Hi-def video to ring in digital living room

A new generation of high-definition TV and DVD technology heralds the arrival of the digital living room, according to the head of Taiwanese media software maker CyberLink, Alice Chang. Users love high-definition TV because it's like watching a football game from the sidelines, while HD-DVD and Blu-ray, the high-definition video disc formats, put the cinema in your house and offer fun new possibilities. For example, the HD-DVD version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen includes a shoot 'em up game users can play. Bad guys don't die when hit, but the game does keep the score. Tokyo Drift includes a function that puts the story cards used to make the movie in the top left corner of the corresponding scene, giving users a glimpse of the creative process. And that's just the beginning, Chang said. One function her company is working on could one day let users buy items they see in movies on the click of a mouse. So instead of wondering where 007 picked up that suave tuxedo, or Carrie Bradshaw got her new shoes, users can click on them and buy immediately at Amazon.com or eBay. Here's what else Chang had to say.

IDG: The digital home is a buzzword we've been hearing about for years, but it hasn't really happened yet. What has changed that makes you think it's on the way now?

Alice Chang (AC): I think that because Apple Computer has been so successful with the iPod, the rest of the non-Apple world is looking at the Apple story and wondering how to do the same thing, but they're using the Wintel [Windows + Intel] platform to launch from. At the end of last year, we saw a lot more companies start talking about the digital home, and now we have Intel with Viiv, and Microsoft with Vista, and Apple with its iTV, so it's gaining momentum.

IDG: What's your definition of the digital home? What does it include?

AC: When I think of the digital home, I think of myself at home, on my couch, watching TV, watching DVDs and listening to music. As users, that's what we're doing most of the time. In DVD [CyberLink is] already there. In TV, we started investing a few years ago and as time went on, video over PCs became more and more popular, with TV tuners for PCs, and making your PC into a TiVo. These things are all possible now. And now TV has moved from analog to digital, and up to hi-def (high-definition).

For the digital home, the digital entertainment TV and DVD will be essential for entertainment. So [CyberLink] is helping make sure the PC can move from the work ecosystem to the entertainment ecosystem; so we're thinking about sharing, about easy access, home access, the PC as a home media device with all the media files, and a TV tuner.

IDG: What has been the hardest part in CyberLink's software development efforts in HD DVD and Blu-ray?

AC: In the last two-years, we have put a lot of effort into the interactive features in HD-DVD and Blu-ray movies. Investors often ask us, 'Why do you spend so much R&D money? DVD is already mature, why do your R&D expenses keep on growing?' -- because it's a whole new team for HD-DVD, for the digital home. I told investors that the return on investment wouldn't come in two years; maybe by 2007, 2008 it will start to trend up. And finally, finally, this year, we see at least HD-DVD has already shipped. Maybe it's not popular, maybe the format is still in competition with Blu-ray, but finally, the ecosystem, the first version, is ready. And studios are finally ready, releasing the first titles. This is a whole new generation. It's very exciting.

IDG: How long do you think it will take for HD-DVD and Blu-ray to gain a following?

AC: It's just starting now. It's slow -- but it is taking off and it's gaining momentum. I think as prices come down, it will become more popular. When DVD-ROM was first released, it was around $US300, and that was years ago. But HD-DVD and Blu-ray are getting a boost from Microsoft and Sony and other multinationals, and that should speed up Blu-ray and HD-DVD.

We saw DVD in 1998, and at that time it was so premature, it was such a primitive environment compared to now. Now you hardly see video tapes anymore. The rise to maturity for CD, DVD took about 8 years. It won't take that long for Blu-ray and HD-DVD, the new technology is moving fast. In fact, we've already had a look at combo Blu-ray/HD-DVD players.

IDG: CyberLink is often asked to tweak its software to the specific needs of users in different cultures around the world. What kind of differences do you see?

AC: We see a big difference from vendors in different countries. In Japan, for example, users like more advanced functions, very detailed functions. In the US, ease-of-use is the key, so we have to adapt to different requirements of different areas.

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