Why do we Get the Technologies we Get? Lessons from the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD Format War
The social constructivist perspective on the relationship between science, technology and society argues for viewing technological innovation and adoption in socio-cultural context. “Format Wars” – prolonged competitions which are, essentially, a result of an inability on the part of the major players involved to come to agreement about industry technical standards – are, in many ways, natural laboratories for utilizing and testing the benefits and limits of this perspective. The latest such battle is currently being waged between advocates for, respectively, Blu-ray (BD) and HD-DVD high-density optical disc systems for the storage of digital information, including high definition video. The two technologies, as technologies, are relatively well matched; indeed, each has some reasonable claim to some technical advantage over the other. Analyses of previous format wars tell us, however, that such considerations are far from the only ones which will contribute to determining, if not effectively determine, which system will eventually become the industry standard, and which will join, among others, Betamax (the videotape format vanquished by VHS in the mid-1980s) as a mere footnote to technological history. This paper uses the current Blu-ray/HD-DVD format war as a case study to investigate the dynamics of the wide variety of social factors (economic, political, and others) involved in the process by which new technologies become widely adopted.
Keywords: Technology, Social Constructivism, Format Wars, Digital Information Storage, High Definition Video, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD
Dr. William Skipper
Assistant Professor, Sociology and International Studies