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November 2005

Before I go on my normal bit of news, I'm going to take advantage of the moment to say that my laserdisc days are coming to an end. Due to lack of use, I'm selling my Pioneer DVL-700, dual-sided laserdisc/DVD/DVD-R/CD player on eBay. It's scheduled to end on 11 November. If you're interested, the auction is at this {link removed for obvious reasons, like age of this article...[JLB]} and I do ship internationally. This also nullifies my previous offer of converting any original Star Wars laserdiscs to DVD. It's probably very ironic that Revenge of the Sith was released on DVD yesterday when the auction first went up.

Oh, How the Tides Have Turned

Harken back to those many moons ago when regular TVs were challenged by the presence of a new TV with a new screen format. The standard 4:3 TV was king because there were no challenges to the throne.

Suddenly, a challenger appeared. It was large. It was different. It was to be the future of television. It was wider than normal. It was HDTV.

The rest is history, as the saying goes. Widescreen TVs are gaining in popularity with hundreds of different models and style available. In fact, it's not unusual to see a newspaper advertisements offering widescreen TVs more than regular TVs.

Harken back also to when DVD first came out. It was almost exclusively widescreen because DVD is the successor to laserdisc, not VHS. Laserdisc was almost exclusively widescreen or at least OAR. So, as its successor the vast majority of DVDs were OAR, which meant that the dominant format was widescreen.

And then the barbarians came to the gate, their six-packs firmly ensconced in their hands.

They cried; they whined; they complained. They demanded the privilege (note that I do not use the word "right") to see movies on DVD without the black bars while simultaneously demanding that others were denied the privilege of seeing movies on TV with the black bars. Their hypocrisy was exposed but still they came, and still the studios and stations quivered and acquiesced to their demands.

And then came Wal-Mart with their ignorant decisions and arrogant beliefs that they must dictate rather than listen to the masses, followed soon by Disney and other barbarian leaders sporting the banner that black bars were against family values. Faster than many expected the perversion of MAR infiltrated the DVD world.

But how the tides have turned.

The dramatic writing aside, it's becoming more and more evident that what I and many others predicted a long time ago is coming to fruition. When widescreen TVs were gaining strength, one of the many predictions that I made was that people would start to flock to widescreen/OAR DVDs for many reasons, not the least of which is that such people would then have to deal with bars on the sides of their TVs.

Ingram Entertainment, a leading company that sells DVDs wholesale, is reporting that whereas 75% of their orders two years ago were sold in the fullscreen/MAR format, that number has dropped to about 50%. This type of change was also seen at retailer Tonmmy K, which serves the New England area. Their widescreen sales have increased from 30% to 50% and widescreen DVDs rentals, which only a year ago were at 25%, are now at 40%.

We're all used to most movies coming out in dual-format, but we're seeing a lot more movies coming out only in OAR. The recent release of Sin City, for example, is only available in widescreen due to market research by Buena Vista. (Buena Vista is owned by Disney, by the way.)

First Look Home Entertainment, which has a library of over 350 movies and documentaries, decided to move exclusively to widescreen earlier this year. Apparently, they are very pleased with their new, widescreen-only sales even in Wal-Mart.

I myself recently noticed a conspicuous, DVD standee that was almost exclusively loaded with widescreen DVDs in the middle of the grocery store that I frequent. This is the same chain that a few years ago brushed aside my request for widescreen with "We only offer what the customers want." Yet they sold (and still sell) anchovy paste and canned octopus in aisle 4. Oh, I'm so very sure there was brisk demand for that, but apparently there was no demand for widescreen.

I'm certainly not going to rejoice just yet. There are still many hurdles to overcome. The way that Wal-Mart continually equates widescreen DVDs as "customer unfriendly," just as they do with music CDs that have explicit lyrics, is completely mind-boggling and insulting. Unfortunately, the threat and ignorance that they espouse is very real.

I also find it difficult to believe that the die-hard, anti-widescreen crowd will accept 2.35:1 once 1.77:1 fills up their widescreen display. I can very easily see Wal-Mart (and the people to whom they are pandering) demanding that all movies that are greater than 1.77:1 must have a separate, "full screen" 1.77:1 version to placate the masses. The studios will of course kowtow to their demands.

Of course, this assumes that all things remain as they are now. I suspect that HD, regardless of whether Blu-Ray or HD-DVD is the winner, will be a mirror of DVD. Home theatre enthusiasts will be the ones who will adopt the technology the soonest. Since HT enthusiasts are OAR supporters by definition, I expect HD to be completely widescreen at first. Whether the studios will develop a spine and tell Wal-Mart where they can stick their MAR demands remains to be seen.

But for now it's clear that widescreen finally is gaining acceptance by the general public. That at least is a comforting sign.