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DVD Kiosks: Life Beyond Hollywood

Mark Waldrep

June 2000 | For over three years now, DVD authoring and compression facilities have been busy churning out the four or five thousand titles that occupy the shelves at your local video retailer or rental shop. While there have been some notable non-entertainment projects completed for corporations, for purposes of sales and marketing, these consist mainly of looping product promotional pieces for trade shows, or collections of short video segments stitched together for playback on shiny new plasma screens in upscale malls throughout the country.

But the interactive potential of the DVD-Video format, especially when combined with the flexibility of a disc produced with an Internet DVD-ROM sector, has largely been overlooked by traditional multimedia developers, corporate America, and advertising agencies stuck in the mindset of CD-ROM and computers. Several times in the last few weeks, I have prepared extensive proposals that described how a DVD-Video/DVD-ROM hybrid disc could take the place of a computer-based CD-ROM/DVD-ROM project. In both cases, the prospective clients were not aware of the utility of DVD-Video, or had been led to believe that a "hardened" PC or dedicated kiosk system was the only reasonable choice. Obviously, the educational mission continues.

So just exactly what can and can't be accomplished using a DVD-Video/DVD-ROM disc as a substitute for a computer-based CD-ROM or even DVD-ROM? The answer might seem relatively straightforward given our experience with discs produced for the movie industry, but it's really more complex than it appears.

One of the most compelling aspects of the DVD-Video format is that it allows for random access to high-quality audio and video media, and plays them back using inexpensive machines and traditional TV monitors. So if a particular application calls for lots of video to be triggered by "clicking" or selecting choices through a series of menus, then DVD-Video is obviously the way to go.

However, what happens when the application requires the ability to access a specific video clip based on the spelling of its name? There is no alphanumeric keyboard provided with DVD-Video players, and when the titles are run on a DVD-ROM-equipped PC, there's no provision for making use of the keyboard for the needed database search.

But there is a way to allow alphabetic access using only the simple navigational commands available through highlighted areas on a menu screen. On some of the sales and marketing discs that we have created for ad agencies or graphic design firms, a content index is presented as one of the choices from the main menu. The content index submenu contains the letters A-Z and allows the user to select the first letter of the desired clip. When a letter is selected, the resulting screen lists all of the clips that begin with the particular letter. One more selection, and you're viewing the right piece of video. Not a perfect solution, but it is effective and simple.

The line into a computer-assisted DVD-ROM solution is crossed when the project requires a piece of information to be gathered from the user and forwarded to some central database. For an informational kiosk, this may or may not be necessary, but it is do-able if the disc is constructed as a DVD-Video/ DVD-ROM hybrid. The DVD-Video component provides the majority of the interactive experience through its series of menus and video clips. These clips can actually be output to a TV monitor through the S-VHS video connection usually found at the back of the computer or video card.

There is another sector on the disc that launches a computer application, allowing the user to input any requested demographic information. The application could be a dedicated program or, more likely, a Web browser that is displaying a FORM in HTML and is connected to a specific URL. Unfortunately, there is no easy or elegant way that I'm aware of to trigger a Web page directly from the DVD-Video specification. There are a couple of software packages that claim to provide true WebDVD interconnectedness through a series of associated "wraparound" presentation windows, but my experience with all of them has been less than friendly. In a DVD world full of reliability, simplicity, and a noted lack of technical support, I'm looking forward to the day when dedicated Web-connected consumer players take the computer out of my living room and, more importantly, out of the kiosk market.

There is enough flexibility in the DVD-Video format to accomplish the vast majority of kiosk applications currently running in showrooms and retail outlets throughout the world. The advantages of having full-screen MPEG-2-quality video, rather than a small-framed sub-window running a heavily compressed CINEPAK QuickTime movie--and a full-frequency 5.1 surround mix instead of a 22KHz, 16-bit soundfile--are obvious.

What is not so apparent is the utility of the disc that is produced. The DVD-Video/DVD-ROM hybrid disc that plays so well in a dedicated industrial DVD player will play just as well in my home entertainment system. It means that rather than impacting one person at a time in front of the expensive on-site kiosk, a company can distribute thousands or millions of "personal" kiosks to any user who has a DVD-Video player or a DVD-ROM-equipped computer. When that message makes it to corporate America and the ad agencies that service it, the kiosk concept will be taken to another level.

Mark Waldrep (mwaldrep@aixentertainment.com), regular columnist for DVD Between the Lines, is founder and President of AIX Entertainment, Inc. and Pacific Coast Sound Works, Inc. He has been involved in all areas of interactive multimedia development and audio production since the mid-1980s, and is the inventor of i-trax, a hybrid audio and data CD format.

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