling the VHS format. In 2005, retailers like Wal-Mart and others announced that they would be phasing out the VHS format entirely. The DVD had caught on and was the format of choice. The VHS format had essentially gone the way of the Dodo.

Currently, the DVD clearly dominates the landscape. Its ability to perform while withstanding mild abuse is its endearing quality.

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