Are audio format wars good or bad for audiophiles in the long run?

<I>Stereophile Staff</I>'s picture
Are format wars, such as the battle between DVD-Audio and SACD, worth all the trouble? Some would argue that they let the consumer decide what is best, while others feel that these battles should have been fought in the boardroom and standards committee meetings. What do you think?
Are audio format wars good or bad for audiophiles in the long run?
Good, may the best format win
24% (58 votes)
Bad, creates confusion and waste
64% (151 votes)
No opinion
2% (4 votes)
Other
10% (24 votes)
Total votes: 237
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Comments
Bill Blank's picture

Format wars may look like a good thing simply by their competitive nature but as we saw with VHS vs. Beta, the format with better quality does not always win. Format wars do much more harm than good. While those involved in the hobby may know the ins and outs of two or more formats relatively well, it does nothing but create confusion and frustration with the general public. Many people become turned off by the entire industry when they find out that a machine they purchased, along with software titles to go with it, suddenly goes belly up in less than a year.

Anonymous's picture

Sony has a history of creating a superior format then screwing up deployment by refusing to license the technology - witness Beta, Elcasette, Mini-Disc et.al The bigger boogie-man however in this as well as the video arena are the poor, underpaid artists. In spite of being consistantly proven to be nothing more than money-grabbing chicken-little-itis, the industry puts a stranglehold on improving the format by refusing to license content or actively lobbying to prevent deployment. Remember their chest-thumping in Congress trying to prevent video rentals? Having said all that, the view is that after spending thousands to replace vinyl with polycarbonate, consumers are not willing to spend even more to do it all over again. Unless the marketing flacks get it through their heads to price the new disks at $10 rather than $25 neither SACD nor DVD-A will survive.

dudeatwork's picture

Format wars would be interesting if the best audio format won. But, the best business strategy wins. I'm intrigued by the next generation improvements, but I'm not in any rush -- I can wait it out.

Keith's picture

Make up your minds already!

claresopotyk's picture

not much better than current state of the are technology

Peter G.'s picture

Hopefully the best sounding format will win, not the best promoted.

Steve's picture

There's two sides to this coin. The good side is that it encourages competition and the latest technological integration; the bad side is that consumers have to wait in the shadows for the smoke to clear before they can make a decision on which path they'll take. There's also the fear that the format you selected will go "belly-up." Can you say "Beta-Max?"

Rogerio Neiva's picture

The war is not between formats, it's a royalties issue. If the format has the letters CD on it, then Sony and Philips will get royalties from each CD sold. If not, they won't get anything. And that's it. I just hope that the best format (SACD) wins and not a format where you can hear the copy protection make the sound worse than MP3. May God help us by not letting DVD-Audio win.

Michael Hackett's picture

It would have been better if the two groups could have gotten together to incorporate DSD into DVD-A, but Sony/Philips seem determined to replace their CD royalties with something new, so they were a little hard-headed in this instance. And on the plus side, Sony is so far not sinking to watermarking SACD, so that's a point for them. However, because both formats use the same basic carrier (unlike the often mentioned Beta/VHS battle), there's no reason that BOTH can't succeed and coexist, in a market of universal players. I also think both formats SHOULD be marketed as upscale, audiophile products for the first few years, as the average music consumer simply isn't interested in either at this point. I hope the big companies are not betting the farm on immediate widespread mainstream acceptance, otherwise we may find both formats in the gutter.

Zvika's picture

Bad, bad, bad . . .

Federico's picture

I think format wars are crap. The confusion is the last thing we need. Yjey're purely the result of corporate inability to share. Sony and Phillips have become a little too used to the royalties from the CD format. Too bad it seems like SACD is superior.

Ralph Pollock's picture

It has a very beneficial effect on manufacturers and record companies. Speaker and amplifier mfgrs must be very happy with HT, and re- releases of 30 year old "classic" hits in new formats are good for Sony et al.

David Salahi's picture

Having multiple formats reduces the commitment of manufacturers to produce hardware as well as the commitment of software producers (music companies in this example) to produce discs. This, in turn, delays acceptance by the market and costs the early adopters more time (to research the technologies) and money.

Eric W.  Sarjeant's picture

The idea that there is a format "war" is purely mass-media contrived. Nobody wins and while a few formats become popular, most fade into oblivion.

Nathan's picture

The "format war" provides the average consumer with zero benefit. Remember Elcassette? How about the various quad systems from the 70s? Witness Beta vs. VHS. Beta is a superior format from a technical stance, but it lost, due to marketing. SACD vs. DVD-A will be not different -- quality will not determine the winner, rather, marketing will. Instead of thinking a format war is good, for it is not, we should be hoping for universal players (ie, CD, DVD, DVD-A, SACD, HDCD, and anything else I might have left out). That is the only way the consumer will win.

Tarjei Gr's picture

Although I, to some extent, agree that it creates confusion.

Gaston Paquet's picture

This reminds me of another format war : VHS vs BETA. Unfortunately, I choose the wrong side and bought a Beta VCR . . . I kicked myself for that choice. Once is enough!

R.  Guy tr's picture

Logiocally the DVDA should win because of it's present popularity and multi-task compatibility. Watremarking is going to hurt it. Once again it is a financial giant war from which the music lover will not benefit from.People will opt out and continue with all the different formats. Nothing to gain for me from this. I am still buying vynil!

Jim Mattoni's picture

A lot of people got burned on the Beta-VHS issue a few years back. Beta users got burned because the format eventually disappeared as a consumer format. VHS users got burned because even though their format survived, they were left with a product that was inferior to Beta. I fear that many potential consumers will take a wait-and-see attitude on this issue and both formats will end up failing.

Scott's picture

I work for a CE retailer. We will likely decide to support only one format. That decision will be based upon profit not quality.

Daniel p Schmidt's picture

Format wars, as described in the question, create a sense of apathy as well as a feeling of semi-disgust. It's almost as if they create new ideas, not to improve sound, but to sell us once again their entire back-catalogue of recordings. My passions are focused on amps and pre-amps (it's almost a fetish!). Basic principles and concepts that stay relatively the same.

BEEF's picture

Good in the long run for the majority but bad for the early adopter minority who may get burned

richard austin's picture

unlike the beta/vhs battle, I hope "we", the ears can have sacd while the "eyes" get dvda

Anna Logg's picture

Eenie, meenie, miney, moe. Which of these formats will blow, blow, blow? Time for me to sign off now. It's been a couple of days since I've checked my VTA, and I'd hate to ruin my cherished van den Hul Grasshopper.

Joel Waterman's picture

This skirmish simply sparks great debate and keeps the industry honest in the end! I see no format war -- there's hardly any software to wage the war :-) As for DVD-A, I see no point in combining video with audio because I don't want to watch TV in my listening room.

David S.  Milo's picture

They create confusion and harm the market in the long run.

Kevin Magee's picture

New formats require a uniform front to be sucessful. In an era where mp3 is so welcomed, it will take a unified effort to force the acceptance of a replacement for the CD.

Mario's picture

Is anybody offering us the best right now??

Anonymous's picture

The key word here is audiophiles. There's little confusion among audiophiles, we want the best playback there is, price and format are secondary.

Dennis B.  Hamilton's picture

Just remember Beta and Laserdisc.

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