From Multimedia Futures, a sister publication The DVD disk format is settled, but now that hardware has resolved its differences it’s up to the content providers to get their act together. Last year, Toshiba and Time Warner had agreed with Sony and Philips to collaborate on digital video disks to avoid two competing standards hitting […]
From Multimedia Futures, a sister publication
The DVD disk format is settled, but now that hardware has resolved its differences it’s up to the content providers to get their act together. Last year, Toshiba and Time Warner had agreed with Sony and Philips to collaborate on digital video disks to avoid two competing standards hitting the market and forming a replay of the VHS-Betamax video standard play off. Since then, all has gone quiet.But now, new wrangles have emerged between the hardware, movie and television industries which could threaten sales of the regular players, delaying the availability of players that can record. Philips has even downgraded its predicted sales of players as a result. The movie industry currently controls the distribution of videos by virtue of the different standards between the US and Europe. The US uses NTSC, France and most of Eastern Europe use SECAM, while the UK has the PAL standard. If it sells a video in the US before it is on general release in Europe, Europeans can’t watch it at home because the standards are not compatible. The industry wants to maintain these channels artificially, but the new disk, to be marketed as the DVD, is an ideal opportunity to remove channels and offer consumers the convenience of being able to buy and use DVD disks in any country. One source said the movie industry even wants to segregate the channels further and create six or seven channels. In discussions to finalise the DVD specifications last December, it managed to push through different standards for North America and Europe. Two audio systems will be used on disks to ensure incompatibility.The US will get Dolby AC-3 and Europe MPEG-2 audio. Players will have different power supplies and tuner elements too.
By Abigail Waraker
An international standard would be popular with consumers and push early demand, but more market segments give content providers control. The hardware companies’ hands are tied. Without content to drive sales, the DVD players can’t succeed. To date only Time Warner has announced that it will have titles, 250 in all, ready for the launch. And Time Warner is shouting about it the most, a source said. Time Warner was unavailable for comment. Philips has downgraded its predicted sales of players as a result of the artificial channels being enforced. Commonality works and is an issue when it comes to the speed of take off especially in the consumer domain. By the year 2000 it expects 10% of the drive sales to be DVD-based. Toshiba expects that figure to be 20%. Although not all hardware companies are bothered by the artificial market segmentation. In practice, that’s the way the video industry has always been, Sony said. It will not talk sales predictions until nearer the launch. Another issue with content providers is copyright. They are understandably worried about protecting their material and have made moves to restrict the availability of a player that can also record. This issue will not be resolved until the summer when copyright talks are scheduled. The current state of play means play-only devices will hit the market first. In December Toshiba said it would begin selling players in the US and Japan in early autumn at $500 to $700. Devices that record are not expected until sometime in 1998. Sony said it didn’t feel that the recording issue would be much of a stumbling block. During the talks in the summer it expects the issue to be resolved and a satisfactory compromised reached. We will meet somewhere in the middle it said. The copyright issue will not result in a delay to the availability unless the talks come up against problems. In the meantime it is working on an encryption system to protect material. An alternative is for hardware companies to pay software providers a levy against revenue loss from material that will inevitably be copied. Philips is less optimistic about the initial lack of a recordable device. Being able to record strengthens the consumer proposition. A delay in recordable devices may slow market take up
. In the meantime consumers will have to make do with play-only devices. The first player will be for the home entertainment market. It will replay the new DVDs, as well as audio CDs and the MPEG-1 Video CDs. But Philips anticipates that the DVD-ROM, due out shortly after the consumers players, will sell faster. PC users will buy the drives because they are used to frequent upgrades. It is effectively a super CD-ROM drive, Philips said. Initially it will be an add on, but ultimately will be built in as standard and act like a current CD-ROM drive but will have more memory and be faster. Final details will be determined later this year. No content for DVD- ROMs has been pre-announced yet. John Norledge, senior producer at Virgin Interactive Entertainment said we are not developing games specifically for that format at this stage, but when the specification is available, it shouldn’t take us too long to do a conversion. Maybe three months for a game like Heart of Darkness. He was optimistic about the prospects of the new format and sees the key benefits lying in the high quantity of data disks will be able to store, some 4.7Gb per side compared to 600Mb for a CD-ROM, and the improved image and audio quality possible for content. But he said the initial benefit will be for movie play back from a single disk, because the disks will have a running time of 133 minutes each side. Mark Van Weelde, deputy managing director at DK Multimedia said it expects to have DVD- ROM content out sometime at the end of 1997 or early 1998. The biggest advantage will be space, he said.It’s difficult to fit all the stuff you want on a CD-ROM because sound and video use a lot of memory. But he feels the CD-ROM market will still be larger than that for DVD by the year 2000. So while differences between the movie and hardware industries are not yet resolved it seems the disk’s advantages in terms of storage and image quality could save the day, even if the take off isn’t as fast as originally hoped.