Tech Industry

DVD to break through in PCs

DVD technology may turn the personal computer into a primary home entertainment platform, but probably won't do well as a standalone product.

DVD technology may turn the personal computer into a primary home entertainment platform, possibly displacing such traditional products as the TV as the focus for electronic recreation, according to a study from a major marketing research firm.

The study emerges as the home PC metamorphoses into a high-tech multimedia hub, controlling a wide range of devices including DVD-ROM drives, cameras, and communication devices.

"DVD's entertainment capabilities will be inextricably linked to computers for the next two to four years...Consumers will increasingly accept the PC as a viable and unique entertainment alternative," according to the Forrester Research study.

DVD technology will make its first and fastest inroads in the PC industry--not the consumer electronics realm--according to the study. By the year 2002, DVD-equipped PCs will have an installed base of 53 million units. By the turn of the century, DVD-ROM titles will begin to outnumber CD-ROM titles.

And as early as next year, study author Mark Hardie expects computer manufacturers to start scrapping CD-ROM drives in favor of DVD-ROM drives.

DVD-ROM drives will read CD-ROM titles and eventually provide storage capability as well. DVD will also bring film titles to the PC, and together with the expanded gaming possibilities of DVD, PCs are expected to become vehicles used as much for entertainment as for information.

Generally, because of increased storage capability, DVD allows for a quantum leap in multimedia- and video-rich applications on the PC.

"It's not that you're going to watch more movies on the PC than the TV," said Hardie. "But what we'll get initially is that movies and television and movie-like content on the DVD-enabled PC will get audiences used to fact that the PC can do more than just calculate Quicken spreadsheets. And after that you'll see new forms of entertainment that use the inherent advantage of interactivity."

The next five years will prove less favorable for the video and music industries' DVD efforts, however, which target the TV- and home stereo-centric crowd, according to the study. In 2002, only 5.2 percent of households in the U.S. will own a standalone (non-PC) DVD-Video player, while only 2 percent will have a DVD-Audio player. As a result, Forrester believes that the PC will be transformed into a more viable consumer entertainment device.

Though standalone DVD Video promises clearer images and sound, a convenient CD-sized design, and added features like subtitle language options, the new format faces numerous hurdles including lack of available titles, cost, the need to add expensive home theater components, and the lack of recording capability, according to the study. Therefore DVD Video is not a compelling replacement for a VCR.

Another consumer issue plaguing DVD is the continuing uncertainty over standards. While consumers currently are buying one format, some companies are considering a rental-based format known as Divx. The uncertainty makes widespread adoption less likely, according to Hardie.

"There's been no effort on the part of manufacturers to reach one standard and agree on it," he said.

DVD Audio discs face an even steeper uphill battle for market share. The biggest hurdle is that CD audio is already digital.

"For the average consumer, there's no reason to buy it," said Hardie. "What DVD Audio offers, the majority will never want to buy: six-channel audio surround-sound. Not only do you need to buy the player but also the receiver and the speakers. And consumers just recently switched from vinyl to CD."

But DVD on the PC still has a ways to go too. Non-movie DVD-ROM titles have been extremely slow in coming. Games designed for DVD-ROM number less than five, according to an analyst at Dataquest, and only a small number of CD-ROM gaming and other content titles have been re-released on the more compact new discs.