Q: DIVX is dead, but will DVD now leave the VCR to R.I.P.?
Interest continues to grow in DVD, a digital home-video format that provides better pictures and sound than analog VCR by allowing you to play back movies from videodiscs.
Yet when it comes to home video, the videocassette recorder still reigns: More than 90 percent of North American households own one, and a decent VCR with hi-fi sound now sells for as little as $120.
(DIVX, a company that supplied a second digital format, also called DIVX, announced in June that it has discontinued offering its players and will shut down the system that serves them in about two years.)
Unlike the laserdisc, the original vinyl-LP-sized videoplatter, DVD discs are compact. Indeed, they're size of audio compact discs, and DVD machines also play CDs. DVD brings to almost any TV set the noticeable advantage of digital video compared with analog signals. It's a leap in quality that's already familiar to viewers who subscribe to satellite TV or digital-cable service, or who receive the local digital broadcasts now offered in some cities across the country.
And prices for DVD are dropping. Players now sell for as little as $250, while the discs themselves sell or rent for prices comparable to those for movies for VCRs. But DVD is for playback only: The present technology doesn't allow you to record TV programming.
Because of this, the DVD player isn't a replacement for the VCR just yet. Still, are you the kind of video viewer who should consider buying one, that shortcoming aside? Here are some factors to take into account:
Do you buy or rent a lot of fairly mainstream movies? Though the selection of titles on disc is expanding rapidly, you still won't find everything on disc that's on tape. (As of June 1999, there were only about 2,500 titles available to DVD users, compared with tens of thousands of titles on VHS tape. DIVX, the now-defunct format, attributed its own demise partly to a lack of support from the movie studios. DIVX offered fewer than 500 titles when it folded.) Titles most likely to be found on DVD are new and fairly popular movies.
Do you need a CD player? If you do, a DVD player can do double duty. Note, though, that while DVD players offer most of the features that are standard on CD players, you'll have to pay at least $500 for a DVD player with a carousel that holds three or more discs.
Do you have a good home-theater setup? DVD should provide better picture and sound than most analog sources on virtually any good TV set. But you'll enjoy a disc player more fully if you own a fairly large TV set (at least 27 inches, say) that has an S-video input -- a jack that allows the set to make the most of high-quality video signals. And you'll make the most of the discs' sophisticated audio encoding with a sound system that includes a Dolby Digital receiver and an array of six speakers.
Are you prepared to see better, cheaper machines soon after you buy? DVD is an evolving technology that is likely -- soon -- to become more capable and less expensive. While today's players should be able to play tomorrow's DVD discs, they won't be able to take full advantage of the discs' added features, and they'll lack the new capabilities.
(C) 1999, Consumers Union Inc.