When it hit the market this spring, NUON was heralded
as the first step toward DVD's future, blending the format's
high-quality sound and video with interactivity and 3-D
gaming. Several months later, despite the technology's support
among authoring houses and system providers, the advanced
mediaprocessor has failed to generate excitement in the
entertainment industry so far.
VM Labs developed NUON to take the place of the MPEG decoder
chips in DVD players as well as digital satellite receivers
and set-top boxes. Samsung was the first DVD player manufacturer
out of the gate with the $349 DVD-N2000 Extiva, and Toshiba
entered the market this fall with the $299 SD-2300.
Zuma Digital has been working closely with VM Labs for
the past year, initially in early development efforts and
most recently in producing one of the first NUON discs for
the Samsung player. "I could sum up my experiences in three
categories," says Blaine Graboyes Zuma's chief operating
officer and creative director. "One, excitement in a new
TV-based platform that supports Web DVD--what I believe
to be one of the most exciting developments ever. Two, eagerness
for a manufacturer to actually mass release a Web DVD set-top
player already, as all NUON devices will not initially ship
with Internet connectivity. Three, curiosity, enjoyment,
excitement, confusion, and delight in building some of the
first applications on what may very well become one of the
most important new technologies of the disc revolution."
Zuma's pack-in disc for the Samsung player contains a
standard DVD-Video portion with information and videos about
NUON, NUON game samples, and some information about ZUMA.
"From Zuma's side, one of the interesting facets was that
we placed a media advertisement to cross promote the new
Scream Trilogy box set, which we contributed to for Miramax,"
Graboyes says. "When used on a NUON player, the disc contains
mostly the same content but now becomes truly interactive.
There are dynamic menus and links to real game samples,
something not possible on a standard DVD Video player."
Zuma's developers are now working on new NUON projects:
two for clients and one for themselves, building one of
their business products, LibraryDVD, for use on NUON players.
"We see the VMLabs technology as a middle-ground between
the TV and PC, a platform that plays great media, but also
provides true programmatic control," Graboyes explains.
Despite the company's enthusiasm for NUON, it does not
recommend the technology to a client unless it seems "desperately
right" for the project, Graboyes says. "DVD is still very
new and complex to anyone, and to add another layer at this
point is generally more than one needs," he says. "We have
had a few entertainment clients ask about NUON, but the
problem there is installed base."
"We find that most movie distributors are not out to be
visionary with driving new consumer electronics markets,"
he continues. "They want to distribute their product to
the most people, in the best quality, and with the most
benefits for both their viewers and themselves. A new technology
like NUON will not meet these criteria. It will be costly
and time-consuming, for an industry that generally eschews
any added costs, and it will only reach a limited market--at
On the authoring system side, NUON has engendered a slow
response time as well. Spruce Technologies' customers have
not asked for NUON, but a few have expressed some interest,
according to Pete Challinger, a marketing consultant for
Spruce. "At this point there hasn't been a critical mass
supporting it, " he says. "It's like DVD-Audio--its seems
like it's been `Coming Soon' for a long time."
Mark Ely, vice president of business development at Sonic
Solutions has experienced much of the same with NUON-that
is, not much of anything. "So far very few, if any, customers
have expressed interest in NUON." He adds that supporting
NUON development won't change things much if at all for
authoring system vendors. Since it's primarily a value-add
for DVD player manufacturers, he says, there is nothing
unique that authoring houses need to do when working with
the technology. "The most interesting feature that I have
seen has been the zoom feature and the multi-angle thumbnail
feature--neither of which require any changes on the authoring
side," Ely says.
Marin Digital has evaluated the NUON technology, and president
Chris Armbrust says he sees "some great possibilities--the
base feature set is really cool." A possible project for
Marin could be the enhancement of DVD titles to take advantage
of NUON's interactivity, such as the ability to zoom and
change picture colors. NUON means more options for DVD title
developers, but also more work. "When you are designing
menus for DVD, you can do such creative things, but there
are some hoops you have to jump through." Armbrust says.
No Marin clients have asked about NUON, Armbrust says. "I
think it's lost in the noise of Playstation2, Nintendo,
and Sega. A slugfest is going on in the game machines. VM
Labs needs to close some deals to get the technology out
there and accepted," he adds.
As of this fall, there were still only six NUON games
available with 10 more about to hit the market, and VM Labs
appears to be focusing more on the Internet capabilities
of the technology. All NUON players have proprietary ports
similar to USB or FireWire, and the company planned to sell
compatible modem kits, bundled with Planetweb's Internet
software, in the fourth quarter of this year. Future NUON
players are expected to include built-in modems.
VM Labs has claimed to be in negotiations with several
hardware manufacturers, which will introduce new NUON-enhanced
DVD players at the start of next year. "As a WebDVD player,
it is the killer application," declares Graboyes. "These
types of devices--NUON, Playstation2, X-box, iDVD, etc.--are
going to test some notions about interactive media, like
does anybody even want this stuff at all? I think, yes,
obviously, but I have always been frustrated by starting
with that assumption, considering it has never been experimented
with on a large scale. I want to see 20 million people watching
interactive TV on a NUON device, with the ability to get
more information, order stuff, click on anything, and control
the plot. After a few years of that, we may start to have
a good idea about what direction to move in next."