Video industry divided over new home entertainment system
Jul. 15, 1997
LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Digital video disc will be the next revolution in home entertainment. Or it's yet another costly technology doomed to follow Beta, the laser disc and CD-i to the electronic graveyard.
The major movie studios aren't sure, either.
At the just-concluded Video Software Dealers Association convention, several leading video producers announced plans to release a wave of DVD titles. Yet nearly as many _ including trend-setting Disney _ are refusing, for now, to join the push.
``We're waiting for its validation with the consumer,'' said Jeff Yapp, head of Fox's home video unit. ``Visually, it's a much better format, but how many people have a sophisticated TV to play it on?
``The industry does nothing but talk about DVD, and the consumer says, `What's DVD?''' Yapp said.
A digital disc looks like an audio CD but has programming on both sides. It is played on a machine resembling a small laser disc player that costs more than $600. Compared to analog tape, DVD offers superior movie graphics and sound, and viewers can skip to any scene they want.
Though it resembles CD-i _ a compact disc-like movie player developed by Philips Electronics that never caught on _ DVD promises to replace current videotapes in the same way that CDs improved upon vinyl records.
Like a computer's CD-ROM, a DVD also includes additional programming.
For example, the DVD of Clint Eastwood's ``Absolute Power'' includes English, French and Spanish subtitles. The DVD of ``The Player'' features five scenes cut from the theatrical version and a special guide to the 50 stars who make cameos. Even one of the leading adult manufacturers, Vivid Video, is releasing its sex film ``Bobby Sox'' on DVD, complete with a chat with the film's director.
So far, the video divisions of New Line, Warner Bros., Universal, Columbia-TriStar and MGM have announced a slate of DVD titles. Current and planned releases include ``Jerry Maguire,'' ``Jumanji,'' ``Jurassic Park,'' ``Dances With Wolves,'' ``Turbulence'' and 1956's ``Forbidden Planet.''
Most titles will be available both for rental and sale, priced around $25. And with video rental income flat, DVD might be one way to boost income.
``Even the most passive consumer can tell the difference in quality,'' said David Bishop, president of MGM Home Entertainment. ``The difference between VHS (the standard videocassette format) and DVD is so discernible.''
Some manufacturers are worried that DVD will aid video pirates, even though the movies are encoded to make unauthorized copying difficult. Early versions of the DVD machines, which began selling in March, are not able to record.
``We came to the conclusion that while it was not 100 percent safe, it was good enough,'' said Stephen Einhorn, president of New Line Home Video.
The problems with earlier high-tech formats were cost and availability. A standard videocassette player costs less than $200, and it didn't make much sense to invest several times that in a laser disc player, despite the better picture quality.
Consumers also shied away from laser disc players because producers were slow to introduce new titles. Nowadays, the format is popular only with hard-core videophiles.
As for Beta, it is used mainly by TV news crews. Even though Beta was a superior format to VHS, a dearth of movies also doomed it as a popular format.
But producers are willing to chance DVD.
``You're in a chicken-and-egg scenario,'' New Line's Einhorn said. ``So you have to step in front. ... It appeals to us to be a part of a new format that delivers to the consumer.''
Disney is optimistic about DVD's future, but it's waiting _ as are Paramount and 20th Century Fox _ to see if the player will attract enough consumers to make it viable.
``I bet we'll be sitting here a year from now and the DVD player will cost only $250,'' said Michael Johnson, president of Disney's home video unit.