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the editor's spin

Bring on the Night

"Nice Night. We'll play nine." -- former Chicago Cubs Manager Don Zimmer

January 2000 | Remember all the hysteria that surrounded the arrival of night baseball at Chicago's Wrigley Field? If you were an Illinois resident or a baseball fan of any magnitude, you probably felt inundated by all the doomsday prophecies, or the embittered assertions that the night the lights went on in Wrigley sealed the fate of a sin-soaked world.

But night fell in Chicago about the same time it had the day before, and the same time it would the day after, the lights came on, and the boys played ball. Manager Zimmer captured the moment, such as it was, by conveying the sense of how ordinary life can be even when it's not supposed to be. But what Zimmer suspected well before the first pitch turned out to be true. The earth didn't open and swallow up the hallowed ballpark (and all those working people who'd finally been able to get to a game), and by the seventh-inning stretch, voice-of-the-Cubs Harry Caray was probably too drunk to know night from day anyway.

But before I wend all this don't-believe-the-hype naysaying into some convoluted analogy for deflating Y2K--since here I am in the waning 1K era writing for the 2K crowd--I should give the doomsday prophets their due and ask, are you still there?

I thought so.

I don't mean to downplay all the hard work and diligence that have gone into shoring up the world and its old, memory-addled computer systems against impending double-zero disaster, I just hate to see how that very pedestrian, bit-and-byte problem and its slow fix have turbo-charged the millenarians with corroboration for their faith-derived fanaticism.

I'm sure a few things will go wrong. There are so many minuscule problems in so many places that there's no way anyone will find them all. But there's no greater force at work here. For one thing, if you follow the numerological logic that empowers the powers of 10 and your agreed-upon touchstone is the agreed-upon year of Christ's birth, your new millennium starts in 2001, not 2000. But the real assumption here is that this so-called millennium means anything to the majority of the world's inhabitants, who follow the Christian calendar for business purposes only, like they agree on the value of a dollar or the number of teaspoons in a tablespoon. It's not that I'm unsentimental about eras bygone and otherwise--but how did these silly numbers get into it? Do our shared four-digit dates actually mean I have something in common with Aquinas that I don't with Augustine?

Don't look for any "Best of the Millennium" lists here. Ignoring the arbitrary idea that an era is ending may not make for good copy. But I'm just a monthly magazine editor, and there's no way I could tell you the flip of the calendar will change our world one iota before I'd already be proven wrong.

And even if I were to make such a prophecy I'm not sure what I'd hang it on as the electronic media year ends with a whimper--or at best a whisper. I could tell you that my favorite staker of "when-hell-freezer-over"-type claims in this industry--Plextor's Felix Nemirovsky--is quietly eating his words again. Over the last three years, he's landed three absolutes on the EMedia conference table: First, Plextor will never release a constant angular velocity (CAV) CD-ROM drive. Second, Plextor will never sully its CD-R drives with CD-RW. And third, Plextor's a SCSI company and always will be.

All three were high-minded promises it would have ennobled the company to keep and hardly shamed it not to. Alleged CAV read speeds are the slyest deceptions in CD-ROM drive differentiation, and CD-RW is the plodding rewritable technology that vaults some CD-R drives off retail shelves and is quickly forgotten when users find out what they've got in CD-R. And even after succumbing to CAV and CD-RW, Plextor has continued to bang out the best recorders and ROM drives in the business, so we can hardly fault them for cashing in on the canards that make people profits in this business.

But the SCSI shift is a little more surprising. I'm pretty sure I triple-taked when I saw the announcement that Plextor--bastion of rock-steady, fast-extracting SCSI technology in this age of the ATAPI easy-out--had released an ATAPI CD recorder. Maybe this signals the beginnings of a mass evacuation of SCSI territory, but Plextor's SCSI line isn't going anywhere just yet, and Adaptec continues to crank out SCSI cards designed for standalone peripherals. Meanwhile, today's dirt-cheap PCs come with fewer and fewer drive bays, so reliable external devices remain desirable. All the same, it's nice to have Plextor in the ATAPI game. They're in good company.

If anybody's looking at a new world in 2000, it's the DVD-RAM gang, since the Invisible Enemy--DVD+RW--is gone, at least temporarily. The question is, where does RAM fit in this world it didn't make? Don't be fooled by its new flashy 4.7GB exterior--on the inside, it's still no DVD. Forget all that stuff and rejoice in the fact that two more gigs per disc means another half a terabyte in the jukebox world--likely at the same OEM prices.

Meanwhile, thanks to DeCSS, hackers are heroes again and a smattering of folks are watching DVD movies off their hard disk drives from their hard desk chairs. Brace yourself as the earth shakes and the angels weep.

As I write this, it's three weeks after COMDEX and less than a month before 2000, and there are signs of progress here and there. But no cataclysmic shifts of the millenarian sort. So don't be too shocked or dismayed that you woke up January 1 and it was just another Saturday, just as Wrigley was still Wrigley under those garish klieg lights. This old millennium's not over yet. As many a Cubs fan has often had occasion to say...

Just wait 'til next year.

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