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Hundreds of films come to DVD

Warner Home Video, MGM Home Entertainment, and others give a boost to the DVD market by offering many more titles through retail outlets.

A raft of new DVD movies from major Hollywood studios could provide a boost to the fledgling digital video disc industry, which has been in dire need of more titles.

Warner Home Video, MGM Home Entertainment, New Line Home Video, and HBO Home Video said today that they will release hundreds of film titles in the DVD format to retail outlets over the next three months. To date, titles have numbered only in the dozens, giving pause to consumers trying to decide whether to purchase DVD hardware. Titles are expected to be priced at $24.98.

Although originally envisioned as the engine behind a stand-alone device connected to a TV for home entertainment, DVD-ROM drives are now primarily found as playback and storage devices for high-end consumer PCs and PC-theater systems, said Mary Bourdon, senior industry analyst at Dataquest. Many potential buyers of standalone TV DVD players are put off by the fact that these players can not record, making them a less-than-comparable replacement for VCRs in this respect.

Currently, both Gateway 2000 and Compaq offer PC-TVs with DVD-ROM drives, while IBM offers a drive on its Aptiva line of consumer PCs. Toshiba has also said it plans to ship a slim DVD-ROM drive for notebook PCs next month as well as unveil recordable DVD-RAM drives. Panasonic has announced it will release a notebook PC with a DVD drive early next month.

DVD-ROM allows playback of titles only, while DVD-RAM--and whatever other standards emerge--provides both playback and recording. DVDs go far beyond CD-ROMs, which DVDs will replace, in many respects. For example, they let users play full-length movies with subtitles in different languages, add parental ratings, and provide control over viewing angles. DVDs are also expected to allow advanced interactive games, as well as offer backward compatibility with current CD-ROM titles. Single DVD discs hold about 4.7GB of data, enough to hold full-length videos and films. By contrast, CD-ROMs have a capacity of only about 0.6GB.

So far, DVD sales have been relatively anemic, but should explode by riding the coattails of PCs. A million DVD-ROM drives are expected to be in customers' hands by the end of the year, joined by sales of 8.2 million more in 1998, Bourdon said. A total of 10 million will be sold by 1999, she added, nearly all being sold as part of a PC. While movies will prompt customers to use the drives, Bourdon predicted that interactive discs, databases, and other data-capacity-intensive DVD applications would come out as well.

So far, only 148,690 DVD players had made their way to customers by August 15, 1997, according to the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association.

The DVD titles that will be released between August and October include high-brow films such as Raging Bull, Michael Collins, and A Streetcar Named Desire: The Original Director's Version as well as Purple Rain, National Lampoon's Vacation, Mortal Kombat, Selena, Addicted to Love, Austin Powers, and Batman & Robin.

Stand-alone DVD players will compete with VCRs, but this will not for some time, added Bourdon.

First, the industry will have to agree on a standard technology that allows users to record and erase discs. There are four competing standards right now being pushed by different industry players. DVD-RAM is only one of the proposals.

Second, even when a standard is established, the price of a standalone unit will have to come down to $200. Currently, projected prices for DVD-RAM drives run at $750.

Third, the entertainment industry giants will have to improve and agree on an encryption technology. The current 40-bit encryption standard used on DVD discs, which is supposed to stop copyright pirates, has already been cracked in China. Stronger encryption, however, forces PCs and players to run at a crawl. Partially as a result, Fox, Paramount, and Disney have not committed to producing materials on DVD, Burdon noted.

Until these factors can be worked out, "I don't see it replacing VCRs," she said.

DVD was originally released commercially in Japan at the end of 1996 and earlier this year in the U.S. So far, Warner claims it has sold more than 1 million DVD discs. "We are extremely encouraged by the consumer response to this product," said Warren Lieberfarb, president, Warner Home Video, in a prepared statement. "In just five months, WHV has sold more than 1.2 million discs in seven cities," he added.