Not to be disrespectful to those who invented the DIVX format, but this short-lived video rental format was one of the electronics era quickest failures and for all intent purposes seemed to fall into a twilight zone of obscureness. In less than two years after its inception, the format became extinct and joined the ranks of Betamax and Laservision as a format that almost was.
The video-rental system known as DIVX came about as competition to DVD mail rental companies such as Netflix who, now that the DVD format allowed movies to be sent to customers in postage paid envelopes, stood to corner the DVD video rental market. Netflix, formed in 1999, allowed customers to rent up to four movies (the basic rental package has now been changed to three discs) at a time for the base price of $19.99. Even more shocking to video rental buffs around the world was Netflix was going to allows consumers to keep the movies for as long as they wanted without incurring any late fees.
Not wanting to be exact imitators of Netflix, as Blockbuster did with their online/ mail renting system, electronic chain store giant Circuit City and the entertainment law firm of Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, and Fischer set out to develop a unique alternative to DVD rental. The system would bare closer resemblance to ordering a pay-per-view movie than to renting a disc.
DIVX (an acronym for Digital Video Express) was a rental format variation on the DVD player in which a customer would buy a DIVXdisc (similar to a DVD) at a low cost, which would be able to be feely viewed up to 48 hours from its initial viewing. After this initial period expired, the customer could, for $3.25, purchase the film for a short continuation period. The discs had to played in specially created DIVX/DVD combo players. The player was similar to a standard DVD player in most regards with the exception was that it contained a modem and needed to be connected to a phone line. In addition to this, the customer had to establish an account with the company and additional fees were applied.
Once the account was created, the DVD purchased at Circuit City was inserted into the player and then the player dialed out to an account server over the phone line to charge for viewing fees similar to the way DirecTV and Dish Network handle pay-per- view movies. “DIVX gold” discs that could be played an unlimited number of times on any DVD palter were announced at the time of DIVX’s introduction, but no DIVX gold titles were ever released.
DIVX was sold primarily through the Circuit City, The Good Guys!, Ulitmate Electronics, and Future Shop retailers. The DIVX system (disc and player) was created in 1998 in time for the holiday season and was discontinued on June 16, 1999 due to the costs of introducing the format, as well as its very limited acceptance by the general public. Over the next two years the DIVX system was phased out. Customers could still view all of their DIVX discs and were given a $100 refund for every player that was purchased before June 16, 1999. All discs that were unsold at the end of the summer of 1999 were destroyed. The program officially cut off access to accounts on July 7, 2001. Despite some of the advantages of the DIVX system (Hollywood seemed to like the system most of all because the transmission of DVD information was heavily encrypted and the temporary status of the movie disc prevented unauthorized duplication), the DIVX system was cumbersome compared to “open DVD” rentals. Most electronics stores were touting standard “open DVD’ players and discs while only certain stores carried the DIVX line of equipment. Many electronics enthusiasts, having learned the painful lessons of Betamax, Laservision, and now even VHS, were unwilling to invest heavily in new, untried formats.
Other shortcomings of the DIVX system was that the discs only offered the movie with no extras or bonus features. Also, all DIVX movies were presented in standard screen format also known as pan-and-scan while “open DVD” offered consumers major hit films in both pan-and-scan as well as widescreen. In order to use the player, the consumer had to have a phone jack near to the player which may have not been the case in every household. These shortcomings as well as the drop in price of “open DVD’s” and players spelled an early end for the DIVX system. No DIVX players, discs, or accounts are available any longer.
As a footnote, there is currently available for download a media player named DivX which is spelled slightly different from the Circuit City system which was spelled DIVX. The DivX media player is similar to Real Video and Windows Media Player and the player bears no resemblance at all to the DIVX home video system.
DIVX Owners Association (http://members.shae.ca/the-doa/)
What was DIVX ? (http://www.dvdjournal.com/extra/divx.html)
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