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FEATURE

 

DVD UPDATE

 

Few, if any, home entertainment products have caused so much controversy and debate as DVD, and it began long before the first players and discs went on sale.  It’s hardly surprising though, there’s a lot at stake, but the public and private wrangling of hardware and software producers are of little concern to most consumers, who basically want to know: 1. what DVD can do for them, 2. how much it’s all going to cost, and 3. (assuming the first two answers are satisfactory), when and where they can buy it?

 

The first two questions remain unanswered but if you want to be the first kid on the block and buy a DVD player today the only place you can get them is in Japan or America. Decks made by Matsushita (Panasonic) and Toshiba went on sale there back in November; a couple of other machines have just arrived in the US, with maybe one or two more by the time you read this. Unfortunately they will all be NTSC or ‘Territory 1’ models, which are of little use, unless you can have a source of 110-120 volt AC 60Hz mains, an NTSC compatible TV, and ready access to the very small number of discs presently available, though all DVD decks can play audio-only CDs.

 

Here in Europe we are going to have to wait for the first PAL (Territory 2) machines, which are not expected until February; even then you’ll have to go to Germany to buy one. They’re not due to reach the UK until March or April at the earliest, by which time there should, hopefully, be a supply of software. Precise details of the sound system used on PAL discs has still to be settled; it’s fairly certain they’ll have MPEG 2 Musicam 6-channel surround-sound soundtracks, but there’s an outside possibility some titles will carry the original AC-3 (Dolby Digital) cinema soundtracks as well. Several manufacturers have told us they’re planning dual-standard PAL decks with both AC-3 and Musicam sound systems, or they will have a raw digital output, that can piped through an external decoder.  

 

The question of regional coding has still to be fully resolved, and it’s possible that some very early players may not be able replay discs released after the coding specification has been finalised. That’s a compelling reason to adopt a wait and see attitude, a sensible precaution in any case with any new technology.

 

Inevitably first generation machines will be expensive -- £500 is being bandided about as a likely figure --  but if past experiences are anything to go by, they will suffer from a variety of unexpected faults and bugs. If the DVD roll-out follows the same pattern as other new consumer technologies -- and there’s no reason to suppose it won’t  -- there should be a steady improvement in performance and facilities on second generation decks; prices will fall quite quickly in the second and third years. If all goes well, the supply of software will reach the necessary critical mass within three to five years, and the question marks hanging over recordable DVD will have been resolved, that’s when we can really start saying our fond farewells to VHS and laserdisc.

 

BOX COPY 1

 

Akai

The recently announced DV-P1000 player will be launched in Japan at the end of January 1997, it’s scheduled to go on sale world-wide during April

 

Hitachi

Players are on sale in Japan and the US any time now. PAL spec machines are expected to reach European stores in the second quarter of the year

 

JVC

Players are planned for Japan and the US this Spring, and there should be an announcement about PAL machines by the Summer. JVC DVD manufacturing plants in US started shipping sample discs last November and intend to go on stream this April with an expected output of 600,000 discs per month

 

Panasonic

Two decks and a DVD TV combo have been on sale in Japan (DVD-A100, DVD-A300 & TH-28GD1) since November. PAL models are expected to arrive in German shops  in February, followed shortly afterwards by the UK and the rest of Europe

 

Philips

Players will be available the US in the first quarter of 1997, reaching the UK and Europe during the third or fourth quarter. Philips DVD-ROM players are expected to go on sale everywhere this Spring

 

Pioneer

Pioneer’s ‘Omni’ deck, which can play Laservision discs, as well as DVD and most other CD variants, is due to go on sale in the US about now. They already have up to four DVD machines in Japan and the US. A decision about PAL spec players is due to be taken soon and hardware could be available in Europe by the third quarter

 

Sony

Sony say they won’t be launching players until there’s a good supply of software. They anticipate decks will be on sale in Japan later this year, followed fairly soon afterwards with players for other world markets, including Europe

 

Thomson

still waiting for a reply....

 

Toshiba

Players have gone on sale in Japan, the first US machines should reach the shops by March, timed to coincide with the first batch of Time Warner software. PAL players and discs for Europe are expected in late summer.

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1996 1012

 

 

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