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Battle for supremacy

Great tech rivalries down the years

By Julian Whitehorn | 135 days ago

The world of technology has always been filled with races to be the first, best and most successful. That competition has brought some big clashes over the years. Here are the rivalries that have shaped the tech landscape of today…
 

 
Baird v Marconi
In 1924, when radio was still king, Scottish engineer John Logie Baird first transmitted a flickering image over a distance of just a few feet. He went on to achieve the first transatlantic television transmission in 1928, then formed Baird Television Limited (BTL) and began experimental broadcasting with the BBC in 1932.
 
In 1935, the BBC decided upon a minimum standard for new ‘high definition’ television (a minimum of 240 horizontal lines and 25 frame per second versus the previous standard of 30 lines). BTL had reached this new standard using a partially mechanical system, but a rival, fully-electronic system was being developed by the Marconi-EMI company that could manage 405 lines. The two broadcasted side-by-side until eventually in 1937 the BBC chose Marconi-EMI as the new standard.
 
Betamax v VHS
The Betamax home analogue video recording format was introduced in 1975, followed closely by JVC’s VHS (Video Home System) the next year. The war between the two magnetic tape formats raged for almost a decade before VHS emerged as the winner. Some claim it was the initial 60-minute recording limit of Betamax that stalled its uptake – VHS’ three-hour recording time was enough to fit movies and sports. Others still claim that Betamax offered a superior picture and should have won. Once the movie studios picked a side, it was all over.
 
Thirty years later, Blu-ray has taken DVD ahead of the competing HD DVD format, thanks in no small part to PlayStation 3′s built-in Blu-ray player.
 
Nintendo Game Boy v Sega Game Gear
Back then you were either Nintendo or you were Sega. The Game Boy landed first (1991 in US, 1990 in Europe) and was closely followed by the Game Gear in 1991. Both were handheld marvels – the Game Boy with its huge catalogue of games (including insanely addictive Tetris and Super Mario Land), the Game Gear with its drool-worthy backlit colour screen and even a TV tuner attachment.
 
The Nintendo’s superior catalogue of games and the Game Gear’s insatiable appetite for batteries meant that the Game Boy eventually won out. Not that anyone ever really swapped sides.
 
Plasma v LCD
When flat screen TVs first hit the market, it was the plasma screens that dominated. Big, bright and with beautiful colours, they were the TVs of our dreams. Then LCD TVs came along (and later, LCD TVs with LED backlighting), and started to run with it. Their more straightforward manufacturing process translated to cheaper prices for consumers who were largely just looking to get that huge, boxy old TV out of their lounge.
 
People wanted cheap flatscreens, and LCD TVs fitted the bill. Some still hail plasma as the superior screen technology but LCD has caught up in quality terms. A number of manufacturers have ended plasma TV production recently, and What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision‘s brand editor Andy Clough now asks us to shed a tear for plasma’s demise.
 
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Xbox One v Playstation 4
The next great tech rivalry is already in full swing. It has been playing out for well over a year in the lead-up to the actual launch and builds on two previous generations of consoles going head to head. Sony struggled at the launch of its last console, the Playstation 3 when it went up against Microsoft’s Xbox 360, thanks to Sony’s decision to promote it as a home media hub and games console rather than a straight-up gaming machine.
 
The positions have switched, with the Xbox One now touted as the centre of digital family life for all types of media, while the PS4 has gone back to aiming squarely at gamers. All we know is that the battle will be hard fought this Christmas.
 
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