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Site created 12/15/97.




page updated: 12/22/98



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 12/2/98 - 10/26/98)


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12/2/98

We're back! Today is a bit of a catch-up day here at The Digital Bits. We're gearing up for some of those exciting things I mentioned briefly yesterday, so we fully plan on hitting the ground running. Let's get started...

First of all, a last Minnesota note. You may remember that I joked a few weeks ago, about the state electing former WWF wrestler and actor Jesse "The Body" Ventura as governor in the recent election. I asked folks about it when I was there, and darned if most people aren't proud of it. Apparently the Democratic and Republican candidates spent the whole campaign bickering, so state voters decided to, "teach those Weisenheimers a lesson." It came as such a surprise on election night, that local TV stations covering the event had to scramble - they'd sent their third-string crews to Ventura's headquarters! Just to give you an idea of local sentiment, I picked up this bumper sticker at the Mall of America - I think you'll get a kick out of it. By the way, you can see "The Body" himself on the new DVD version of Predator (see... there is a DVD angle!).

Ventura bumper sticker

OK, on to DVD news. It's being reported that the X-Files DVD (originally scheduled for February) is being delayed. The trades (and now Fox) are saying that no street date had ever been issued for the title. While an official press release had not been issued by the studio, a Fox representative had told me previously that February 9th was the street date, and clearly Image Entertainment's Laserviews had been given that information as well. Video Store magazine is reporting that it's been pushed back, "reportedly to allow for the preparation of extra materials." Rest assured, I'll keep digging on this.

Interestingly, the same issue of Video Store (Nov 25 to Dec 5) features an article on how retailers are looking for big titles to impact DVD sales over the holidays. In the article, Cliff MacMillian, video buyer for Tower Records and Video is quoted as saying, "I think what's disappointing is the holiday is missing out on Armageddon and X-Files." I think what's needed is a greater commitment to DVD, from the likes of Buena Vista, Fox and Paramount. But that's just my opinion...

Speaking of Paramount, Video Business is reporting that James Cameron has told them a Titanic DVD is definitely in the works, and is considering a director's cut for the disc. The director wouldn't provide a specific planned release date, but apparently indicated that a late first quarter or second quarter (1999) release was possible. The article also confirmed a story the Bits broke a few months ago, namely that Cameron is looking into DVD-18 (dual-sided, dual-layered discs) for Titanic, in order to include multiple versions of the film on the same disc.

The CEMA DVD player sales numbers have been updated (click here for the summary, or here for the full chart). As expected, player sales continue to impress - some 80,000 have been sold thus far in November, with fully a week of reporting data yet to be included.

We'll be announcing the winners of the Trivia Contest tomorrow, so be sure to get your entries in quickly, if you want a chance to win those Dances With Wolves DVDs.

VSDA has finally taken a stand against Divx officially. My buddy Andy Patrizio over at TechWeb has filed a new story on official letters that were sent by VSDA chairman Mark Vrieling and president Jeffrey Eves to all members, warning about the pay-per-use format. You can view a scan of the actual letter (in .jpg format) by clicking here. By the way, Andy accompanied me to the MPAA during my visit regarding those bootleg DVDs last week, so you'll be hearing more from both of us on that subject.

Finally today, I've been notified by a few Bits readers, that some of you are experiencing a slowdown when trying to load pages around the site. The reason for this, is that the banner you see at the top of the page is loaded remotely, from theden. Unfortunately, they seem to be having some problems with their ad server handling all of the traffic to their network affiliates. Rest assured, I'm staying on top of this, and will take whatever measures are needed to see that the problem clears up soon. Thanks for your patience.

There will be lots more in tomorrow's update, so be sure to check back then. Best wishes!

12/1/98

Hey folks! Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. Sorry for the lack of updates this weekend. A significant portion of the Bits' staff is in Minnesota right now, and things here have taken a bit longer than anticipated. We'll be back in sunny California tomorrow, however, and the Bits will be back better than ever. We've been planning some very exciting things for the next month or so, around the site, and we're all pretty excited about it. Rather than give too much away, we'll just let you all see things as they develop. Rest assured, there's good stuff in the works...

In the meantime, we'll be announcing the winners of the Trivia Contest in just a couple of days, so be sure to get those entries in! Image Entertainment announced a few new titles last week, so be sure to check the list. Also, I've been told that X-Files has indeed been postponed by Fox Home Entertainment, and I'm looking into the situation, to try and determine exactly why this has occurred.

Finally, before I wrap things up today, I wanted to tell you how surprised I've been, while staying here in Minneapolis, at how much DVD advertising I've seen. There are a number of commercials playing on local TV, touting the benefits of DVD, from the likes of Best Buy, Panasonic and Blockbuster. I've seen Columbia TriStar's new Mask of Zorro ad (which mentions DVD), and even heard DVD ads on the radio. Most major electronics and national music/video chains here are carrying DVD, and many video rental stores here have a good selection of titles. I was particularly impressed by the DVD selection at a Hollywood Video store in the Uptown area of Minneapolis - dozens of titles were available for rent. It should be noted that Minneapolis is the corporate home of Best Buy and Target, both of which have supported DVD quite nicely. And while visiting one Best Buy store yesterday afternoon, no less than seven people purchased DVD players, just in the short time I was speaking to the clerk (who, I might add, new his DVD stuff, and just happened to be a Bits reader to boot!). I'm proud to say, that DVD is alive and well in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

As I said, we'll be back tomorrow with lots more DVD news and information. And we promise... no more vacations around here for quite a while! I think we've had about all the R&R we can take! So have yourself a great day, and we'll see you tomorrow.

Best Wishes!

11/25/98

Well, the MPAA experience was fascinating. I talked with their digital anti-piracy people at great length, and observed as their forensic investigator put the bootleg discs through their paces, checking the complexity of the authoring, the subtitle accuracy and the like. These are the first illegal DVDs they have seen which exhibit such complexity, in terms of levels of authoring (menu screens, multiple-language subtitles, etc...), and they were extremely interested in them.

Generally such pirated software is manufactured in Hong Kong, and is sold there in stores, as well as being exported by organized crime (through Taiwan and Malaysia) to the rest of the world. The MPAA has been hearing rumors that a number of laserdisc factories in Hong Kong were planning to gear up for DVD production, and these discs may be the first examples of their work. Clearly, someone put a lot of effort into them. In any case, rest assured that the MPAA is on the case.

Around the Net, Steve Tannehill has been posting an excellent series of columns on how to get your money's worth when buying a DVD player, over at the DVD Resource page. Definitely recommended reading. Other than that, there's not much in the way of DVD news today, so let me just say Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers in the States, a day early. We'll be taking Thanksgiving Day off, but we'll be back after that with some new updates over the weekend. So have a great holiday, and/or a great weekend!

11/24/98

What do you know... some big fish do read the Bits. Just a few days after posting my editorial on Bootleg DVDs, I've been invited to visit the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to show them the actual discs and discuss the problem in person. The MPAA has been investigating the issue for some time now, and was unaware of the existence of these DVDs. I'm going in this afternoon, so this evening, I'll let you know how it went.

In the meantime, you'll find an interesting press release, which seems to reveal the number of Divx players expected to ship over the holidays. If you do the math, it comes out to about 70,000 players. Keep in mind, those actually have to sell to consumers (in some 800 retail stores nationwide).

FYI - The Fox reps I spoke with yesterday were unaware of any delay for The X-Files DVD, so we'll just have to wait and see on that rumor.

Finally this morning, Peter Bracke (of DVD File) and I have been able to uncover Buena Vista's expected DVD line-up for February and March. So you will definitely not want to miss a stop to The Rumor Mill today.

Stay tuned...!

11/23/98

So how was everyone's weekend? Mine was pretty good. The Vikings beat the Packers again, which always makes for a nice holiday-like atmosphere at my house. I spent most of the weekend building a wooden, frame-like contraption, to keep my three cats from taking up residence behind my entertainment center. Had a nice dinner with friends, and even took time out to watch an interesting The X-Files last night. Not a bad way to spend a couple of days off. So I hope your weekend was as nice.

Speaking of X-Files, word is that the DVD version of the feature film may be delayed from its 3/9/99 release date. I'm expecting an official comment from Fox on this issue, so I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything. In the meantime, there are a host of new DVD announcements from the likes of Warner Bros and Artisan (see Laserviews for the full list). CNet has a DVD Topic center on DVD, which you may find interesting. In case you missed it, Andy Patrizio has an article on the big retailer DVD push, over at TechWeb.

Here at the Bits, I've got some interesting information on Universal's DVD release plans for February of next year. You can read all about that in The Rumor Mill today, including anticipated release dates for the first of those Spielberg/Amblin Special Editions. The new CEMA DVD player sales numbers are now up as well (click here for the full chart).

Finally, thanks to everyone who responded to my editorial on The Problem of Bootleg DVDs. I received 203 e-mails on the subject over the weekend - lots of you had comments! I'd like to try to respond here, to at least a few of your points. I'm surprised at how many of you feel that bootleg DVDs are "the studio's fault, for not releasing the films in the first place! Bootlegs should send the studios a message that there's a market for legal copies, and they should get busy releasing them!" First of all, even if many of these films were available on DVD, there would still be a large market (particularly in Asia) for bootleg versions. Consider Gone With the Wind, a legal version of which was just released, only a short time after the bootleg became known. If it isn't availability, there's always price, or some other reason for those who buy bootleg copies to justify doing so.

But since these discs, which are made from LEGAL laserdisc releases, exist, can you blame the studios for being afraid of digital piracy? Can you blame them for being cautious about releasing their most prized films on DVD? How long will it be before the technology to copy LEGAL DVDs appears in the hands of pirates? Not long, I'm sure. These films are a joy for us to watch, but for the studios who own them, they're also an asset that must be protected. This is why I dislike Divx and its ilk so much. I fear that, in the digital/high-definition world, pay-per-use may become the preferred model for all media consumption, out of fear of piracy. It may become impossible for collectors to OWN copies of their favorite films and music, as we know the definition of ownership now.

Think of a Divx movie disc, sitting on your shelf. Do you own it? Well, certainly you own the plastic substrate itself, but your use of its content is REGULATED by an entity outside your control (Divx). How is that good for you, the consumer? It's not. The idea behind Divx, is that your rights as consumers are restricted somewhat, so that the copyright owner's rights are more effectively enforced. And THIS is the price we'll pay for digital piracy, if we let it spread unchecked. It's not just about increased prices anymore.

I also received lots of e-mail from people who claimed that region-coding is the problem. "If every studio released their movies on DVD in all regions at the same time, there wouldn't be a problem!" A nice idea, but there just isn't enough manufacturing capacity to do that right now. Imagine if the studios had released DVD versions of all their films, in all regions, in sufficient quantity to meet demand, right from the beginning. Everyone would be happy... except that the catalog of available titles would be less than 500, not 2,000+. Other people claimed that the problem goes back to the way studios delay the release of their movies theatrically outside the States. But this is done, in large part, because the studios don't have the resources to do it differently. It takes time to prepare marketing campaigns. Multi-national release requires prints to be planned and reproduced in multiple languages - a very costly and time consuming process. Press junkets must be arranged to promote the release, and directors and actors simply can't be everywhere at once. So there are very real, practical reasons why things are as they are, like it or not.

The bottom line is this: the problem of bootleg DVDs is the fault of no one but the pirates themselves, and the people who choose to buy illegal discs. The act of buying illegal copies (DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes, etc...) is an act of tremendous disrespect toward those individuals who created the work to begin with. And make no mistake - every time someone buys an illegal, bootleg DVD, we move one step closer to a content-encrypted, pay-per-use world. So ask yourself what's worse - waiting for legal DVD copies of your favorite films, or risking The Great Divx-ing of All Media? Enough said.

Stay tuned...!

11/20/98

More and more over the last few weeks, readers have been asking me about a number of bootleg DVDs, that have begun appearing for sale on the Internet. These include animated Disney titles, classic MGM films, and even Star Wars. I've noticed that some folks on the Net are paying top dollar to obtain these discs. My advice: don't. You are NOT going to get the kind of quality we've all come to expect from DVD. These discs are simply illegal bootleg copies, made using previous laserdisc and even VHS copies as masters. For more on this topic, read my latest editorial: The Problem of Bootleg DVDs.

In other news, our friends at NetFlix have just partnered themselves with CinemaDisc (see press release). I've updated the Warner Bros page with news on their latest deal to promote DVDs with Microsoft. Also, Best Buy has moved into the on-line retailing game (be sure to read the official press release).

Finally, I'd like to invite all of you to read Dana J. Parker's well argued editorial, Blue Laser and HDTV: Panacea or Pipe Dream? You'll find it over at the E-Media Professional web site. Dana is quite knowledgable in the technical areas of the industry. In fact, she's the chair of the DVD Pro Conference. Her editorial is a must read for those of you who believe that recordable and high-definition forms of DVD will quickly obsolete the current DVD standard. The bottom line: If you think content providers (the Hollywood studios) have been wary of releasing their movies on DVD thus far, just wait until recordablity and high-definition quality enter the picture. This, folks, is why Divx is so attractive to the studios. Do you suppose Fox would release a pristine, high-definition DVD of Star Wars into a market where DVD recorders are as ubiquitous as VCRs? Not likely.

Stay tuned, and have a great weekend.

11/19/98

Remember how Divx just welcomed San Diego-area retailer Dow to the fold (see press release)? Well, a year ago, the Better Business Bureau kicked Dow out of their local chapter for "misleading and deceptive advertising practices" (see news story). Of course, the two are in no way connected... except that it doesn't surprise me that a retailer with somewhat dubious advertising methods might want to jump on the Divx band wagon.

I've learned that Criterion is planning on recalling the DVD version of Seven Samurai soon, officially due to manufacturing issues. It is expected to be remastered and re-released. However, be aware - there's nothing wrong with the quality of the DVD. I've heard that there's another reason for the recall, and you'll find that in the Rumor Mill today. Also, you will find some information I received last night on some more Fox titles, extending well into next year.

The re-mastered Warner DVD of Devil's Advocate is now beginning to appear in stores. The disc had to be re-mastered, due to legal issues over the use of a particular statue in the film - one that appears on the wall of John Milton's penthouse. The original DVD bears the following disclaimer on the packaging:

"The large white sculpture of human forms on the wall of John Milton's penthouse in Devil's Advocate is not connected in any way and was not endorsed by the sculptor Frederick Hart or the Washington National Cathedral, joint copyright owners of the Cathedral sculpture "Ex Nihilo" in Washington DC."

I've been told by readers that in the re-mastered version, the statue has been digitally 'blurred' or removed from the scenes in which it appears. So, if you've got the original DVD, you have a nice little collector's item.

Just a day after the information appeared in the The Rumor Mill, Laserviews has officially announced those January Paramount DVDs (48 Hours, The Real Blonde, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Truman Show). Unfortunately, none of them are enhanced for 16x9 displays. This is starting to get irritating. Anyone who doubts the value of new anamorphic transfers, need only compare the gorgeous 16x9-enhanced Star Trek: First Contact DVD, with the MUCH less than stellar-looking, matted letterbox Star Trek: Generations. Take a look at the start of chapter 3 in Generations, where the starfield fades away to reveal the ocean waves. A graphic appears, which says "78 Years Later" - take a good look at the lettering. You'll see so much ringing and jittering, so much unnecessary picture noise (artificial edge enhancement, and the like), that there can be little doubt an old transfer was used in mastering the DVD. The quality difference is like a slap in the face. BLEECH!!! After comparing the quality of Paramount's first two Trek DVDs, you can be nothing but disappointed with the studio's sudden about face on the issue of new anamorphic transfers. I suggest you let them know how you feel about it.

Finally today, I was able to get my hands on that cool Super Bowl XXXII: The Best One Ever DVD (produced by Polygram, RCA and NFL Films). I've been told that they are only available at Circuit City stores, and are only given out to folks who purchase RCA Divx players (at least that's what one Circuit City manager told me - go figure, it ain't a Divx disc). However, the disc is usually found just sitting on the DVD racks at the store, with all of the other DVD titles. It also doesn't have a price, but people have been able to buy them for anywhere between $.01 to $24.99. Unfortunately, you have to sit through 2 or 3 RCA commercials at the beginning of the disc - you can't fast forward or skip them - very irritating. But the disc is cool for several reasons. You can choose to listen to either the NFL Films announcer, or hear the Broncos or Packers radio announcers call the game (there's also a Spanish track). And throughout the disc, you can view multiple angles of the action, and view stats on players, team rosters and more. It's also in 5.1 audio, and the picture quality is quite good. For football fans, the disc is a blast.

So I suggest you act quickly if you want the disc - go into your local CC store (the ONLY time you will EVER hear me say that!), grab a copy of the disc, and high-tail it to the checkout stand. They'll probably just end up selling it to you for cheap. If they give you any crap - demand to see the manager, and demand they sell you the disc - after all, it is on shelves with all the other DVDs for sale. But a word of warning: the folks at Circuit City do read this page closely, so I've no doubt that the disc will get pulled from store shelves as soon as management catches wind of what's up. So act now if you want the DVD. Good luck!

More tomorrow...

11/18/98

"You refer to the prophecy - the one who will bring balance to the Force. You think it's this boy?" "The Force is strong with him. He can see the future..."

Wow. Yes, the Star Wars: Episode I trailer is nothing short of amazing - even rather exotic looking - some absolutely incredible visuals. For those of you who still feel the title may change, the trailer DOES use the name The Phantom Menace at the end. But you don't have to take my word. The trailer is available for download right now at Star Wars.com. Just drop on by and check it out for yourselves. Expect a wait though... half the world is trying to download it at the moment...

I've got some new upcoming DVD information in The Rumor Mill, including some confirmation of the Paramount titles mentioned elsewhere today.

Check out ZDnet's coverage of Comdex 98 for all the latest DVD-ROM news. TechWeb also has an excellent Comdex Showcase up. Via Business Wire: There's an interactive DVD magazine filming at Comdex this year, and EMA has just made an alliance regarding web-enhanced DVD. Also, Pioneer has just announced the first 4.7 GB DVD-R and RW writer. There's lots more Comdex news, so check the links above.

Finally, we've noticed an audio sync problem with the DVD of The Hard Way (Michael J. Fox and James Woods). Starting in about chapter 7 or 8, the audio lags by about a half-second (the scene aboard the subway train in chapter 8, is particularly bad). We're looking into it further, but you might want try it out first before buying.

Lots more DVD information is coming, so stay tuned!

11/17/98

The November Trivia Contest here at The Digital Bits is now on. This month, we're giving away 5 DVD copies of Image Entertainment's terrific new Dances With Wolves disc (see review here), and EACH of the winners will also receive the CD PlayRight Trio for DVD kit (many thanks to the folks at CD PlayRight)!

Those of you who are just dying to see that new Star Wars: Episode 1 trailer MAY have a chance to get a sneak peek today. Check the theater listings on the Star Wars web site, to see if a theater in your area is showing it today. If so, the trailer will be played before AND after the film. I may try to check it out this afternoon, and I'll let you know how it looks if I do. Don't fret if you miss it today - the trailer will go into general release this weekend.

Stay tuned...!

11/16/98

All right... it took me hours, but I've finally gone through all of my tapes and put together an in-depth report on Saturday's Studio Day 1998. I spoke at length with DVD representatives from DreamWorks, MGM, Warner Bros., Columbia TriStar, Buena Vista, Artisan and more, and I think you will find it an interesting read. It's absolutely packed with upcoming DVD title information (if you're interested in upcoming DVD titles, or the studios' DVD plans well into next year, it's absolutely a must read). Also, be sure to read Peter Bracke's own report of the event, over at DVD File. Peter and I worked hard to report on the event thoroughly between the two of us. We each covered some areas that the other missed, so I definitely recommend reading both reports for complete coverage of the day. Also, some interesting new DVD information came my way this weekend, from non-Studio Day sources, including something new on Titanic. You'll find it all in the Rumor Mill.

The latest CEMA numbers are in - 11,860 more players sold in the week ending November 6th (see full chart here). Fox finally got around to announcing all those DVDs I first told you about in the Rumor Mill weeks ago (including the Die Hard Trilogy and X-Files). See Laserviews for the details. Also, be sure to check ZDnet and TechWeb for the latest DVD information from Comdex.

More tomorrow!

11/13/98

Hey, hey, hey... wanna know when that Ghostbusters DVD is coming? Check the Rumor Mill. You'll find that and information on other Columbia TriStar titles tentatively scheduled for early next year (including street dates).

The EMA article is coming today - I swear. I've been grappling with unforeseen technical problems, both on my server and my PC. But, I believe I have them all resolved. So thanks again for your patience. I think I'm gonna just start surprising you with these things, instead of telegraphing them in advance - makes it more interesting, and you won't be left hanging.... You are hanging, aren't you? ;-)

Speaking of EMA, the results of their 1st Annual DVD Awards are now in. Hopefully, you all got your votes in. Be sure to drop on by to see which of your favorite discs took home the gold. "Coming round the final turn, it's Contact and Austin Powers neck and neck. Contact's ahead by a Snapper-length...! Do you believe in miracles...?!"

For all of you Star Wars fans, Lucasfilm has posted the first teaser posters from Star Wars - Episode 1: The Phantom Menace on the official Star Wars web site. And don't forget, next weekend (11/20) the trailer will begin appearing in theaters....

You may have noticed a few changes around the Bits. I'm slowly going through EVERY page of the site, and making some minor performance-related changes. I'm changing all of the FONT=ARIAL tags, so that they call Arial, Helvetica, Courier or your browser's default font, in that order. This should make the Bits more friendly to Mac users. I'm also ditching the italics I used, in favor of bold text (I know some of you said the italics were hard to read). Finally, I'm going through and repairing a few broken links I found. The result of all this should be a better Bits. Let me know what you think of the changes. I'm also planning a few other changes, including adding frames. As in, the button bar in the left frame, and the rest of the site in the right. This would prevent you from having to reload the bar every time you go to a new page. Waddya think?

Ya see? We care about ya here at the Bits! Faster, better, stronger... that's our motto. We want to do everything short of a-la-carte snack and beverage service to make your stay here at the old Bits as nice as possible - sort of brighten up your day. And hey - if I had the bandwidth to send you all a packet of peanuts to nosh on while you read, I'd do that too!

Now, before I tell you to have a great weekend, I want to invite all of you L.A. area Bits readers to join me at Dave's Laser on Saturday (11/14), for their annual Studio Day. Reps from many of the Hollywood studios will be there, to give us a look at their DVD and laserdisc plans for next year, and to answer your questions. I'll be posting a full report of the event on Saturday night, so those of you who can't make it won't miss out. But for those who can, the event is from 10 AM to 2 PM. Dave's Laser is at 12144 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604 (phone: 818-760-3472). See you there!

OK, now... have a great weekend!

11/12/98

Today's early update will be brief, so I can get the EMA article up later today. But there's still some good stuff. You'll find a first look at the Buena Vista January DVDs (including Armageddon), by clicking here. Also, I'd like to introduce Todd Doogan's brand new, regular column here at the Bits. It's called Doogan's Views, and you'll find it in The Editor Speaks (soon to become The Editors Speak, as in plural), along with my regular editorial, now called The Bill Zone. His first column has an exclusive interview with filmmaker Lance Mungia, director of the new cult fave Six String Samurai. I think you'll dig it.

So, enjoy... and check back later tonight for the EMA article. Best wishes!

11/11/98

Yes, I know I missed an update yesterday, but for good reason. All of my recent technical problems have now been resolved, and we've got content for you!

Today, you will find my massively-detailed, in-depth look at From the Earth to the Moon on DVD. Everything you want to know about this terrific collector's set is here, disc by disc, episode by episode, feature by feature, with graphics to boot. I've also got some interesting new tidbits in today's Rumor Mill update, and I've posted the full text of Paramount's Deep Impact press release as well.

Best of all, tomorrow I'll be posting my exclusive, long-awaited look behind-the-scenes at the making of the From the Earth to the Moon DVDs, with the folks at EMA Multimedia. These guys are nuts about DVD, I'll tell you that much! I really had a blast hanging out for a couple of afternoons with them, and I think you'll find my report interesting. There will be lots of actual menu screen graphics as well, to illustrate the design concepts that went into the set. Very cool.

There's a mention of the yet-to-be-announced Titanic DVD, in an article in the Houston Chronicle. Interesting if nothing else, and James Cameron talks a bit about DVD.

Finally today, I've been asked by lots of Bits readers about those CEMA DVD sales numbers. Particularly, people want to know how many DVD-ROM drives are selling, as this seems to be the most ignored, yet fastest growing, portion of the DVD market. I'm still looking for monthly sales data, but I can tell you this: industry observer InfoTech estimates that, while roughly 1.2 million DVD-Video players will have been sold into retail by the end of this year, some 6.5 million DVD-ROM drives will have been sold worldwide by year's end, either shipped in computers or as seperate add-on components. Impressive no?

Catch you tomorrow...!

11/9/98

Sorry for all the delays with the reports and reviews I've been promising. I had planned to post them last night, but unfortunately my dedicated server decided that it was full, and that there was no more room on the hard drive for uploads. Apparently, the log file (which tracks server access) has grown to immense proportions, and needs to be cleared. Of course, try to get that done at 11 PM on a Sunday night.... Rest assured the problem is being corrected as we speak, and I'll have all the posts up just as soon as I can. I very much appreciate your patience.

A friend of mine, who works at Lucasfilm, called me excitedly over the weekend to tell me that the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace will be appearing in theaters in a couple of weeks (starting 11/20), just in time for the throng of Thanksgiving movie-going. Sure enough, the news has been posted on the Star Wars web site. Now that should be something to see...

Andy Patrizio has another new DVD-related article up over at TechWeb. And Wired magazine has some interesting comments about Divx in their November issue. Page 82 features a brief called Deconstructing Divx. A reader on E-Town pegged my quote of note: "Indeed, it's hard not to be flummoxed -- and annoyed -- by Divx. The introduction of the format seems to have less to do with market demand than with old-fashioned greed. Circuit City and its lawyer cohorts are evidently bent on raking in the bucks regardless of what's best for the industry or consumers." I couldn't agree more. Note that the full contents of the issue will be available on-line on November 27th.

Speaking of Divx, I've got some distressing information for you. I have been able to confirm that national retailer Wal-Mart is indeed negotiating with Divx to carry Divx product, despite the chain's recent denials. You may recall that Steve Tannehill's DVD Resource Page addressed this issue recently, and received a reply from Wal-Mart denying the claim. I have confirmed that negotiations are still underway, and are in fact, still close to being finalized. The deal would reportedly give the retailer a significant percentage of Divx stock (in the 20-30% range), in exchange for carrying the company's product. This is no rumor - I have been told that VSDA is concerned enough about this issue, to ask its members to make their feelings known to Wal-Mart. I would suggest that all of you do the same, using the following e-mail addresses:

Letters to the President: letters@wal-mart.com
Corporate Affairs: alwyatt@wal-mart.com

I'd also like to ask all of my fellow DVD web site editors to join me in alerting our readers to this issue. Let's make sure Wal-Mart knows how we feel about Divx, and CONTINUES to do so, as they negotiate this deal.

This brings me to another Divx-related issue. Just out of curiosity, I found myself visiting a local Circuit City store on Saturday night (for the record, it was the Fullerton, CA store). I wanted to see just how the retailer was marketing Divx to consumers, and what kind of selection they had available, of both Divx and DVD discs. I wanted to get a sense of the average customer experience. Boy, was I in for a shock.

Naturally, there were Divx signs, banners and advertisements everywhere - no surprise. Naturally, X-Files was prominently featured as a new release on Divx (ggrrrr!). Naturally, the salesman (a young teenage kid, maybe 18 or 19 at the most) was wearing a spanking new shirt, with the Divx logo embroidered on it - clearly, he was the stores Divx designated hitter. What what caught me by surprise was the sales pitch being given to an unsuspecting customer, just a few feet away. I listened casually, as this kid proceeded to tell the guy and his wife that EVERY movie that gets released on video, will be on Divx at least a month before it comes to DVD. EVERY movie! He then talked about the 48-hour viewing period, the $4.49 rental price, and how (if you like the movie) you can make them ALL unlimited viewing Silver discs for just $15 each! My mouth dropped open - I shook my head in disbelief. Which of course, he spotted immediately. Whoops... my cover was blown.

Full of challenge and SERIOUS attitude, he asked me why I didn't believe what he was saying. The kid got right in my face, actually calling me out in front of his would-be customer. What's a guy to do? I calmly told him that his sales pitch was inaccurate. "Not every movie will be on Divx first," I said. "What about virtually EVERYTHING released by Warner Bros, New Line, HBO, Polygram and Columbia/TriStar?" "Oh," he said, "Those studios aren't supporting Divx." Undaunted, he arrogantly asserted that he meant, "every movie by all the other studios." Round Two. "Oh, you mean like The Horse Whisperer and Six Days, Seven Nights, which are being released day-and-date to DVD by Buena Vista. And what about Species II by MGM? I was right when I said your sales pitch was inaccurate - not EVERY movie will be on Divx first. And not all Divx movies can be upgraded to Silver unlimited-play." He vehemently denied this. "Oh yeah? Check Hard Rain, Face/Off, Deep Impact or any of the Star Trek movies. None of them can be upgraded yet. And your $15 upgrade price? Many good, new movies are $19.99 to upgrade... ON TOP of the $4.49 you've already paid. That's as much as many DVDs cost. And you've got a disc that you can only play on your player, with no extras at all. Not much of a deal."

At this point, he got mad. "Look, I've been trained on Divx, so I know what I'm talking about - you're just wrong!" I was losing my own patience, but managed to coolly reply. "You've been trained, all right... on how to sell Divx, and pull the wool over people's eyes. But you facts are wrong. And believe me, I saw one of the first Divx players months before you had ever even heard of Divx. So don't think that just because you make a commission on every player you sell, you're an expert." Then I smiled, give my business card (with the Bits' web site address) to the kid's grateful customer, and left.

Man, I've gotta just stop going into Circuit City, when I know it's only gonna piss me off. It's bad for the blood pressure. Still, it angers me. Given that most of the sales people I've seen at Circuit City are little more than used car salesmen, no doubt a LOT of consumers out there are being mislead about Divx. I already knew this was happening, but to see it first hand is VERY irritating...

Anyway, I'll have those new articles and reviews up as soon as I can. So thanks again for your patience, and stay tuned!

11/7/98

Well, it's 5 AM, and I'm on shuttle watch. There's a 50/50 chance that the shuttle will be landing here in California tomorrow morning. So, of course, I'm up late (or early) to be ready in case it happens. If you haven't figured out that I'm a major NASA buff, you'll know by Monday! In any case, it would make a nice ending to that report I'm working on...

In the meantime, I've got two of those reviews up: my look at Bull Durham, and Todd's take on Columbia's new Godzilla DVD. I'm working on the From the Earth to the Moon review now, and I can tell you right off the bat, that it's QUITE an impressive set. I think you'll dig my forthcoming look behind the scenes at the making of the DVDs. Also, just FYI, the November Trivia Contest will be starting next week. I was so impressed by Image's Dances With Wolves, that I've decided it will be this month's prize.

It looks like Paramount has finally announced that Deep Impact DVD I've been telling you was in the works. It's expected on December 15th, according to the latest update of Laserviews. The American President has also been announced (finally!) by Warner Bros - I've been looking forward to that one for a while now. Elsewhere around the Net, there's a couple of good articles on our favorite doomed pay-per-play video disc format (see these links at the Vancouver Sun and the Chicago Sun-Times).

Finally, I'd like to clarify my statements from yesterday regarding the DTS version of Dances. My feeling is that any improvement the DTS version may (or may not) make in terms of video quality, over the already excellent Dolby Digital version, is irrelevant. When I go to buy a DTS DVD, I'm going to be looking for noticeable AUDIO improvements - not video improvements. DTS is, after all, an AUDIO format. I expect the video quality to be at least as good, and anything beyond that is superfluous to me - a bonus yes, but not enough to justify purchasing a more expensive version, spread over two discs. It's the audio, folks... that's the key. I've got my DTS decoder. I've got my DTS-ready DVD player. I am ready to be impressed. We'll see...

More later this weekend...

Stay tuned...!

11/6/98

1 Million DVD Players!

No, you aren't seeing things - that new statistic at the top of the page is correct. During the week ending October 30th, 94,527 DVD players were sold to retailers in the United States, bringing the grand total since the DVD format was launched to 1,033,984! I've been tracking CEMA sales numbers for longer than I can remember (see sales history chart), and it's been exciting to see new monthly sales records set again and again. In fact, I do believe October set another record, with a total of 163,074 for the month. Not bad for a format that's less than 2 years old...!

Thanks to everyone who responded to my review of Image's upcoming Dances With Wolves DVD. The disc is nothing short of fantastic in quality. In answer to many of your questions, yes... there is a DTS version of this DVD in the works, but it has not been officially announced. Yes, it will be spread over two discs, but largely for AUDIO BIT RATE REASONS ONLY. It has very little to do with the increased video bit rate, and we'll have to wait to see if there is any noticeable difference in image quality (I suspect there will not be - stay tuned for my comparative review). And yes, it will cost more.

All of those retailers you see who are taking preorders for it are doing so inappropriately - there is as yet, no official release date. I actually learned of this title when speaking to DTS representatives more than a month ago, along with several other titles that they're working on, but I decided not to mention them on The Digital Bits. The reason? Far too many DTS DVDs have been 'mentioned' as coming from DTS, and then disappeared due to political or disc production issues. I'd like to make sure DTS has the cart before the horse this time, before revealing anything I'm told they're planning. I think we all remember how long we waited for those March 98 DTS DVDs that never happened...

If anyone out there has been following all the Fox DVD domain name hijinks, I can confirm that all of the titles in question are indeed coming from Fox. In fact, I mentioned almost all of them back in the 10/14 update of The Rumor Mill. I have a sneaking suspicion that Fox will discontinue the practice of registering their forthcoming DVD titles as domain names...

Those two Image DVD reviews are coming today, along with Todd's review of Godzilla '98. The shuttle report will be up this weekend. I want to capture some video frame grabs first - I was able to get some really good looking video of John Glenn himself, as he walked out to the pad. Also, here's what I'm trying to have up for Monday: My EMA Multimedia behind-the-scenes on the making of From the Earth to the Moon, an in-depth review of From the Earth to the Moon itself, and the first installment of Todd Doogan's new regular column here at the Bits, Doogan's Views.

By the way, all you X-Files fans, don't forget that the first episode of the new season is on Sunday, entitled appropriately The Beginning...

Have a great weekend, and stay tuned...!

LATE UPDATE (11/5/98 - 2 PM PST)

I've just finished my look at Dances With Wolves. I know you've all been waiting for this DVD for months, so I wanted to get it up right away. In an nutshell, it's an impressive disc. I'll have the rest up later this evening!

EARLY UPDATE (11/5/98 - 10 AM PST)

I've posted the text of Buena Vista's January DVD press release on the studio's page in the Studio & DVD News section. I've also got information on a possible Melvin and Howard: SE DVD that's in the works in the Rumor Mill.

Check back later this afternoon for the Image reviews, and tonight for the John Glenn report...

11/4/98

Funniest election result: New MN Gov. Jessie "The Body" Ventura?

Couldn't resist. OK, today's Bits update will be a bit brief, so I can finish my report on the shuttle launch for tomorrow. I'm also going to have a trio of new reviews of some excellent Image Entertainment DVDs up then, including Bull Durham, The World's Greatest Animation and the forthcoming Dances With Wolves.

In the meantime, I've posted a partial list of Warner Bros distributed DVDs coming in January in The Rumor Mill, including titles and release dates. Looks like The American President will finally grace DVD soon...

Around the Net, DVD File has some scans of DVD keep case cover artwork from the Paramount December DVDs, including the now delayed Deep Impact (it may be delayed, but SEE - I told you it was coming!). Fox has finally got their DVD page up on their home video web site (but it ain't much...). A reader over at the always excellent Home Theater Forum has posted the text of a recent article in Business Week magazine, that compares Divx to Betamax and 8-track tapes (funny!). Also, just in case you missed them, I noticed while on vacation that USA Today ran a pair of good DVD articles: Movies on DVD: The Big Squeeze and Video Discs paying big DVDends.

Have a great day, and see you tomorrow...!

11/3/98

Yes... I'm back. And although I now need a vacation to RECOVER from my vacation, I've got lots of cool stuff coming for you. Just give me a day or two to organize myself a bit, and I'll get my full report of the John Glenn Experience up, as well as my Inside the Industry article on EMA Multimedia. Plus there's a ton of cool new DVD reviews on the way, so check back tomorrow.

Meanwhile, CEMA has sent over their new DVD sales numbers. 34,217 DVD players were sold into retail in the States in the third week of October (week ending 10/23). So the total number of players sold to retailers since the format's launch is now VERY close to the 1 million mark - currently 973,308. At this rate, one more week could see us hit a million...

Artisan Entertainment has gotten their new web site on-line, but they're still working on their DVD section. Still cool to check out.

Image Entertainment's Laserviews site has announced a host of new DVD titles, as I'm sure you're all aware. Tons of great new releases, and a few reissues, most of which were mentioned in the Rumor Mill long ago. Should be a great holiday season for DVD, given all of the great new titles.

Finally, today IS election day here in the States. For all of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, we have few real responsibilities. But voting is one of them. So whatever your party affiliations, or personal preferences, be sure to get out there and cast your ballots! And when you're done, reward yourself by watching ABC's Sports Night (my favorite new show of the season), or any of those new DVDs that came out today. You'll be glad you did. Enough said.

10/26/98

OK, there's a couple of very cool items to be found in today's update...

But first, let me get this out of the way... I've gotten the latest DVD player sales numbers from CEMA. 17,992 players were sold during the 2nd week of October (week ending 10/16). That brings the total number of DVD players sold to retailers in the U.S. to 939,091. We're closing in on 1 million pretty fast...

Now for the cool stuff. You will find your very first look at the keep case artwork for the upcoming DreamWorks DVDs (including Amistad and Paulie), in the DreamWorks page in the Studio & DVD News section. Likewise, I've got the Snapper case artwork for Blade up on the New Line page. See? Told you it was cool...

Now... around the Net, those of you looking to pick up a DVD-ROM drive for your computer, should read ZDNet's primer, The Smart Way to Shop for DVD. And the voting for EMA's 1st Annual People's Choice DVD Awards has been extended to October 31st, so be sure to get your votes in for your favorite titles.

Just to let you all know, there will be few (if any) updates from tomorrow until November 2nd. The reason? I'm flying to the Kennedy Space Center this week, to see the John Glenn shuttle launch. I may try to post a brief update or two from the laptop, but I can't promise anything - I just have no idea how busy things will be at the Cape. I've been cleared to go behind-the-scenes with the throng of media covering the event, to research an upcoming script I'll be working on. So it should be nothing if not interesting. When I get back, I'll have a full report on the launch here at the Bits (with pictures) for anyone who is interested (I know it's not DVD news, but read on...).

Also during the first week of November, I'll be posting the next in my Inside the Industry series of articles, this time featuring a recent visit to EMA Multimedia, and a look at their work on the upcoming From the Earth to the Moon DVD. So there will be a definite space theme here at the Bits next month (you see... it all ties together after all!). November will also see lots of new DVD reviews from both Todd and I (including a hardware review or two), and a host of new exclusive articles and features. Next month's Trivia Contest will start very soon after I get back, and we're planning something big for December, in honor of the Bits' first anniversary. So, I think I can promise, that you ain't seen nothin' yet!

While I'm gone, I'd like to recommend checking out Peter Bracke's DVD File and Steve Tannehill's DVD Resource Page for the latest news (MY favorite two non-Bits stops for DVD information). And hey... there's lots of content here at the Bits to sift through as well, including page after page of news, reviews, event coverage, behind-the-scenes articles, and more.


Last, but not least, I couldn't let the day pass without a quick nod to the 7-0 Minnesota Vikings. I know many of you could care less, but we Vikes fans have been waiting for a season like this for a very, VERY long time...

Everyone have a great week, and I'll see you when I get back. Best wishes!

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