Favorite format change

The many posters praising how much better CDs are than vinyl in another thread got me thinking about format changes in general. Say going from AM to FM, monochrome TV to color, or VHS to DVD. Or for that matter introducing formats that had never existed before, like videotape or videogames. What was the change that made you the happiest? I would say videotapes. It’s so weird to think that you’d have to wait perhaps years to see your favorite movie, edited and chopped up for commercials, on TV. Then one day you could just rent or buy it and see it complete on your own schedule.

VHS to DVD. I liked the improvement in quality, the added features and losing the hassle of rewinding. Plus, you could get a whole season of a show on six discs! (A friend of mine still has a LARGE box of VHS Star Trek: TNG tapes.)

It depends on what you consider a “format.”

Back in the '50s, when I was a kid, my father made the transition from 78s to LPs, then from mono to stereo.

But in all the years since then, the biggest transition for me was from LPs to CDs. Not just for the sound (no scratches!), but for the ability to start and stop exactly where you wanted to. And the next breakthrough was iTunes. In spite of its faults, we could finally manipulate all our music to accommodate our listening habits.

Honorable mention: the Walkman, VHS and the iPod.

I had a friend who recorded every single nerdy TV show you could imagine on VHS. He’d very carefully edit out the ads, and keep them in a carefully kept, clean environment. He would definitely say the onset of VHS was the best thing ever.

A few years later almost every show he was collecting were starting to come out on DVD, making most of his hard work a waste of time. I, on the other hand, took the opportunity to now start collecting TV series. For me, DVD was the game-changer.

My friend is, overall, ahead of the game, as he has stuff that still hasn’t been released, and may never be, and probably obsessively 100% complete and catalogued. But they are scratchy, bleed colour, in 4:3 ratio, and have to be fast-forwarded to be gotten to.

MP3s beat the crap out of CDs. Ever since the iPod first came out, I’ve had one permanently attached to my person.

My favorite format change of all was from black and white to color TV. Color was around before I was born, mostly pushed by RCA, which owned NBC at the time. But color broadcasts didn’t become common until the mid 1960s. I was blown away the first time I saw color TV and I used to go visit my neighbors, who had a color set, on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons. By the time we got our first color set in 1967, nearly every network show was being broadcast in color. I finally got to watch my Batman and Star Trek shows in glorious color.

And a DVD player is very unlikely to fail in a way that will destroy the disk you’re playing…

The switch from physical media to digital formats like MP3s.

For me the fax machine was an absolute revolution. Instead of posting a document to someone (which could take 3 days to more than a week) suddenly you could send the whole thing in seconds.

And then edocs and scanners arrived. Not only could you send documents within seconds, the other guy could make changes and add stuff, then send it back. Damn.

Actually IMHO this is a problem and not a benefit of the modern age because decisions get made too quickly without timely reflection. But its miraculous nevertheless.

VHS to laserdisc for me. Wasn’t much of a standard format change, I guess, since the two formats lived side-by-side for nearly 20 years, but making the conversion changed the way I looked at movies. Had a small collection of VHS and rented occasionally; when I switched to LD, I quickly amassed a few hundred titles. Also got to enjoy things like commentary tracks, chapter encoding, and widescreen years before most people got to experience them on DVD. LD to DVD was more of a minor change for me. I appreciated the smaller form factor, and after a few years DVD mastering started to be better than LD, but it wasn’t a huge change. That said, LD enthusiasts were the primary early adopters of DVD; it’s the fastest wholesale format change I’ve ever experienced. It literally happened in the span of a few weeks, and LD stores became DVD stores overnight.

I’ve also listened to more music, and a wider variety of music, with the change from LP/CD/radio to MP3 and streaming. Took me a few years to make the leap, but I’m glad I did.

VHS to DVD. I’ve been around since the days of 78s, so I’ve seen a lot of format changes. Some have been for the better, some are mixed. But VHS to DVD is nothing but good.

I’m not sure about MP3 and streaming. On the one hand, it breaks the power of the recording industry, since anybody can record, mix and upload their music without ever leaving their garage. On the other hand, we lose so much music every time we switch formats that a healthy part of our musical history is disappearing. On the gripping hand, once someone at home rips an LP, the music is saved, so the world can determine what to keep and what to throw away, not Big Music.

It was true just a few years ago, and may still be, that more records had been released as vinyl LPs than in all other formats combined.

That may be true, because vinyl LPs were produced for nearly a century whereas CDs were only on top for about twenty years (replaced LPs around '85 & were replaced by MP3s around '05). Being an audiophile I’d have to say that the change to CDs was and still is the most monumental format change. It was the first successful, mass-produced digital media of any kind (not counting player piano rolls!) Everything since has been somewhat derived from them.