Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Obligatory Anti-DIVX Editorial

Jerry Stratton, May 29, 1999

The opinions on this page are apparently a moot point. As of June 15, 1999, DIVX has been discontinued. If you are a DIVX owner, you need to request a refund for any permanent-viewing (“silver”) discs, as well as for the DIVX “enhancement” of your player. The official timetable has your DIVX discs failing after June 30, 2001. My prediction: given Circuit City’s general customer support track record, I suspect general failures and problems viewing DIVX well before the official cutoff date. But that’s just a prediction.

Also, for those of you into video compression, this rant has nothing whatsoever with the new DIVX codec. What possessed an Internet startup to name their codec after a failed business venture is beyond me.

Previous analysis follows:

This is the obligatory Anti-DIVX web page. Every DVD site has to have one; it’s in the Internet Contract.

Just kidding, but it does seem like every DVD reviewer is anti-DIVX—and it turns out with good reason. When I first started looking into DVD, DIVX seemed like a good idea: I’ve long been an advocate of “micropayments” for web-based and incremental usage. The problem with DIVX is that it doesn’t do anything right. Whoever designed DIVX knows nothing about the future of communications and entertainment; DIVX is designed to fail; it offers no advantage to the consumer and has a number of disadvantages.

What it basically comes down to is that DIVX retailers are charging users an added cost in order to give them the “privilege” of having their viewing habits tracked. There is no other point to it. And it appears that consumers realize this; DIVX is practically dead already.

Cost Comparisons

I compared the costs of DIVX to the other options available to me: Amazon.Com, Hollywood Video, and NetFlix. Please note that the following cost analyses do not include the added cost of a DIVX player! The Panasonic 410, for example, is the DIVX version of the non-DIVX Panasonic A110. The 410 costs $100 more at Circuit City.

Information Sources:

Note, of course, that these prices are subject to change.


DIVX is mostly a competitor to movie rentals. So I compared DIVX with the two other options available to me: Hollywood Video (around the corner) and NetFlix.com (an Internet rental service). NetFlix has advantages similar to those espoused by DIVX: there is no trouble returning rentals, because all you need to do is pop the rental disc into the supplied return mailer, and put it in your mailbox, or into any public mailbox.

DIVX InitialNetFlixHollywood Video
One Movie$5.50$4.50$3.75
Two Movies$10.50$9.00$7.50
Time PeriodTwo DaysSeven DaysFive Days
Note: Costs include shipping/handling and local taxes where appropriate.

Multiple Rentals

DIVX discs become cheaper for subsequent two-day “rentals”, since you no longer have to pay shipping/handling, and the cost of rental itself is slightly lower.

Cost Multiple Rentals
DIVXNetFlixHollywood Video
Two Viewings$8.75$9.00$7.50
Three Viewings$12.00$13.50$11.25
Note: Costs include shipping/handling and local taxes, but do not take into account the longer viewing periods of NetFlix and Hollywood Video. Watching any part of a movie twice in seven days is another rental for DIVX, but not for Netflix.


Also, DIVX discs can be “converted” to partial ownership viewings. This is called the “Silver conversion”. It costs more, but it means that you no longer have to pay rental fees. The Silver conversion has different costs for different discs. Likewise, different DVDs have different retail prices. I chose the example discs from the DIVX web site.

Cost of Ownership
DIVXAmazon.ComDIVX Rentals
Thelma & Louise$20.50$21.506
Note: Costs include shipping/handling. “DIVX Rentals” shows how many times you can stick the disc into your player before having it cost more than purchasing the disc outright from Amazon.

The above prices assume you perform the Silver conversion immediately. A single extra viewing before doing the conversion adds $3.25 to the price. The Silver conversion does not give you a discount for having already spent money viewing the disc. The more you view it before converting, the more you end up paying for that disc. If, over the course of five years, you break out the Thelma & Louise DIVX disc six times, you’ve paid as much as if you bought it. And you still own nothing. From a consumer standpoint, DIVX is a bet that you’ll not want to watch the movie you just bought. (Note: NetFlix and Amazon have just announced a “preview before you buy” program which basically gives you a free rental if you rent a DVD from NetFlix and then decide to purchase the DVD from Amazon. The offer even includes free shipping on the rental!)

The “rental periods” I’ve been talking about are for any viewing. If you want to watch the last five minutes of Thelma & Louise, it costs $3.25. If you want to watch the blast-off in Armageddon, it costs $3.25. This problem is going to compound itself if you are a parent: how many times have you stuck in a Disney film or cartoon for the kids, to have them watch it a couple of minutes and lose interest? And then a few days later have them begging to watch the movie again? Each time you stick it in, $3.25. Doesn’t matter if they watch it or not.

Because of this, DIVX discs tend not to have extra features. DVD discs often have cool extras, such as interviews with the director, an overview of how the film was made, interviews with the actors, a running commentary of the movie. The Hair disc even includes all the wild seventies-style posters used to advertise the movie and plays. It’s a very nice feature on DVD, but would you really want to see a couple of posters on your TV for $3.25? Is ten minutes of Steven Spielberg worth $3.25? Unless you make sure that you watch the extras within your two-day viewing period, it isn’t worth it. DIVX manufacturers correctly realize that extra features aren’t going to be a selling point on DIVX, so they don’t bother adding them in.

Bottom Line

Most of the time there isn’t a cost savings using DIVX discs instead of renting or purchasing. Even when there is, the savings is measured in cents. How long will it take before those tiny savings cover the initial $100 extra cost of the DIVX player over the DVD player? The bottom line is that DIVX costs more over the short term, costs more over the long term, and provides fewer added features than standard DVD.

Ownership Questions

The biggest problem with DIVX, however, is that you do not own the disc. You have no right to expect that you will always be able to view the disc, or that you will be able to view the disc at any particular time. The DIVX customer agreement specifically states that DIVX is not responsible for interruption of service due to, for example, failure of telephone lines. The DIVX player uses your telephone line to transfer information about what you’ve viewed to the DIVX database for billing. If the telephone line goes down, or if you unplug it, your player can refuse to play discs. The customer agreement requires that your player always be connected to your working telephone line.

In addition, your billing information is connected to your player. If you sell the player, if your player is stolen, you are responsible for reporting this to DIVX within 24 hours.

The agreement also states that you possess “only a nonexclusive, limited license to view the materials contained in the DIVX discs”. What happens if DIVX goes out of business? Something that is looking more and more likely. You have no right to expect to be able to view your DIVX discs after that happens. And who will you complain to if that happens? If the company is out of business, there is no one to complain to.

If you pay for a Silver conversion on the disc, you still do not own the disc. You have purchased unlimited viewing for your account. If you later sell your DIVX player, you cannot transfer ownership of the Silver conversion. If you give the discs away with your DIVX player, the new owner starts almost from scratch: subsequent rentals will be $3.25 for each two-day viewing period. If you loan the disc to a friend to play on their DIVX player, they can’t take advantage of it being silver on your account. To their account, it is just another disc and each rental is $3.25.

I was unable to get an answer on whether or not Silver conversions will continue to play if the server stops responding, as, for example, it would if DIVX went out of business.

There are even rumors that discs, including silver discs, will occasionally be ‘disabled’ if the movie returns to the big screen. Disney does this sort of thing with VHS today: it stops selling them if a movie is re-released. They can’t stop you from viewing an already-purchased videotape of course, or an already-purchased DVD video. With DIVX, they can. Whether this rumor is true or not, the DIVX license does allow it.


DIVX players upload information about what you viewed to the DIVX central database for viewing. I asked DIVX what else was done with this information. Does DIVX keep information about an account’s viewing habits? Does it forward this information to DIVX partners? To the manufacturers of the DIVX discs? Does DIVX keep track of viewing information for Silver discs? For non-DIVX discs? I received a form response that didn’t answer these questions. Privacy isn’t perhaps a big deal for everyone, but it is a factor to take into account when making a purchase.

Decision: No DIVX

DIVX seems to be completely worthless, even dangerous, for the consumer. All of the advantages of DIVX seem to be on the DIVX company’s end.

  • The initial cost of purchasing a DIVX player is much more than purchasing a non-DIVX player.
  • The payment pattern for DIVX discs discourages added value features on DIVX discs.
  • The rental costs for DIVX discs are either more than for normal rentals, or so close as to not overcome the initial high cost of the player.
  • The total cost of ownership for DIVX discs can be astronomical, depending on how many times you’ve viewed the disc in the past.
  • The potential for loss of privacy is huge.
  • There is no guarantee that DIVX discs will be viewable at any particular time.
  • If DIVX goes under, there is no guarantee that DIVX discs will continue to play.

The bottom line is that DIVX appears to be more expensive and at the same time provides fewer features and more headaches. I decided against purchasing a DIVX player and have not regretted that decision.

June 16, 1999

Especially now that DIVX is dead. Circuit City is trying to spin the death of DIVX as the result of DIVX being “ahead of its time”. Don’t buy it. DIVX died precisely because it was behind the times. It tried to force the VHS rental system on DVD movie ownership. If there is a future for incremental entertainment payments for owned entertainment, it will be through distributed weighted micropayments, not centralized flat macropayments. DIVX was an attempt to wed nineteenth century corporate thinking onto a twenty-first century medium. Of course it failed. There was never any question that it would fail, the only question was whether or not it would take DVD with it. Fortunately, it died a lonely death and DVD flourishes.

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