DVD all the rage at Consumer Electronics Show

DVD player sales rose 371 percent in 1999, and the Consumer Electronics Association predicts another 6.5 million units--generating $1.5 billion in revenue--will be sold this year.

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DVD picked up a new moniker at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas: "Medium of the Millennium."

DVD player sales rose 371 percent in 1999, and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) predicts another 6.5 million units--generating $1.5 billion in revenue--will be sold this year.

Many of the new DVD devices herald the convergence of computing and home entertainment, reading DVD, CD, CD-ROM and CD-RW formats and adopting the IEEE 1394 connectivity standard.

Although the CEA touts DVD as the fastest-growing consumer new media format in history, it started out 1999 more modestly. The CEA originally projected 1.6 million DVD players would be sold last year. Two revised estimates later put the number closer to 4 million, and the final tally could be greater.

DVD's biggest boost is coming from movie studios releasing more titles on DVD. "But it's kind of a chicken-and-egg thing, figuring which comes first: consumers buying enough DVD players to get more movies released or more movies increasing sales of players," said Ann Saybolt, a director with the CEA.

Industry trade organization the Entertainment Group estimates studios shipped 50 million DVD movies and music videos during the fourth quarter, generating $2 billion in revenue. The projection for this year is 200 million DVDs, bringing in about half the revenue of VHS movies and music videos. Currently 5,000 titles are available on DVD, with the number expected to swell to 8,500 this year, according to the Entertainment Group.

With all the huff, it is not surprising the number of new DVD products on display at CES. But privately, several manufacturers said they were delaying until summer some of the most exciting products because of a piracy program that can crack the encryption safeguarding DVDs.

In a setback last week, a judge rejected a DVD industry group's request to block the distribution of the piracy program. Another hearing is scheduled for next week.

Until the situation is resolved or a new encryption method is developed, some companies are holding up new DVD products.

Many of new DVD products are incorporating some existing computer technologies for broadening the entertainment experience beyond just video and watching movies.

Sony is one of the companies betting that consumers will crave combination computing and entertainment centers. The company has been putting IEEE 1394, commonly known as FireWire and what Sony refers to as i.Link, on PCs and notebooks and now consumer electronics.

While USB remains entrenched on PCs and supporting peripherals, FireWire is outgrowing its computing roots, finding a place in consumer electronics devices, such as DVD players.

"One of the promises of [FireWire] is to have multiple products hooked up just like your PC network," said Dan Nicholson, Sony's marketing manager for digital imaging. Unlike USB, FireWire allows devices, such as printers and DVD players, to be shared among PCs and other devices without the difficulties typical of setting up computer networks.

Sony envisions a boom in consumer electronic FireWire networks, connecting together PCs, DVD recorders, digital video cameras, printers, MP3 players, and more.

For those attending this year's show, new DVD products were in abundance. Some of those on display included:

Kenwood and Zayante showed off a prototype DVD player, CD player and minidisk recorder with FireWire connectivity.

Panasonic's DVD video recorder, the VDR-10000, promises up to four hours of television programming stored on a disk playable in most DVD-ROM equipped PCs. The VDR-1000 utilizes DVD-RAM, one of two rewritable DVD formats used by computers for storing data and video.

The VDR-10000, which conforms to the recently introduced 4.7-GB DVD-RAM standard, is one for first devices to bring the DVD rewritable technology to consumers. Panasonic would not release pricing for the DVD recorder, which is expected to ship in the summer.

Zenith unveiled a DVD player with five-disc changer that reads DVD, CD, CD-R and CD-RW formats. Other features include a 4x-16x movable Zoom and Dolby Digital support.

EchoStar Communications introduced DISH DVD, a combination satellite television receiver and DVD player, available this summer. The unit, which will sell for $399, features a four-device remote control and Dolby Digital sound. When connected to EchoStar's Dish 500 satellite receiver it can get signals from two satellites.

Sony unveiled the SVR-2000, a device capable of recording nine hours of DVD-video quality programming. The SVR-2000, which will be available in the spring for about $500, uses a 30-GB hard drive to store programming and is equipped with i.Link for home networking or transferring data to another device.