A blog by George Engel

Emerging Technology

VOD vs DVD: Battle Royal Cage Match or Bridge on a Saturday Night?

When I sat down to watch Paycheck, as well as other films, I watched it on my Google TV receiver. I downloaded it through Amazon.com, and enjoyed the high quality video that I was able to access. This is an amazing feat compared to the quality of streaming video just a few years ago. My question is, “How does it stand up against the DVD, or more specifically, the Blu-ray DVD?”

I would say that the first round goes to the DVD in this battle because of lack of quality. Apple TV, at this time, only streams 720p. However, new innovations with Google TV and other devices like the PS3 allow streaming in 1080i. Because of this, Video on demand (VOD) services like Netflix or Amazon, are now capable of matching the video and sound quality of a Blu-ray disc and player. (See http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/10/netflix-ps3-streaming-app-adds-hd-surround-sound-ditches-disc/ ) This seems to mean that the battle is even between the two services. So if the image quality is the same, which one would have the greater advantage? This comes down to time of delivery. To watch a DVD, if you do not already own it, you must get in your vehicle of choice, for me that would be a Dodge Ram 1500, and travel to your local DVD retailer or Redbox distributor and either purchase or rent the DVD. This takes time, expends fuel, and generally makes my popcorn go cold. For me, this means at least a 1.5 hour round trip as I live in the middle of nowhere. Now, this is where the VOD service has a distinct advantage, quick downloads. Notice that I did not say, “instantaneous download.” A VOD device typically takes a few minutes to download a complete movie, which is much more convenient that a 1.5 hour drive. In the end, I believe that the VOD service will eventually win this competition, under current technological restraints.

Now, is this battle between the VOD and DVD a “Red Queen” or will the battle follow the laws of increasing returns? The classic example of increasing returns involves the victory of the VHS system over the Betamax. A more recent example may be the Blu-ray versus HD DVD battle, where the HD-DVD quickly surrendered to Sony’s mighty Blu-ray sword. In the VOD vs DVD battle, I do not believe one will win out over the other. For the near future, both will be running in place while competing against one another for the greater market share, which at this time, the DVD is winning by the fact that it has been around so much longer. This would indicate, instead that they may be experiencing the “Red Queen” phenomenon. A Red Queen occurs when two products so fiercely compete against each other that they out pace all other competitors for the market share. Dr. David Thornburg, of the Thornburg Center for Space Exploration, cites the PC and Apple computer battle is an example of this.

This is an ongoing battle between two different video delivery formats. However, if they follow the McLuhan Tetrad model that I mentioned in an earlier post, they may be eventually replaced by a different technology. However, as the power of the Internet grows in scope, for this Battle Royale, the VOD service may ultimately win in the end. As technology becomes more and more integrated into our lives, we are becoming more accustomed to the “on demand” service like the VOD offers. We can now watch movies on our tvs, our pcs, and even our smart phones. With these devices, our choices and demands for entertainment are growing. There can be only one conclusion, this is no Saturday afternoon at the bridge table; this is a battle royal cage match!


A Second, yet more disruptive Life


The video I have posted here is a discussion of the nature of the virtual reality call Second life. Second Life is an online world where people of any race, creed, color, culture, and orientation may go to socialize, learn, and even make money. Philip Rosedale speaks at length about why he created Second Life and its qualities. He mentioned several powerful and disruptive properties of the world that Second Life represents. The very nature of the symbolic nature of the world allows for a new level of learning. Concepts are represented as images and symbols instead of words. This is an amazing way to organize information. It reflects why so many instructors want us to symbolically represent our thinking through mind maps. According to Rosedale, this graphic organization enables a greater linking of information in our memories.

A second point that he made was that Second Life is a world that is inherently social. However, the social interactions are not limited to the English speaking population of the United States. People from all over the world are able to gather within the confines of Second Life. This gives them an opportunity to learn and gain from each other, creating a virtual blending of global cultures. This connection has the potential to change the world and disrupt the abilities of an established government to manage this behavior.

Another aspect that I found fascinating was the ability to explore a new identity in this realm. Sherry Turkle, in her book Life on the Screen, speaks of this identity development on the web. She says that our web identities are forms by this type of exploration. In Second Life, we can be any personality type we wish to be, bold, shy, arrogant, charismatic, and so on. Eventually, this leads to the development of an online persona that is a “pastiche” of these explored personalities.

Rosedale, finished the video by stating that virtual worlds like Second Life create the potential for its members to change, to become more than they are.

Rhymes and Reasons: The Internet in the hands of Gutenberg

I wonder if Gutenberg, in the invention of the printing press, realized what he had unleashed into the world. That single invention, even in its simplest incarnation, changed the face of the earth forever. It gave, eventually, even the common man access to information that he or she had never possessed. It gave the common man education, science, mathematics, literature, music, entertainment, and so on, on a level never seen before. Now, that printing press is represented in the internet. The internet has had a similar revolutionary effect on the world that the printing press had in its day. The Internet has not just granted access to information like the printing press, but it has also sped up the delivery of that information and changed the way the information is accessed.

This leads me to the talk that Kevin Kelly gave on the First 5000 days of the Web back in 2007 shown in the video below:

This talk brings up many images of various science fiction themes from the concept of the “Skynet” in the Terminator series to the open access of the Minority Report. I even see shadows of Movies like the Matrix and concepts like Battlestar Galactica in play with Kelly’s discussion of the web becoming a world mind… These are interesting thoughts worth of exploration at another time.

Kelly mentions three basic concepts of the changing Web in the next 5000 days of its existence, embodiment, restructuring, and co-dependency. In a way, though these are separate concepts, they all are linked closely together through the Web. The concept of embodiment focuses on the idea that the Web will be a part of everything, from our cars and phones to the lights in the ceiling and shoes on our feet. Everything will have a piece of Web technology in it. We will be a part of that “everything,” so that not just the machines but also humanity becomes an integral part of the body of the Web. It will measure and record everything that is done.

The restructuring will come from how information is shared on the Web. Until recently, the Web was a collection of pages with links to on another. Now, instead, it is becoming a series of links of data points. Now the Web links ideas and concepts and data instead of the page. This will change how we perceive things and access information.

Finally, the Web is leading us toward co-dependency, not dependency. Co-dependency in that we will depend on the web for every aspect of our lives. It will be the source of travel, diets, and any other need that we have. However, that need is reciprocal because the web will need us to gather and input information into its structures.

I leave this post with one final thought. Will the Web eventually become sentient?

A Tetrad in the Clouds

I find the nature of cloud computing fascinating. Just what is cloud computing? Well the folks at TED and Akamai.com put together a few videos on their ideas behind the cloud at http://www.akamai.com/html/misc/ted.html. Another site with a good definition of cloud computing is located at http://www.infoworld.com/d/cloud-computing/what-cloud-computing-really-means-031 .

The potential of the cloud is tremendous. Cloud computing has opened new methods of data storage and retrieval. It has opened new means of learning in the way we access and share knowledge. It may even be changing the way our memory works (Turkle, 1995). The following is a tetrad of my view of cloud computing.

What does cloud computing enhance? Storage and retrieval of data is a large part of the cloud. Many of the web 2.0 technologies we use today like wordpress, flickr, and other web based applications are possible because of the cloud. Additionally, the chrome operating system by Google functions completely in the cloud so load time is just a few seconds (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/25/business/la-fi-google-laptop-20101225/2 ). Many applications, including those on smart phones and other mobile devices would not be available or functional without the cloud.

The nature of the cloud combined with web or cloud based applications and operating systems may eventually make the desktop PC obsolete or at least the disc drive and standalone operating system.

The information storage and retrieval capabilities of the cloud remind me of traditional libraries and data storage facilities. The large facilities are dedicated to information storage that can be accessed by individuals at time when the data is needed. However, they are limited by hours of operation and availability of stored data.

Finally, where is the cloud leading us? I can only speculate at this point. However, there could be a time when our own brains will have direct access to the cloud. This will be a true technological revolution on the part of humanity. I see it possible with the bio technology research that is ongoing at this time. Will technology become organic? Will circuits be grown instead of manufactured? Time will tell and as long as our heads are in the “cloud” the potential exists for us to make it there.


Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the internet. New York: Simon and Schuster.