A Look at the Last Decade in Tech

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine, January 2010

Wow. 2010…it’s hard to believe! If you would have asked someone 50 years ago, what it would be like in the 21st century, they might have said we would all be driving around in flying cars or communicating with our wristwatch picture phones.

We have come along way, and this last decade is no exception. So when reflecting back on the last ten years of technology, I wasn’t surprised at all that there was so much that I could talk about.

The year 2000 brought with it a new millennium, the Y2K bug – which never fully materialized, and the end of the Dot-com boom. Amazon.com was already the most successful online retailer, and Google was still a fledgling start-up company – not a verb!

This decade has seen the creation of the iPod, iPhone, Blackberry and other smartphones, HDTVs, and next-gen video game systems like Xbox 360, PS3 and the Nintendo Wii. Blu-ray beat HD-DVD, ebooks finally began to catch on, and Netbooks became one of the most popular computers in years.

As an “early adopter” I tend to jump in to new technologies as they come out. I picked up the iPhone when it hit Canada – and can’t live without it. I own all three video-game consoles, which I use not only for gaming and movie/music streaming, but with my new Wii I can also get fit!

I was rooting for HD-DVD during the high definition video war (it was cheaper and more advanced) because I already had the add-on unit for my Xbox 360, but I am ok with Blu-ray winning the war. It still appears that DVD is king, however. When you are an early adopter, you sometimes get burned because it is inevitable that technology will become cheaper, faster and better. But even though my $2,500 HDTV now costs $700 to buy, I have enjoyed every minute of it over the last 4 years.

Getting back to innovative tech, digital music was revolutionized when Apple launched the iPod in 2001, and then iTunes in 2003 – now the most successful digital music marketplace in the world, with almost 10 billion songs downloaded.

Apple did it again with the iPhone – a smartphone that puts email, Internet, music, video/movies, games and over 130,000 apps in your pocket. It is now the number two smartphone in the world, behind RIM’s Blackberry, which had a significant headstart. Over three billion apps have been downloaded since the App Store was launched in 2008.

Apple is expected to announce a new “tablet” computer in January 2010 – could tablet computing (which has been around for at least 10 years) finally be the next big thing?

From its early beginnings in the first half of the 1990’s, theWeb really came into its own in the last decade. Websites went from being cheesy-looking experiments, to truly attractive, engaging, and interactive mediums. The concept of Web 2.0 has taken this even further with web-based communities and social networking sites, video-sharing sites like YouTube, blogs, wikis and other online technologies.

Social networking exploded in the last five years, first with the popularity of MySpace — perhaps the first successful mainstream social networking site, followed by the current king, Facebook. I personally use Facebook to keep up with my friends and share a little bit of my life.

Blogging became a hit as millions of people took to the web to express themselves, provide professional advice and information, or just voice their opinions about everyday stuff. There are now hundreds of millions of blogs on the Internet. I too have a blog – mostly for posting articles I write such as the one you are reading, but I hope to do more with it in the future. You can check it out at www.digitaladventures.ca.

Twitter is another popular service (referred to as micro-blogging) that allows you to express yourself in 140 characters or less, and share it instantly with all of your followers. Personally this is one online innovation I just don’t get…but if you want to know what Ashton Kutcher is up to every moment, be my guest.

YouTube has become so popular that the site hosts over 100 million videos and over 13 hours of video is uploaded every minute. Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion. The site costs over $1 million a day to operate, but Google says it will soon be profitable because the number of people viewing videos supported by advertising is increasing.

The web continues to grow as technology evolves and more and more users log on. It is estimated that the number of Internet users has increased from 361 million in 2000, to over 1.7 billion in 2009. This is over 25% of the world’s population.

The technologies and products I have discussed are only a fraction of the innovations we have seen in the last decade. And if that is any indication of what is to come, then we have even more to look forward to in the coming years! If you are like me, then I know you can hardly wait to see what is ahead.

Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD – Welcome to the Format War

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – March 2007)

As DVD’s approach their 10 year anniversary, they have become so common and affordable that we find DVD players everywhere – our computers, our home-entertainment and stereo systems, even in our cars! In fact the technology has become so inexpensive, that DVD players can be had for as cheap as $30 and portable units with LCD screens less than $100.

But a new revolution is upon us. High Definition (HD) television sales are now leading the change to High Definition DVD formats. HD provides significant picture quality improvement over standard DVD, and with the growing popularity and increasingly lower cost of large screen Plasma and LCD televisions, consumers want more and more HD content.

In comes the successor to DVD…except we have a little problem. Two different formats are vying for the title of next generation DVD. They are Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Both formats can provide the highest level of HD quality – 1080p to be exact. With resolutions of 1920×1080 vs. standard DVD resolution of 720×480, the sheer detail and picture quality of both HD formats is remarkably better than DVD. Next time you are in a department store or local Future Shop, take a minute to watch either format playing on a 50-inch LCD or Plasma TV. You will be blown away by the picture quality and sound.

You might be asking yourself, what is the problem if we have two excellent formats to choose from…choice is good right? Choice is good AFTER a technology has been standardized. The problem is, if customers have to worry about which format will win in the end, it will dramatically slow the adoption of a new HD format. Who wants to be stuck with the losing product after spending close to $1,000 on a player?

Many writers point to the “Beta vs. VHS” wars in the 1980’s as an example of format war. If you are saying to yourself, “what the heck is Beta”, then this proves the point. In the early 1980’s Sony introduced the Betamax format to compete with VHS. Beta tapes were smaller and had a higher quality picture, but in the end VHS won the war, and reduced Beta to the junk pile. The lesson is that quality and technological superiority does not always ensure success. In fact, Sony has a history of delivering technologically superior products but some have been marketing flops. Just look at Sony’s Mini-Disc in the early 90’s, and their current Memory Sticks (which compete against CompactFlash and SD), which are essentially only used in Sony products.

That being said, Sony is the inventor and lead promoter of Blu-ray technology. But it has managed to bring together a large group of supporters this time around including Dell, Hewlett Packard, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Mitsubishi Electric, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, TDK and Thomson. There are also a number of content providers supporting Blu-ray including Sony Pictures Entertainment, MGM, Walt Disney Company and its home-video division Buena Vista Entertainment. In addition, video gaming giant Electronic Arts, and Vivendi Universal Games have both shown support.

The main backer of the HD-DVD format is Toshiba along with NEC and Sanyo. An impressive list of entertainment content companies have also thrown their weight behind HD-DVD, including Paramount, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., along with New Line Cinema. Microsoft has also joined the HD-DVD camp, producing a $200 add-on unit for its Xbox360.

What’s the Difference?

Both formats offer six times the resolution of traditional DVD, high quality surround sound, interactive content, and copy protection built in. The main difference is the storage capacity and production cost of the product itself. HD-DVD holds 15GB on each layer (up to 30GB per disc). Blu-ray on the other hand holds 25GB per layer and up to 50GB per disc. Based on capacity alone, Blu-ray is the clear winner, although that capacity comes with a price. While HD-DVDs can be manufactured using the same production facilities as DVD’s, Blu-ray requires costly new manufacturing processes resulting in higher costs. Both formats are backwards compatible with standard DVDs, so you can still watch your collection of DVDs.

Next-Gen Consoles

One factor that could influence the outcome of the format war is the fact that Sony has included Blu-ray in its new PS3 console. The company delayed the launch of the console in order to be able to include the new technology. The move, which was widely criticized and significantly raised the price of the units, could result in a significant advantage for the Blu-ray in the end.

To date Sony has sold over 2 million PS3’s world wide (700,000+ in the US) and with this number Sony claims to have surpassed the number of HD-DVD units sold to date. This significantly outstrips Microsoft’s HD-DVD add-on unit sales of about 100,000 in the US alone. Recent reports also show that Blu-ray movies have begun out selling HD-DVD by about 3:1.

Conclusion

Only time will tell which format will come out on top, but some companies aren’t waiting to find out. During the Consumer Electronics Show in January, LG Electronics unveiled the Super Multi Blue player, which can play both formats. In addition, Warner Bros. has announced plans to release the Total HD Disc, which can carry both formats on one disc. Both products should help to alleviate the fear of choosing a format while the battle is still being fought.

So what should you do if you just can’t wait unil there is a clear winner? Because the cost of either format’s player units are still so expensive ($600 for HD-DVD and $1,000 for Blu-ray), my suggestion would be to go with the consoles. If you already have an Xbox 360, for another $200 you can get an HD-DVD drive, with free movie and remote control. And if you are a PlayStation fan and can afford it, the PS3 ($550 – 650) will give you a Blu-ray player for far less than the cost of buying a standalone player.

But don’t forget you will need an HDTV to be able to enjoy either HD-DVD or Blu-ray, so if you don’t own one yet, perhaps you should start there.

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