There are many important decisions that shape our lives and by which we judge other people. Coke or Pepsi? Rolling Stones or Beatles? New York or LA? Cats or dogs? iPod or Zune? That last one was pretty easy for the vast majority of people. The competition between two titans of the technology industry to be the music player in your back pocket should have been a heated battle that raged for years. Instead, Microsoft’s Zune never achieved more than 10% of the market, taking two years to sell as many units as Apple sold in a month. A few short years later, the Zune was quietly shuffled off to the format war graveyard.
As long as we have had media on which to record our art, there have been competing formats. While more modern examples like Betamax vs VHS or Blu-ray vs HD DVD may leap to mind, format wars go back as far as the days of Thomas Edison and the first audio media, wax cylinders. The first format war was between Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner, both of whom invented competing types of media for the phonograph. Edison first pioneered the wax cylinder in the 1880s. He originally intended it as a means of recording telephone conversations, but the cylinders soon became a popular format for musical recordings. In the following decade, Berliner released the disk record, the shape we’re familiar with today. Disks had originally been used solely in children’s toys, and in the beginning their sound quality was poor. Frighteningly, terrifyingly poor. Look on YouTube for the first talking dolls. Chucky had nothing on these girls.