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Designers hanker for next-generation DVDs

HD DVD and Blu-ray formats will bring about a revolution in DVD special features.

LOS ANGELES--As HD DVD and Blu-ray slug it out in a public relations battle, one group is sure to benefit from the move to replace the DVD: special-feature designers.

Those are the people who add the director's comments or actor bios to DVDs. They're about to be unchained, because both HD DVD and Blu-ray technologies offer a means to develop more-engaging special features, according to DVD designers.

"While the rest of the world has advanced in the past 10 years, (DVD designers) have been stuck," said David Anthony, co-founder of Giant Interactive, a New York design company. "The DVD player is essentially an appliance that hasn't been upgraded in 10 years. There haven't been any major changes in interactivity, processing or graphics. The new formats will allow us to do some amazing stuff."

Anthony made his comments after attending the DVD forum here and listening to a series of updates on the progress of the HD DVD format. Backers of that technology are competing with the Blu-ray camp to replace the standard DVD. Both the new formats hold much more information than the DVD and claim to offer superior images and sound.

Technicians working in the HD DVD camp demonstrated some of that technology's new capabilities Monday.

No longer will a viewer have to stop the movie to launch the special features. All HD DVD players are required to be equipped with a second video decoder, which enables dual video streams. That means a user can call up a separate clip that will appear in a small window alongside the main feature.

"For the first time, we're going to be able to run two independent video streams simultaneously," Anthony said.

This will offer audiences an entirely new movie-watching experience. For instance, a movie watcher wishing to see how an elaborate stunt was produced can call up a behind-the-scenes clip that reveals the secrets. Perhaps a viewer wants to watch the movie from a different angle or simultaneously play an interactive game that accompanies the movie; conceivably they'll have that power. Thanks to the Internet connectivity, HD DVD also makes it possible for designers to swap out a DVD's trailers so viewers don't have to sit through dated ads for old movies.

Anthony says the Blu-ray camp is also offering groundbreaking connectivity with its discs.

He says, however, that the application of the new features will likely require greater numbers of computer-savvy designers.

Standard DVDs offered so few options for special features that it required little computer know-how.

"Most designers grew up in the DVD industry and were specifically trained for it," said Anthony, who helped start Giant 10 years ago. "Now you're going to need people that are skilled in Java. We've recently hired two people with advanced degrees in computer science."