Articles: The DVD Explosion




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Laurence Washington

  OK. You've heard the hype.

  The DVD video revolution is here -- and it's putting Laserdisc and video tape on notice.

  DVD, the two-year-old optical format market, referred to (unofficially) as "Digital Video Disc" or "Digital Versatile Disc," is booming! Industry experts are predicting that like the VCR, it's just a matter of time before every other American household has a DVD Video player.

  So what exactly is DVD?

  DVD has a better picture quality than Laserdisc, the convince of VHS (Video Home System) and the superior sound quality of CDs (Compact Disc).

  DVD is the mind-boggling technology of digitally encoding multimedia (movies, music, photographs and text) on a compact disc -- those 1/2 ounce saucer-sized wafers co-invented in the late '70s by "the usual gang of suspects" holed up in the research laboratories at Sony and Philips.

  However, DVD Video can hold well over seven times more information than standard audio CDs or computer's CD-ROMs.

  "We supported it whole heartily from the beginning in March 1997," says Peter Bush, Media Play and Musicland's vice president of video merchandise. "Currently DVD is over 20 percent of our video volume. It has made a significant mark very quickly."

  Bush says the DVD market estimates there are a little over two million households equipped with DVD players at the moment. The industry is forecasting four million households will have DVD players by the end of 1999.

  Jay Zolitor, president and CEO of Laserland in Denver, says DVD's overnight popularity comes mainly from its size, making them better for storage, and the disc's data compression.

  Using an average industry ballpark figure, DVDs can hold up to 133 to 160 minutes of material -- depending on the type of material (audio, video, photos and text) which is being compressed.

  "They can get a lot of information on DVD," Zolitor says. "And because of that, they have features on DVD that never were on VHS and very rarely on Laserdisc."

  Before or after viewing its movie, DVD offers viewers different angles of view for certain scenes, a running director's commentary, actor's biographies, behind the scenes mini-features and coming attractions all at the touch of a finger.

  "It's an interactive type menu system," Zolitor says. "And that makes it more interesting for consumers. And DVDs typically cost less (under $20 to $35) than Laserdisc ($35 to $40) which people are kind of comparing them to. Not VHS ($14)."

  Zolitor adds that people are embracing DVDs even more so now that DVD readers are now in IBM and Macintosh home computers. So a lot of people are using their computers as a DVD player.

  However, Zolitor says one downside to DVDs is its Macrovision encoding that prevents consumers from making copies of the disc -- something they could do with Laserdisc and VHS tape. Another downside is DVD's intense compact data structure which makes them more susceptible to damage.

  "DVD's data is so compacted, that a fingerprint or a scratch has a tendency of preventing the machine from reading the data on the disc. So that's kind of a downfall for DVDs in terms of durability."

  However, those facts hadn't stopped DVD from becoming the most widely accepted consumer electric product ever, according to Denver Soundtrack salesperson, Geoffery Olsen.

  "And that's more accepted than television, CDs, VHS, Beta or anything," Olsen says. Olsen says DVD players, which originally cost a king's ransom, now range from $250 to $1,000. Or the really high-end equipment can cost that's $2,500.

  "The biggest difference in equipment is the quality of manufacturer's components. It's not so much the price range that consumers need to look at, Olsen says Buyers need to look at the brand's reliability ratings. The mid-level price brand running from $300 to $500 are going to out perform the $248 special at a major electronic chain superstore.

  Olsen says if the consumer has a 27 inch or larger television set, they'll probably see the difference in picture quality from VHS.

  "It depends on the sizes of your room," Olsen says. "It's the size of the room that you want to gage the television by. You wouldn't want a 50-inch screen if you are sitting any closer than 12 feet away. You're going to want to have a good viewing distance. But it's the sound that brings in the home theater experience."

  Media Play's Peter Bush believes DVDs will never replace VCRs, even though some industry insiders see both Laserdisc and VHS declining.

  "DVD is going to grow quite a bit," Bush says. "We're hearing estimates that in the year 2000 the installed base (eight to 10 million households by the end of next year) will double again.

  "And when you consider that active VCR renters are about 30 million households, when you have 10 million or a third of the VCR base now buying DVDs, that's a very large base." Over 3,000 Titles (and counting) are available.

  Title availability and reasonable cost prompted Denverite Michael Reel the finally breakdown and purchase a DVD player last year.

  "At the time, you could only rent Lethal Weapon 4 and the Avengers," Reel says. "DVD had them available for under $20. I bought my player for $350, because I was tried of waiting for the rent only titles to become available for sale."

  Peter Bush vice president of video merchandise for Media Play and Musicland says there are currently 3,000 DVD titles available from the courtroom drama A Civil Action, the romantic comedy She's All That, Affliction, Varsity Blues, Rushmore and the claustrophobic thriller A Simple Plan, to the romantic Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Pillow Talk, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and the action-packed Eastwood classics The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Gauntlet.

  "It's growing at the rate of about 200 titles a month," Bush says. "And what's really neat about DVDs are the features that are authored into the disc. It can be widescreen, pan and scan on the same disc, director commentary, deleted scenes and different endings. Video tape is basically watching a movie."

  However, not every title is being released on DVD like The Rounders, 54 and Mulan, according to Jay Zolitor, president and CEO of Laserland in Denver.

  "One of the things that you're not going to see is Star Wars," Zolitor says. "George Lucas has stated that he's not going to commit to DVD until all six episodes are completed."

  Zolitor adds that Steven Spielberg has not totally embraced DVD either.

  "And Disney animation and some Paramount and Fox titles you're not going to see just yet, because they committed to DVD very late," Zolitor says.

  However, even with a few missing titles, Zolitor says the average consumer is overwelmingly embracing DVD, whereas Laserdisc owners were an elitists type of group and never attracted a huge consumer audience.

  "Because of the mass publicity DVDs are getting," Zolitor says, the averge consumer is starting to embrace DVD without that elitists mentality. DVD is just another step up, just like audio cassette were replaced by CDs."


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