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New Directions: A Farewell to Kings

by Stephen F. Nathans

September 22, 2020 | Reflecting 23 years ago on the death of Elvis Presley, the great rock critic Lester Bangs wrote, "We'll never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis." By the same token, we'll never discover another electronic media standard like CD-ROM or CD-R, one that serves as the unifying principle for an industry or a magazine. As a magazine, we've tried to fit DVD into that mold, and it's made great copy primarily because it hasn't really fit. Its writable versions are more salvos than standards, its playback problems less the product of platform deficiencies (as was the case in the early days of CD-ROM) than disagreement and disinterest among the various players in the playback food chain. What's more, its success has been limited, for the most part, to consumer entertainment. The fact is, DVD hasn't claimed CD-ROM's crown, because nobody needs DVD the way they needed CD-ROM. For all the things you needed CD-ROM for (application software distribution and compatibility with CD-R, the only real writable optical standard), CD-ROM still does the job.

Where DVD has made an unignorable impact from consumer backwaters to corporate campuses is in what DVD-Video has shown us all: that low-cost, less-than-prepossessing boxes (whether set-top players or DVD-equipped PCs) can crank out high-quality digital video without qualifications or excuses. What this means is that corporations won't necessarily be asking what DVD-Video--a recorded or replicated, packaged physical disc--can do for them, but rather what they can do with "DVD video," that great-looking digital video stream pumping out of their PC or TV. The packaged media market we call DVD may flatten and make only modest inroads into corporate, educational, and institutional markets. But that doesn't mean digital video won't bust the office door down, delivered in various forms (one of which will be DVD), on the strength of what DVD has demonstrated.

We've seen this in the buzz at and after NAB 2000 surrounding streaming media, and in discussions at DVD PRO. But something broader that we've learned is that the unifying principle, the thing almost everyone can agree on in the technology niche served by EMedia is no longer a physical disc like CD-ROM, CD-R, or DVD. If there's a single application that all this technology R & D, all this investment, all this speed and performance and robustness enhancement has been pointed toward all these years, it's video. This is not to say that the other things these technologies can deliver--voluminous quantities of text, graphics, audio, even interactivity--aren't important; it's just that where people have been pushing the limits of technology, the primary goal has been to make digital video delivery, in whatever form, accessible to their target user group.

This is the goal of pushing network storage technology, from architectural innovations to throughput expansion to storage. Of course, all kinds of information are stored and distributed on CD/DVD/RAID-infused networks these days, but what requires more streamlined and efficient architecture, cavernous throughput, and storage than video?

Storing and distributing video is also a major application for recordable technologies; without it, there would be virtually no demand for writable DVD. The most popular application for CD-R, besides custom publishing, is audio; it's the only application that routinely fills a CD-R and using writable DVD for audio would be pointless, since consumer players wouldn't read it. Nobody cared about writing to anything bigger than a CD-R, outside of DVD title prototyping and the backup market (which has never had much use for CD or DVD), until they found out they could deliver something that was too big for it-- feature-length MPEG-2 video.

Video is also the solution to the mystery surrounding DVD authoring software: why are all these tools so unlike Macromedia Director, so indifferent to interactivity and multimedia? The reason: people want video. That's the reason they're enduring the agonizing learning curve and playback anxiety of DVD authoring in the first place. And as the learning curve flattens, with the likes of DVDit!, SpruceUp, and ReelDVD, videocentricity in extremis is what levels it off.

We've also learned how badly people want their DV from our forays into corporate training. Shortly before Clinton's 2nd inaugural we launched a column on CD-ROM-based training, Mark Fritz's Training Interactions. But it never went anywhere; what everyone really wanted, CD-ROM couldn't provide: high-quality video, preferably delivered over networks. In 1997, these were impossibilities. Today, distance learning via streamed MPEG is a big can-do.

So where does this leave EMedia? Always a technology-driven mag, we've got to stay where the action is, and continue to look at a range of technologies specific to the electronic media professional, anchored by a single unifying principle. That principle has traditionally been optical media--specifically, CD and DVD. But what CD and DVD can do for the electronic media professional is no longer unique, and regarding it as such has become an antiquated way of helping our readers accomplish their goals. Which is not to say our mantle today is, say, keeping up with the Hank Joneses, any more than it was when Hank heralded the arrival of interactive cable in his 1995 keynote at the late, lamented intermedia. But our focus in the coming year will be emphatically on technologies applied in creating, storing, and delivering high-quality video, from corporate networks to packaged discs (recorded and pressed).

We're not changing our name or anything; we all just got new stacks of EMedia business cards and I'd hate to add them to the entropy of our disjointed post-Elvis world. Short of that, I'll leave you with the inspiring words of an unsuccessful, Vitalis-drenched News Editor candidate, who said this in his interview: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, hang on to your hats; this is where we're going and there's no turning back!


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