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China unveils ‘DVD killer’ video disk format

'HDTV quality'

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'If you can't join 'em, beat 'em' appears to be the maxim guiding the Chinese government's decision to fund the development of an alternative video disc standard to DVD.

The specification detailing the new format, called EVD (Enhanced Video Disc), is now complete, and was formally presented in Beijing on Thursday to the Chinese Ministry of Information Industries (MII) and the Standardisation Administration of China (SAC).

Like DVD, EVD video data is compressed, but according to the format's developers, Beijing-based E-World and US digital video technology company On2, it is capable of displaying HDTV images, a feat currently not possible with the established standard.

No wonder EVD is being pitched straight at DVD. The new format will "attack the market share of DVD", according to the state news agency, Xinhua.

Work on EVD has been going on since 1999. With funding from China's State Trade and Economic Commission and MII.

EVD uses On2's latest video codec, VP6, which offers "better image quality and faster decoding performance than Windows Media 9, Real 9, H.264 and QuickTime MPEG-4," the company - formerly known as The Duck Corporation - claims.

On2 offers VP6 free of charge for personal use. The x86 software can be downloaded from its web site.

EVD also uses On2's previous generation of codec, VP5. VP6 provides 40 per cent better quality and 50 per cent better playback performance than its predecessor, On2 says. The format's audio codec was developed by E-World, along with the hardware specification. At this stage, it's not clear what copy protection or other form of DRM the specification includes.

China's SAC will now distribute the EVD specification among hardware manufacturers. The plan is that they will abandon the DVD format in favour of EVD. The lure is the freedom from royalty payments to the DVD patent holders this will mean.

The format will allow domestic manufacturers to "shake off their previous dependence on foreign technologies" was how the Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, recently put it.

The majority of the world's DVD players are made in China, and the nation is a colossal market for EVD products. Question is, will the predominantly Western content companies support the new format - particularly if it lacks copyright protection. This may not matter to a country with relatively lax intellectual property regulations, like China, but it is an issue if it touts the format overseas.

The DVD Forum, the organisation that controls the DVD specification, is already looking at future generations of the technology that will offer higher capacities and better compression schemes to enable the storage of HDTV video.

Even in China, EVD players are likely to be initially very expensive compared to DVD players, for which there is already a vast array of content available, legitimate and pirate. The Chinese government has said EVD players will cost around 2000 Yuan ($240), compared to 700 Yuan ($85) for a DVD player, AP notes. ®

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