CNET.uk has a feature on “Format wars: the tech that should have won,” sizing up some media and computer systems that lost out in the marketplace, despite their technical advantages. The article imagines a world where technologies like the 8-track and Betamax predominated, instead of cassettes and VHS. Two of my favorites–that I still use–are included, minidisc and laserdisc:
Laserdisc was light years ahead of its time, pre-dating even compact disc…. The picture quality was amazing for the time, offering 440 lines of picture information in PAL and 425 lines for NTSC. That made for a picture that was twice as good as VHS, and very nearly as good as DVD….
MiniDisc was fantastically versatile. You could buy pre-recorded music on the format or simply use your hi-fi to copy a CD to a blank disc. MiniDisc’s hard outer case meant the surface of the disc was far less likely to become scratched and damaged over time.
Aside from the obvious problem of having media and devices that aren’t supported anymore, sometimes locking away precious content forever, there’s a real unnecessary waste behind format wars, as landfills bulge with discarded tapes and computers. It’s good that there are some unique, resourceful souls who go out of their way to collect and preserve this lost tech, helping us both hold on to cultural legacies, but also keep useful items out of the waste stream.