DVD Technology Is Announced

After a period of intense competition and the emergence of divergent formats for optical disc storage capacity far greater than that of the digital compact disc, a large international consortium of technology and media companies agreed to merge their concepts and designs to create a shared, standard format for the digital video disc, also known as the digital versatile disc, or DVD.

Summary of Event

Although the analog optical disc (later marketed by Pioneer as the laser disc) had been developed by David Paul Gregg in the late 1950’s, and its digital counterpart by James Russell in 1965, it took well over a decade for these products to enter the consumer market: the optical disc in 1978, and the digital compact disc (CD) in 1980. The analog optical disc was designed for the playback of movies, and its entry into the consumer market was somewhat overshadowed by the popularity of videotapes, which had been introduced just two years earlier. DVD technology
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[kw]DVD Technology Is Announced (Sept. 15, 1995)
[kw]Technology Is Announced, DVD (Sept. 15, 1995)
DVD technology
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[g]North America;Sept. 15, 1995: DVD Technology Is Announced[09320]
[g]United States;Sept. 15, 1995: DVD Technology Is Announced[09320]
[c]Communications and media;Sept. 15, 1995: DVD Technology Is Announced[09320]
[c]Computers and computer science;Sept. 15, 1995: DVD Technology Is Announced[09320]
[c]Inventions;Sept. 15, 1995: DVD Technology Is Announced[09320]
[c]Science and technology;Sept. 15, 1995: DVD Technology Is Announced[09320]
Immink, Kees A. Schouhamer
Doi, Toshitada
Ogawa, Hiroshi
Gerstner, Louis V., Jr.
Gregg, David Paul
Russell, James

For many years, the dominant format for music playback had been the vinyl disk. A needle contacted grooves on a spinning disk, where an impression of the audio vibrations had been stored. With repeated play, the friction of the needle eventually caused the degradation of the audio information on the vinyl.

The use of digital compact discs for audio was an attractive alternative because there was no friction between the light beam reading the signal and the surface where the data were stored. The mechanisms and codes were perfected by scientists such as Hiroshi Ogawa at Sony Corporation Sony Corporation and Kees A. Schouhamer Immink at Philips. Philips (electronics company) Sony and Philips collaborated on these and other technologies, and both owned patents on various components. After CD players became widely available and record companies embraced the standard, audio CDs quickly replaced analog vinyl disks in popularity.

Another important application of the digital compact disc was computer data storage. The medium was much less fragile than the floppy disks in use at the time and could hold exponentially more data. The situation for video was quite different, however, because video formats had remained analog, primarily using videocassette tapes.

An additional complication was the fact that these videocassettes, although fundamentally based on the same technology, had been issued commercially in two competing and totally incompatible formats, Betamax and VHS. The Betamax format, which had been introduced by Sony in 1976, was supported by Sony, Toshiba, Pioneer, and other companies. The VHS format, introduced by JVC the same year, was supported by Matsushita, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and others. This had resulted in an unproductive and costly international struggle for dominance of a single standard, popularly known as a “format war.”

Although digital audio CDs were highly successful, almost completely supplanting analog vinyl disks by the mid-1990’s, a two-hour digitized movie at full-screen resolution required too much data storage space to fit onto a compact disc, which holds much less than a single gigabyte of data. Toshitada Doi, who established the Sony Computer Science Lab, could see that the expansion of data storage and retrieval capabilities would eventually encompass video, and he worked toward that goal.

Three primary user groups were set to benefit from the new format; not just consumers in the music and computer industries—which had been using the audio and CD-ROM compact disc formats—but also the movie industry. When proposals were made to increase the capacity of digital compact discs to encompass video, many in the industry wanted to avoid repeating the videocassette format war by agreeing on a uniform standard. New alliances were formed, and old collaborations, such as the one between Sony and Philips, continued. Many of the same engineers and computer scientists who had worked to develop the CD—such as Ogawa and Immink—worked to establish the technical foundation for the next generation of mass-produced digital optical discs.

By 1995, two major groups had formed, and it appeared that a new international format war was imminent, between the MultiMedia Compact Disc (MMCD)—a product of the Philips-Sony alliance—and the Super Density Disc (SD), promoted by a consortium including Time Warner, Toshiba, Pioneer, JVC, Matsushita, Mitsubishi, Thomson, and Hitachi.

As with videocassettes in previous decades, the technologies were very similar, but the two formats were totally incompatible. Fortunately, a third consortium, made up of major computer companies, had also emerged. These companies had a significant stake in the convergence of audiovisual media and data and wanted to ensure the profitability of their own contributions to the new technology.

The computer companies, including IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Compaq, and Hewlett-Packard, formed the Technical Working Group, Technical Working Group led by Dr. Alan Bell, an expert in data storage. This group had enough technological background and economic clout to mediate among the scientists and engineers of the consumer electronics and media consortia.

Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., chairman of IBM, encouraged this mediation, and most parties were convinced that it was in everyone’s best interests to agree on standards. As a compromise, the Sony-Philips group agreed to the Super Density format but contributed two important components to the standard: Immink’s coding system, which was slightly less capacious but also less fragile than the competing format’s code, and adaptations in the tracking mechanism. In addition, backward compatibility with the digital compact disc allowed the Sony-Philips group to continue receiving licensing fees from earlier patents.

On September 15, 1995, a press release was issued jointly by both sides that announced the agreed-upon format for the DVD (a shared acronym for both “digital video disc” and “digital versatile disc”), which was capable of holding up to 4.7 gigabytes of data. Ten companies that had contributed to the standard established the DVD Consortium. DVD Consortium

With the involvement of the motion-picture industry, however, there was increased concern about issues of intellectual property rights. The possibility of making digital copies of full-length movies increased the risk of piracy. The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Company which had previously sued Sony over the ability of video recorders to tape television broadcasts, was especially concerned, and contacted Alan Bell soon after the DVD format was announced. After further negotiations and additional written agreements, copy-protection codes were added to the standard to discourage illegal copying. In May, 1997, the DVD Consortium opened its membership to more companies, changing its name to the DVD Forum. By October, 2006, its membership had expanded to include more than 220 companies.


The unprecedented level of cooperation proved both lucrative for the corporate participants and beneficial to consumers. By 2003, the rental and sale of movies on DVD exceeded the VHS-tape format, which was soon dropped by major retailers. Soon afterward, DVD authoring tools reached the consumer market and began to generate additional sales for computer companies.

The introduction of DVD led to new possibilities for archivists and librarians, who wanted to keep up with the emerging technologies and assess their viability in terms of product longevity and other factors. Congress appropriated $100 million in December, 2000, for the Library of Congress to lead a national collaborative effort in digitizing and archiving media. Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology developed and published testing procedures to determine the durability of various kinds of optical discs.

By the fall of 2006, new competing extensions of digital compact disc technologies with even greater storage capacities were being developed, and new concerns arose over potential format wars. But the successes of the DVD Consortium and the Technical Working Group in 1995—a collaboration in which competing entities shared technical expertise to develop a product adhering to a mutually beneficial industry standard—have been studied as a business model for the rapidly changing but interconnected technology companies of the twenty-first century. DVD technology
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Further Reading

  • Brinkley, Joel. “On New DVD Formats, the Sound of Good Things to Come.” The New York Times, December 9, 1999. Concise overview of emerging audio-DVD formats.
  • Shapiro, Carl, and Hal Varian. Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999. Includes an analysis of the collaboration over standards which proved to be a profitable business model. Illustrated, with index and bibliography.
  • Taylor, Jim. DVD Demystified. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2006. Includes sections on the history of the technology, technical summaries, information on production, and criticism of features. Illustrated, with index.

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