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Friday, August 24, 2001
Technology Set to Make DVD Players Interactive

Those who enjoy chatting online while playing DVD movies or learning more about Hollywood productions while watching them can already take advantage of DVD interactivity with special software. But a group of companies called the DVD Forum is working on a DVD specification for interactivity built into the players.

While analysts say the market for interactive DVDs is limited, companies such as San Jose, California-based InterActual are moving ahead to make PC and Internet connectivity part of every DVD experience. With the backing of the major Hollywood studios, which are also DVD Forum members, companies like InterActual say they are ready to deliver whatever creations producers can dream up through "increased playability" on different platforms, including PCs.

"We're trying to increase playability of that enhanced content," InterActual CEO Todd Collart told TechExtreme. "The key thing is we're working hard to make it so it is not different, so it can cross platforms. We see it as our responsibility to make it as easy as possible."

DVD Forum spokesperson Hideyuki Irie told TechExtreme that the forum's ad-hoc working group of 28 companies, set up last December, is preparing to propose an optional format for advanced interactivity and Internet connectivity that will "integrate requirements from entertainment consumer electronics industries into a common, interoperable specification."

Irie said simultaneous viewing of DVD video and bonus content from a disc or the Internet, as well as synchronization of bonus content with DVD video, were examples of planned interactive features.

Collart, who claims most major Hollywood DVD releases are shipped with his company's interactive software, said he was not at liberty to discuss the details of the DVD interactivity spec effort with the DVD Forum, which meets in San Francisco on October 9th for its U.S. conference.

However, the InterActual president confirmed the initiative and said consumer DVD players with interactive capabilities are targeted for release by Christmas 2002.

"We're collaborating with [the forum] formally to create a new, exciting format," Collart said. "We're trying to find a balance between features and functionality, and [discover] what can be used in a consumer electronic device that is cost-effective."

While Collart claims that inside jokes from the film "Scary Movie," directors' commentary, and the ability to dub voices and interactive story boards are all exciting prospects for viewers, some analysts doubt there is much of a market for interactivity on DVDs.

"We don't see a lot of promise for interactive DVD," said IDC analyst Mary Joy Scafidi, who wrote a report on the subject last year. "It just seemed like some of the plans changed because of a lack of promise for the market."

Scafidi told TechExtreme that Web browsing capabilities were limited in the interactive DVD systems she looked at, but Collart said InterActual is trying to move beyond a DVD player with a modem to produce a device that allows real-time communication between the graphics chip in the DVD player and the Internet browser.

"The PC environment is ideal," Collart said. "We're working with content companies to start to take these things into account in the creation of their content, so we [can] have content that can be portable and play across multiple devices."

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