Betamaxed

The Baltimore Sun

Our sympathies to the owners of suddenly outdated HD-DVD players. In the parlance of your neighborhood Geek Squad, you've just been Betamaxed. It's isn't your fault you got stuck with the wrong kind of DVD player for your high-definition TV, but you're stuck nevertheless.

Toshiba Corp.'s announcement yesterday was merely a formal surrender. The war looked to be over for weeks as major retailers such as Wal-Mart dropped HD-DVD in favor of Sony's Blu-ray in a move reminiscent of the video cassette battle of the 1980s, when Sony's Betamax lost out to VHS.

Still, the duel over high-definition DVD formats has been quite a fight, with major studios releasing movies and TV shows in one version or the other but not always both. And while consumers may have preferred this decision be made years ago, the outcome also could have been worse - the battle might have raged on even longer.

The resolution may not be good for Toshiba shareholders, but it should provide a boost to retailers as consumers can now choose to invest in a Blu-ray player with greater confidence. Prices are also likely to decline - just as they did for VHS players and recorders.

If it's any consolation, consider the plight of Polaroid camera owners after the company's announcement last week that it plans to close factories that manufacture its instant film. Digital won that war years ago - the cameras aren't even made anymore - but stores are reporting runs on film supplies as buyers seek to stock up.

Owners of HD-DVD equipment won't have to stop using them. They'll probably last for many years and eventually become collector's items. Like Betamax machines, Polaroid cameras, eight-track tape players, 78 rpm records and other outmoded equipment, they'll no doubt continue to have a long life on eBay.

You can tell your grandchildren you remember when.

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