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London Calling: DVD Europe 2001

April 2001 | According to DVD Europe keynote speaker Ken Barnes, 80 percent of disposable income in the U.K. is in the hands of citizens over 50. Addressing the multitudes of DVD Europe delegates on April 19 in London's Business Design Centre, Barnes presented the statistic in support of his contention that 25-year olds–the demographic group most associated with the phrase "disposable income" in the U.S.–aren't necessarily the most lucrative target audience for DVD titles.

Setting aside for the moment the question of how the disposable portion of a 50-year old's income is measure vis à vis that of a 25-year old, Barnes made an interesting point. Barnes's going concern, the Laurent Company, specializes in bringing restored classic movies to DVD. The best reason to conceive the DVD versions of movies–that is, how the discs are presented and augmented with "extra features"–for consumers 25 years and younger is because that's how they "see" movies. Their expectations shaped by a "computer-oriented" consciousness that takes multimedia, interactivity, and the like for granted, corresponds directly to what most DVDs are designed to deliver.

Barnes wasn't arguing that DVDs should be trimmed to antediluvian tastes–"putting out a film-only DVD is not only a wasted opportunity," he said, "but a disservice to the consumer." Rather, he argued, tastes will change, and older viewers who apparently have pounds to shed–will soon expect the "story behind the story" of the classic films they admire, and pay to see their new expectations met. Which is not to say that cultivating consumer tastes to DVD-style movie intake was the primary theme of DVD Europe 2001. However, there was a strong undercurrent of how DVD might be brought "to the unwashed masses" (in one presenter's words). This could occur on a number of levels, particularly through the emergence of desktop DVD creation and recording as new international pastimes for users who neither know nor care to know any more about DVD technology than they absolutely have to.

And who better to address the issue of vastly broadening the user base for in-home DVD creation than Apple Computer, who first posited the idea of home computer use at a time when virtually no one actually believed anyone would ever want to have computers at home? Apple's Mike Evangelist, formerly of Astarte, described Apple's DVD strategy thus: "It's not so much about advancing the art of DVD production as expanding it."

Describing Apple's iDVD, a simple template-based tool for rudimentary recording of up to one hour of converted QuickTime video to DVD-R, as offering "all that most people want to do with DVD," Evangelist offered, in effect, a challenge to the author and authoring house-packed audience. While conceding that most of the novices who took up iDVD would be churning out "horrible DVDs," he also pointed out that this would broaden the creative base for the format and challenge the professionals to demonstrate more acutely the need for the more sophisticated work they do. "They'll be in your face," he said.

Produced by United Business Media and chaired by One to One editor Tim Frost, EMedia Magazine columnist emerita Dana J. Parker, and DVD Primer publisher Jean-Luc Renard, the conference was comprised of "Business" sessions and "Expert's Workshops." One Expert session, "Authoring for Convergence," focused on DVD-Web and DVD-ROM authoring, and raised several interesting issues, not the least of which was that Apple's rapidly unfurling DVD strategy offers no relief from the platform's lingering playback failings.

Todd Collart of Interactual, whose PCFriendly remains the industry's leading Web-DVD authoring tool, spoke specifically to the need for media-translucent playback control in Web-DVD. "If we all do our jobs right," he said, "the consumer will never know whether the content is HTML, Web, or DVD-Video."

Zuma Digital's Blaine Graboyes addressed more directly the market and marketing possibilities of Web-DVD applications. Calling the direct marketing response rates of Web-DVD efforts "astronomical" from the start, he also suggested that Europe should be a "fertile market" for consumer commercial Web-DVD titles, given the success of Enhanced CD in European markets. New and notable among the exhibitions at the show: Spruce had its DVD Performer authoring solution on proud display, promoting it as a BetacamSP-specific alternative to the company's DVD Maestro solution, positioning Performer for professional non-commercial authoring. Mitsui and Rimage were also on hand, paired in promotion of Mitsui's DVD-R media and the DVD-R version of Rimage's Protege production system. The Rimage rep said sales of DVD production systems are, if anything, slower to date than US sales; he estimated Rimage had moved roughly 15 units so far in Europe.

Zen Research presented the first DVD-ROM drives based on its multibeam TrueX optical disc reading technology, a 25X Max unit. Combining components from Zen, Sanyo, and Infineon, drives will be manufactured and sold by Liteon, LG, and others.

Philips' show presence was twofold. In addition to a double-size booth showcasing Super AudioCD in the face of a program rife with DVD-Audio blue-skying, Philips also brought forth the DVD+RW technology it's been carting to trade shows for roughly three years now. An inoperative desktop DVD+RW sat unadorned on a side table, while the set-top model took center stage, demonstrating live video recording and playback as well as a basic automated menu function. According to the Philips rep on hand, the desktop unit will write CD-R and CD-RW as well as DVD+RW; it will also record to write-once DVD+RW media, when discs become available. The set-top version also offers a broad range of playback capability, including CD-Audio on CD-R, CD-RW, and pressed CDs; DVD-R and DVD+RW written as DVD-Video; and pressed DVD-Video. No Super AudioCD, though; "too expensive," and not sufficiently aligned, demographically, with the target home recorder audience to justify the additional cost. Both units are expected for Q4 2001 release. And they mean it this time.

–Stephen F. Nathans

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