Irony, Thy Name Is… USB Stick

Ah, memories… This really takes me back. Back to the wild and woolly days of the high-def format war. When did that end, two years ago? It feels like an eternity. I’m reminded of this, strangely, as a direct result of my current home theater crisis. While my HT room is in disarray, having all of its water damage and mold patched up, I’ve needed to transfer files from my main computer that resides there to a laptop. So I went digging through some drawers for a USB stick, and this is what I found – a USB stick branded with the HD DVD logo. And that got me thinking back over the events of the last four years.

As I recall, I must have received this as part of a press kit from Universal. (It has that studio’s “Experience the Look and Sound of Perfect” motto.) It probably originally contained a PDF file with a press release, which has long since been deleted. But I kept the USB stick itself, because you just never know when you’ll need one. Like right now, in fact.

All through the DVD years, I simply could not wait for a decent high-def video disc format to finally get here. At one point, I was desperate enough to import a pair of disc players from two obscure Chinese 720p formats called EVD and HVD, just to whet my appetite for HD content. (They both basically stunk.) And then, what do you know, we saw not just one but two HD formats rolled out to the American market. As far as I was concerned, this was an embarrassment of riches for a home theater junkie.

Of course, not everyone saw it that way. Many people were bitter and resentful that the hardware manufacturers and Hollywood studios couldn’t come to terms on a single unified standard. This led to much animosity, accusations, and juvenile name-calling.

I covered the format war from Day One. I bought both the first HD DVD player (the Toshiba HD-A1) and the first Blu-ray player (Samsung’s BDP-1000), each on its first day of release. In my writings, initially at DVDTalk and later here at High-Def Digest, I always advocated format neutrality. I liked both formats, and saw each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The fact is that HD DVD had a stronger initial launch, and Blu-ray really dropped the ball in its first year. Their qualities eventually leveled out over time. But, unlike some other so-called editorialists, I never found one format decisively superior to the other.

For this, I was frequently labeled an HD DVD shill, and accused of taking payoffs from Toshiba. There was, obviously, no merit in either complaint. Mind you, I never even said that I wanted HD DVD to “win” the format war or Blu-ray to lose. I just believed that each should be judged on its own merits, and allowed to fulfill its potential. Here’s a typical hate mail that I received for something I wrote along those lines at DVDTalk:

I’ve been a supporter and user of digital formats for many, many years (way back to laser discs). Based on your comments in the column, I suspect I probably bought my first DVD when you were in grade school.

As most fans, I am extremely frustrated with the high-def wars and the competing hi-def formats (HD DVD & Blu-Ray).

So, I’m unbelievably offended by your asinine comments below:

“…We here at DVDTalk will continue to support both formats equally. As far as we’re concerned, the more High Definition the better…”

What the hell are you people thinking! It’s amazingly stupid comments like yours that got us, and keep us, in the predicament we’re in.

I’m tired of being manipulated. We need sites like yours to help us fight back against issues like this format war – not give silly, inane endorsements to keep the thing going.

Why doesn’t someone at DVDtalk grow a pair of balls and speak out loudly against this frigging format and help frustrate these manufacturers and manipulators.

Fun times, those were. These days, I’m more likely to get screamed at for having the audacity to dislike ‘Avatar‘. But I digress…

The format war has been over for a couple years now. Blu-ray has matured into a pretty strong product, give or take the occasional lapse in judgment. (Do you really think anyone wants a forced internet stream of advertisements over every disc menu, Universal? Because we don’t. At all. Ever. – And Fox, do you really think it’s a good idea to make most of your new releases incompatible with the majority of Blu-ray players on the market, thus forcing countless consumers to wait weeks to months for hardware manufacturers to issue firmware updates that will fix your pointlessly convoluted encryption protocols? Because that’s not a good idea either. It’s really not.)

I have no regrets about the positions I held during the conflict. My HD DVD player still works fine, and I still have a significant collection of 1080p high-def titles yet to see release on Blu-ray. Quite honestly, I don’t think that Blu-ray would be anywhere near as good as it is today if it had never needed to fend off the competition from HD DVD. The format war actually made both products stronger.

So, you know what I’m going to do? From now on, whenever I need to load a new firmware update into my Blu-ray player (You know, like I have to do practically every time Fox issues a new release), I’m going to use this HD DVD USB stick to do it. That will be one small little irony that’s sure to make me smile.


  1. Nicholas Herum

    Completely agree. The competition really helped drive both formats to get better and cheaper a lot faster than they could have done alone.

  2. phil harbath

    My biggest gripe is with the un-ending previews associated with Disney films on blu-ray films. It takes forever to get to the movie, and god forbid I don’t finish the movie in one sitting and I have to go through the whole song and dance again the next day.

  3. I got my Toshiba A-30 toward the sunset of that format for almost nothing, along with dozens of discs. It was worth it if only for the dozen viewings of ‘the Big Lebowski’ since then. I would have liked the format to somehow live on, if only for the fact that I didn’t have to worry about region codes when purchasing foreign films.

  4. Andrew

    Good on ya. Yeah I too found both formats great but waited to see who won (I had my money on HD-DVD!), I did love how HD-DVD’s seemed to have standardised menu systems, BD’s are all over the place. Anyway, good article 🙂

  5. “grow a pair of balls and speak out loudly against this frigging format”

    Um, I’m curious… which format was the hate mail writer actually supporting?

    • Josh Zyber

      The one he was told to support, because the entire fate of American cinema and the world economy depended on only one disc format being allowed to survive.

      Looking back, I find it really amusing how hysterical people got at the notion of competition being allowed in the video marketplace. Most of these same people own two or three game consoles, but heaven forbid they should ever have more than one disc player in the house. That would be totally unacceptable!

      • “. Most of these same people own two or three game consoles, but heaven forbid they should ever have more than one disc player in the house. That would be totally unacceptable!”

        I see it the other way Josh 🙂 I find it absolutely crazy that more gamers aren’t upset about system exclusive games. It makes sense for the Wii, since it’s a decidedly different system, but with the 360 and PS3? Frustrating.

  6. I bought the second or third Toshiba HD-DVD player (the cheap one) before I could afford Blu-Ray, and though the HD discs looked and sounded superb, the player itself was an absolute joke. It was worse than the first DVD player was in 1997. I say that with absolute conviction. The menu system was poorly designed, the speed of the menu was extremely slow and clunky. I was appalled at just how cheap this thing was. It looked nice on the outside, and even came with the movies 300 and The Bourne Identity. For free!! It still couldn’t make up for the fact that the player itself was an absolute joke and should not have been allowed to represent Toshiba’s HD disc format.

    Also, does anyone else notice that Universal’s HD disc menu system always moves painfully slow? It’s nice that all their HD discs have the same menu system on both HD-DVD and Blu Ray, but it is just slow and clunky. When I “upgrade” to a High Definition format, I expect the menus to look sleek and pretty and make me at least think I have spent my money wisely…

    • Josh Zyber

      I’ll agree about the Toshiba players. One of the format’s biggest failures was that it only had the one major hardware backer. Most models were cheaply made and glitchy as hell. (I still can’t get Combo discs to play with any reliability.) The HD-XA2 and HD-A35 are the only two models I would ever recommend that anyone own.

      But I don’t think this was an inherent flaw in the format itself. Had an OPPO or other decent brand stepped in to make players, I’m sure they would have been much more reliable.

      I happen to like the Universal menu system, personally.

      • I don’t even remember which HD-DVD player I ended up with, but it was $50 after the rebates Best Buy sent me, then with all the free movies, I claim I got it for free. But the player IS a joke. Heaven forbid I ever have a power outage, as it takes like a year to boot up, then never remembers its settings (hasn’t since day 1). Then you have to load the disc. Ugh! The thing would not connect to the internet until the final firmware upgrade, which came out roughly six months after the end of the format war, and by that time everyone had shut down their servers, so the internet on it is worthless.

        My biggest issue was how easily the discs get scratched. I am a big Netflix movie renter, and would be so annoyed when I would have to send discs back 2-3 times to get a playable one. Netflix rentals had to be constantly viewed in multiple settings to make sure I was able to watch the entire movie. I don’t have as big of an issue with the ones I bought, with the exception of Evan Almighty refuses to play the HD-DVD side, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory tends to go out of synch at the end of the movie, which seems to be caused by a scratch during shipping (the disc, when I opened it (factory sealed)had slipped off the holder and was being scratched by it, and I could not send it back cause it was HD-DVD).

        Still, I ended up with some CHEAP movies on HD-DVD. It was the whole reason I bought the player. That, and the fact that some movies I have STILL haven’t been released on Blu-Ray, but when I have the choice of $5 for the HD-DVD and $25 for the Blu-Ray, and they use the same transfer, well, I choose the HD-DVD.

        That being said, I was a Blu-Ray supporter from day one, mainly as a storage media. I never have enough disc space!