Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Found Article: Lost In Translation

Christmas shoppers face a baffling list of acronyms
By Sean Coughlan (BBC News Magazine)

The Christmas rush to buy gadgets and techno-toy televisions is in full swing. But is there any chance of a translation from all those annoying acronyms?

Oh yes. It's compatible with "BD-Video, DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW, CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, JPEG".

This isn't made up - it's the list of formats that function with one of the big-selling DVD recorders of the moment. And in case you're worried, it's got DVI, HDMI and Scart sockets as well. (Scart, for the uninitiated, is a French-originated standard for an audio visual connector, standing for Syndicat des Constructeurs d'Appareils Radiorecepteurs et Televiseur. Except, having named it, the French call it something entirely different - Peritel, to be precise.)

What in the name of Alphabetti Spaghetti is all that about? How did we get into this acronym fever? You want to buy something to watch a film on the telly, not learn a programming language.

Step into the world of televisions, recorders and music players and you're entering a forest of jargon. Not only are there rival formats, there are rival formats that sound almost identical.

You've got a camcorder for Christmas morning, ready to catch that look of disappointment on your child's face. But what happens when you stick in the disc for recording? Did you say DVD-R? How wrong could you be? Duh! It's DVD+R. Of course they won't work.

Perhaps no one has told us that there's some competition to replace ordinary speech with a long string of disconnected letters and numbers.

Socket to 'em

What was the name of that DVD recorder from Sony? The one with the catchy name? Yes, the RDR-HXD860 DVD/HDD Recorder. Or that telly from Panasonic, the PDP-427XD-TS10 Plasma HD Ready Digital Television. And how about TiVo and PVR, or DVR as PVRs are called in the US. That's US as in United States by the way.

This kind of language is catching. If you buy the Humax PVR9200T it has a USB connection, boasts an EPG and works with an MP3. If you buy a KD55A20S11XTNS television you can enjoy its SXRD panel, BBE digital sound and it's got an HDMI socket, obviously. What does any of that mean?

And there's no sign of this snowstorm of acronyms lifting - with battles between formats set to intensify.

There's HD DVD versus Blu-ray. And there are DVD+R and DVD+RW backed by one bunch of manufacturers and DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM backed by another crowd. And DVD+R DL and DVD-R DL for anyone wanting a little extra stuffing in their turkey.

But hold on. Let's get some translation. What do these acronyms stand for? Let's start with the basics. What do the letters DVD represent? It's digital versatile disc. Or else it's digital video disc. There's not even agreement over that - with another school of thought suggesting that DVD isn't even an acronym. It's just DVD. End of.

Switched on

Michael Gabriel, spokesperson for manufacturers Sharp, says that the options on offer "can be confusing for consumers".

But he says that it's a reflection of the huge amount of transition taking place in home electronics.

There's the switch from analogue to digital television, cathode-ray tube sets are being replaced by LCD and plasma, high-definition television is arriving and there's the convergence of computer technology with DVDs and televisions.

We now almost take it for granted that we can take a disc out of a laptop and stick it straight it into a DVD player and watch it on television.

"When there's so much innovation and manufacturers are looking for the next step forward, there will always be competing technologies," he says.

And he says that manufacturers are aware of the difficulties - and have been encouraging retailers to help demystify what's on offer.

Consumers have also been carrying out their own research before hitting the High Street, he says, particularly using buyers' guides and manufacturers' advice on the internet.

Ordinary folk, says Mr Gabriel, are much more switched on. But maybe we're just on stand-by.

Terms such as "Freeview" have worked, he says, becoming widely recognised by shoppers. And industry-standard logos have, apparently, become a way of raising awareness.

But yes, he concedes, "the electronics industry has always loved its acronyms."

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