Vendors to support DVD as it hits the big time

Vendors to support DVD as it hits the big time

Four years after its debut, DVD (digital versatile disk) looks like it can finally call itself a major format.

The DVD-Video version of the format was beginning to move into the US marketplace at the time of last year's Comdex and the adoption earlier this year of DVD-ROM drives in favour of CD-ROM drives by many mid-market PC makers has helped expand the video market.

The PC software market has been slower to pick up the format, largely because the 650MB of space offered by a CD-ROM is sufficient for many current applications. There are a few exceptions - several encyclopedias make use of the 2.4GB of space on single-sided DVD-ROM disks and, mirroring the early days of the VHS videotape format, the system is proving popular among adult software and image vendors.

However, a small group of Norwegian hackers recently released a program, called DeCSS, that can break the encryption on almost any DVD disk, infuriating the motion picture industry who spent years negotiating the encryption standard for digital video discs (DVD).

Every DVD disk has about 400 keys on it to make the disk readable to all of the various DVD players on the market. The players, in turn, also have the 400 keys licensed and encrypted in their hardware or software playback systems. But apparently one program, the XingDVD Player, from RealNetworks subsidiary Xing Technologies, didn't have its keys adequately safeguarded. The hackers were thus able to deduce how to crack DVDs and released the DeCSS program, which will do it automatically.

Big year ahead

Despite these setbacks, an IDC report, released during Comdex, forecasts 2000 could be a big year for DVD. Currently, just over 4 per cent of US households already have a DVD player, according to the survey. `And almost one out of five households say they are going to buy a DVD player in the next 12 months,' said Kevin Hause, IDC's manager of consumer research.

The 2000 launch of Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation 2 console is also likely to help expand the market for DVD-Video. The device uses DVD-ROM as its main media and features the ability to play DVD-Video disks. Sony anticipates sales in Japan of more than 1 million units in PlayStation 2's first month of sales.

In the rewritable media market, DVD-RAM is also beginning to find its place. Current DVD-RAM disks offer a storage capacity of 2.6GB and 5.2GB on single- and double-sided media respectively, although the new generation of the system increases this level of capacity. By using two recording layers on each disk, a single-sided, dual-layer disk can accommodate 4.7GB, while a double-sided, dual-layer disk will hold 9.4GB.

Vendors hope to begin shipping drives and disks to support the format in the first half of 2000.

The Comdex show also saw several manufacturers show off systems based on the already launched one-time recording format DVD-R and samples of DVD-RW, a rewritable version of DVD more tailored to storing video than data. The middle of 2000 should see the latter format hit the market.

Hitachi went a step further than that, showing off a prototype of a new DVD-RAM-based digital camcorder that records images onto a new 8-centimetre version of the format.

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