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Access all areas: DVD chipping torpedos Hollywood

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Up to 70 per cent of DVD players sold in Europe are 'chipped', making a mockery of industry attempts to control the market through hardware-embedded copyright restrictions. And by the next year, multi-region DVD players made in China and retailing for under £100, will be widely available, Jim Bottoms, of Understandings and Solutions, told delegates at this week's DVD Summit. Convergence was the buzzword at the conference, held in Dublin and now in its third year. But integration of DVD-dependent technologies into a single DEB (digital entertainment box) is still some way off. Today, divergence is the reality, with the issue of regional encoding for DVDs a particularly thorny subject so far as European consumers are concerned. They have no intention of buying into constrained hardware or waiting for movie releases scheduled on a zone-by-zone basis. Chipped players are single-region DVD players that have been modified to play all regions. The term 'chipped' is becoming common parlance among European consumers and resellers alike. And what do the punters play on their DVDs? Software intended for the American market, it seems. Giving a breakdown of DVD production figures for 1999, Bottoms concluded: "If there were less than five, maybe eight million [Region 1] discs shipped to the West European market, we'd be very surprised". On the floor, the general view was that regional coding would just go away, with many DVD producers currently opting for an all-region policy. The debate on this issue squarely blamed Hollywood for the fiasco that now prevails in Europe, such that imports of US DVD Region 1 releases are making up a significant total of overall sales. DVD: Access all areas Another example of the US-Europe divide became evident whenever the Internet and its role with the connected DVD was discussed. US on-line experience is vastly different to that in Europe. Unlike America households, most home users in Europe will be using a 56Kbps modem for their interactive entertainment and this won't be "always on". Hence, DVD's interaction with the Internet - to unlock additional content stored on the ROM segment (rather than the movie portion) of the disc - is a significant method of delivering added-value without the need for colossal downloads. (Encryption developer SpinWare mentioned file downloads of just 10KB to unlock additional files stored on DVD discs via the Internet.) With this material already on disc it's as good as instant gratification. This kind of approach to enhancing DVD content was described by one delegate as the three Ts: transaction, transaction, transaction. Indeed, it was perhaps the biggest deal for virtually all attending, but as Bob Auger MD, Electric Switch, pointed out, there isn't a unified face for the connected DVD. Consumer electronics manufacturers making the DVD video players are sorting out the problems and will help you to make a compatible disc - follow the rules and your disc will play, However, the DVD-ROM experience is quite different, thanks to the PC manufacturers. One distributor told Auger it would not distribute DVD-ROM product unless it could be guaranteed to work on at least 70 per cent of the target platforms out there. Auger said: "We spent a lot of our time talking to the people who are noticeable by their absence at this conference. Where are the computer manufacturers? Where is Dell and Gateway for example, and Compaq who have a major presence here in Ireland (lest we forget Apple too). They are not here. Where are the distributors? Where are the e-tailers and retailers? They are not here? We have to produce product which has to work on those machines. "We're not going to be able to do that if we haven't got a secure and solid platform to play back on. Until such time as we can get the other members of this team", PC manufacturers notably, (and web developers) to come together and present a unified face, we are not going to have a solution that consumers demand. The demand from our customers cannot be fulfilled, because we certainly can't guarantee that any one of these connected DVDs is going to play on 70 percent of the target platform." Reminding the audience that DVD is far more than movies on disc, keynote speaker George Welles, president of Imaging Futures, noted competition to DVD in the form of high speed hard drives, PVRs (personal video recorders), digital recorders and ubiquitous streaming content from broadband networks delivering to the home. Hopefully, the PC manufacturers will make the connection before it's too late or the connected DVD may end up playing a re-run of CD-ROM's turbulent history. ®

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