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Home sales of DVD top million mark

Robby the Robot is helping the DVD industry surge, and some say the technology will truly take off in 1999.

One of the most influential figures for the DVD industry this year turned out to be the "Danger, Will Robinson" robot from Lost in Space.

Approximately 1.2 million DVD home players were sold worldwide in 1998, double the figure from the previous year, because of a steady surge of major film releases on DVD discs, according to InfoTech Research.

By the end of the year, more than 3,000 films will be available on DVD, and sales of home DVD players will top 2 million next year, said Ted Pine, president of InfoTech. By 2000, more than 40 million home units will be sold, InfoTech predicts.

"Believe it or not Lost in Space was really big," he said, estimating that the movie remake of the 60s TV show sold 300,000 copies.

Meanwhile, while sales of DVD drives in computers far outpaced sales of home units, the technology has yet to find a home in the PC market. Major manufacturers are incorporating the drives into multimedia PCs; however, few software programs for DVD exist. As a result, people get DVD drives as a feature, but don't use them.

"The numbers are deceptive. It's not an installed base that's being exploited," Pine said. In a recent review of multimedia applications, Pine said he found only three multimedia applications. Two were atlases.

The dearth lay both in timing and business considerations. Many developers only started their DVD efforts recently, so the products aren't ready yet. On a practical level, though, game developers have been spending more of their efforts on the consoles like the Sony Playstation rather than the PC.

The picture, however, is changing. The declining price of DVD drives means that they will start to be incorporated across mainstream PCs, including sub-$1,000 PCs, as well as TV set-top boxes. The larger installed base will likely give a boost to developers.

Developers are also devising ways to distinguish the format from other media. The Lost in Space disk, for instance, contains games and Web features that can only be exploited on a PC. Likewise, one of the atlas applications contains a number of 3D mapping features. "It is a non-trivial exploitation of the greater capacity," Pine said.

Commitments from major rental chains such as Blockbuster Video, which recently began renting DVD titles, has done much to spur interest in the technology.

Reel.com, an Internet-only video store, reports that a growing number of their customers are interested in DVD.

"What really surprised us was DVD sales. In the month of December, they were 35 percent of our total business," said Julie Wainwright, CEO of Reel.com. Some buyers did not even own DVD players yet, she added. "We noticed before Christmas that a lot of them didn't have DVD players, but were assuming they were going to get one.