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Mr. Smith comes to Fayetteville

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By Doug Thompson

I downloaded a movie from Netflix new Internet service Saturday night.
I didn’t get a glimpse into the future as much as a sense of Déjà vu. I’d picked a black and white picture, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” I was watching an old movie on a small screen again. Visions of my childhood, watching an old portable TV in my room, came to mind.
Downloading the software wasn’t all that hard, although my pop-up blocker complicated the process a little. The movie itself played very smoothly, even though I used a very old computer that I let the kids use. That machine has a positively ancient video card and older monitor. The picture wasn’t as sharp as you’d get on TV, but that’s almost certainly my hardware’s fault.
What I was watching is the chief alternative to where the movie and electronics industries want me to go.
Everybody’s television that isn’t a high-definition type was pushed farther toward obsolescence Thursday. On that day, Sony also won its first victory in the console wars, if preliminary reports hold up.
“Metal Gear Solid 4” sold 1.3 million copies on Thursday, its first day of release. The game – and a big bargain offered by Arkansas’ own Wal-Mart – apparently drove PlayStation 3 sales up 80 percent in America.
Wal-Mart’s offer was a $100 gift card to whomever bought a Blu-Ray player. Blu-Ray is the format chosen to replace the DVD. PlayStation 3 plays Blu-Ray. Wal-Mart’s offer applied.
Blu-Ray ain’t cheap. From an industry point of view, they simply must drive the mass market to Blu-Ray to achieve economies of scale.
Ready or not, folks, the push is on. Those of you out there in hard-core resistance, with a TV that still has an antenna, are also targeted. Broadcast is going to high-definition that will require a new antenna. There is no discernible reason for this other than the Federal Communications Commission insists that its ancient mandate for this not be ignored.
Walmart.com offers a Blu-Ray player for $298. Expect those prices to continue to fall in coming months. If they don’t drop by Christmas, I’m guessing they will drop afterward.
The trouble is, there’s no good reason to use Blu-Ray instead of DVD if you don’t have a large high-definition TV. (Sorry to keep going over this, if you’ve read my column before. I don’t want to leave anybody out. History’s almost over, though.)
It’s simple. Wal-Mart and others push Blu-Ray because it encourages the sale of big, high-definition TVs.
Here’s where my Netflix view came in. Netflix is offering a little box, available through the Web, for $100. You hook it onto your TV and it will play movies on it, downloaded from the Internet. You have to be a Netflix subscriber.
Apple is offering something similar with “Apple TV.”
It all seems straightforward enough. I don’t think I’ll be ordering the $100 box anytime soon, however. Most movies I get are old classics that the whole family’s not that interested in. Watching it at night with my headphones on will do.
However, it’s nice to have an alternative if industry keeps demanding that I buy a Blu-Ray player.
Speaking of “Metal Gear Solid 4,” this was simply a must-win for Sony. They were dying in the console war with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the humble little Nintendo Wii. MGS 4 is now the first real success for a PS3 exclusive title.
Sony hasn’t won the war, by any means, but at least it keeps in the fight. If the makers of MGS 4 had lost their shirts by sticking with the PS3 exclusively, nobody would have stuck with the PS3 exclusively again. I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that the console would have been doomed, considering that the price of Blu-Ray players has gone down considerably.
The PS3 is not the most affordable Blu-Ray player any more, not by a long shot. It served its purpose in that regard, helping put a Blu-Ray player in millions of homes and driving out the rival HD-DVD format. The PS3 has to stand on its merits as a game console now.

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