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DVD coming soon to a home near you

Get ready for the DVD-ROM. The next generation of CD-ROMs is poised to hit the market, possibly accelerating the PC-TV convergence.

LOS ANGELES-- Get ready for the DVD-ROM. The next generation of CD-ROMs is poised to hit the market, and the delivery of higher-quality audio and video to your home computer could very well accelerate the expected convergence of PCs, televisions, and home entertainment centers.

DVD-ROMs looks just like CD-ROMs but can store up to 4.7GB of data for a single-layer disc, compared to a CD-ROM's 640MB. DVD-ROMs also support the MPEG2 video standard and can play high-resolution audio, which means 133 minutes of full-motion video at near-studio quality. And that means that CD-ROM games will be arcade quality, and developers across the spectrum won't have to skimp on multimedia details, according to a panel of pundits at the Electronic Entertainment Expo here. DVD-ROM players will also play all your existing CD-ROMs.

"It's a no-brainer," said Robert Kotick, CEO of game maker Activision. Kotick, with the whole industry of content providers, are eager to get DVD out the door to carry games, movies, and other rich multimedia content--perhaps bundling several titles all on one disc.

But with PCs capable of accessing all that entertainment power, DVD-ROMs may also speed up the expected but still far-off convergence of the PC and the TV.

"My personal opinion is that entertainment and some communication aspects of the PC will migrate to TV, while spreadsheets and other business applications will be computer-based," said Craig Eggers, director of DVD marketing at Toshiba America Consumer Products.

Content providers are eager for hardware systems that show off their wares, no matter how the systems are made. "There are many new devices coming in the next 12 months somewhere in the domain that no one has a name for yet," said Peter Black, president of CD-ROM maker Xiphias.

Although the panelists agreed that the implementation of DVD will drive hardware changes, they couldn't agree on which of those machines will be the winner in the consumer market. "If you ask five people, you'll get 20 opinions," said panel moderator Marty Brochstein.

But if users don't buy any of these hybrid machines designed specifically to run high-quality video, they'll still have to pay a price for upgrading to DVD. The players will require a PC with a MPEG2 board, and the higher-resolution audio and video will demand much more sophisticated--and expensive--speakers and monitors.

Aside from added costs that may cause some consumers to balk, the only obstacle to the delivery of DVD-ROMs is political. Hardware manufacturers like Philips wants to see the players out by Christmas. But the publishers and movie studios are having trouble coming to terms with the computer industry on copyright protection standards.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) have collaborated to submit a draft of hardware and software standards for protecting copyrights. If it goes before Congress for approval, as the MPAA and CEMA would like, then all DVD manufacturers would have to build their devices to support the standards.

The Information Technology Industry (ITI) Council, a trade organization that represents companies such as Apple Computer, Compaq Computer, Intel, Kodak, Motorola, and Silicon Graphics, doesn't like the plan, however, and called for a compromise. A resolution to the negotiations is expected to be announced on June 3.

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Dispute gives preview of DVD problems