1998 vs. 2008: A Tech Retrospective

The last movie on Laserdisc came out in 2000. The format survived that long thanks to a cult following among enthusiasts who preferred its smooth, filmlike analog quality to the sometimes blocky and banded DVD format. In fact, astonishingly enough, Pioneer still makes combination Laserdisc/DVD players for hardcore fans of the Laserdisc format.

With Blu-ray's high-definition video, however, the argument is over. Significantly, Blu-ray already enjoys more industry support than Laserdisc ever did. And with buyers flocking to big HDTVs, which are hungry for 1080p content, Blu-ray seems assured of a secure future--at least until Super Hi-Vision comes along.

Portable Audio Players

1988: Sony Discman D-10

  • Price: $350 ($613 adjusted for inflation)
  • Format: CD-audio
  • Capacity: 650MB or 70 minutes
  • Batterylife: 4 hours
  • Weight: 14 ounces

2008: Apple iPod Touch

  • Price: $299
  • Formats: AAC/MP3/AIFF/WAV/ lossless audio
  • Capacity: 8GB or 87 hours
  • Batterylife: 22 hours of audio or 5 hours video
  • Weight: 4.2 ounces

The New York Times' Hans Fantel of rhapsodized about the wondrous Sony D-10 in 1987: "This complex piece of laserized machinery easily fits into the pocket of my raincoat. And when it isn't raining, I just sling it over a shoulder with a strap...the new elastic mounting of the laser makes it less likely to skip when bounced or jostled in portable use."

Though the iPod Touch offers skipless playback, thanks to its solid-state memory, portable audio quality has actually declined from what it was in the Discman years, because formats like MP3 and AAC compress files at the expense of sonic detail.

But the Touch's many other features--including video playback, touchscreen operation, and wireless e-mail and Web browsing--tip the value equation in its favor.

In the future we'll probably get our portable audio via subscription and live Web streaming. Who needs to carry around a library when you can access any song you want from the Internet cloud?

1988: Canon EOS 650

  • Price: $600 ($1052 adjusted for inflation)
  • Format: analog 35mm film
  • Capacity: 36 shots
  • Preview: optical viewfinder
  • Speed: 1/2000 shutter and 3-fps auto advance

2008: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi

  • Price: $600
  • Format: 10MP digital JPEG
  • Capacity: determined by CF Card
  • Preview: 2.5-inch LCD and optical viewfinder
  • Speed: 1/4000 shutter and 3-fps for up to eight shots

The price and the looks of Canon's entry-level autofocus SLRs haven't changed much in 20 years--but with the switch from film to digital images, the technology certainly has.

The EOS 650 was the first in Canon's EOS line, and it introduced the first fully electronic lenses. Amazingly, those EF (Electro-Focus) lenses are still usable on today's digital EOS models.

The 650 had spot-matrix metering--a big advance at the time--and a convenient mode dial that lives on in the EOS Digital Rebel XTi.

But of course film is utterly different from digital images, and it took a long while for the resolution and speed of digital SLRs to roughly equal those of 35mm film. Now that parity has been achieved, the convenience of digital has knocked the bottom out of the film market.

The latest advance that should make its way down to consumer digital SLRs involves full-frame image sensors. These sensors are the same size as 35mm film, allowing photographers armed with DSLRs to use lenses designed for analog SLRs to full advantage.

1988: Nintendo NES

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