DVD LET­TER­BOX

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - MICHAEL BODEY

CON­FUSED by the high- def­i­ni­tion DVD disc for­mat bat­tle? Be pre­pared to be­come even more con­fused. Last week, an­other high- def­i­ni­tion for­mat gained some ground on the HD DVD and Blu- ray tech­nolo­gies. Not much ground, mind you, but it’s a start.

New Medium En­ter­prises, de­vel­oper of the HD VMD ( ver­sa­tile multi- layer disc) for­mat, has signed a dis­tri­bu­tion deal with Icon Film Dis­tri­bu­tion, the lo­cal arm of Mel Gib­son and Bruce Davey’s com­pany.

What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween HD VMD and HD DVD or Blu- ray?

For a start the colour of the laser ( red and blue is dif­fer­ent. But far more im­por­tant, we are promised much cheaper play­ers be­cause only small mod­i­fi­ca­tions are re­quired to present mod­els to get them up to speed with VMD. So VMD play­ers are set to be about five times cheaper than HD play­ers.

But the real key ap­pears to be that VMD can hold more data be­cause it can use more lay­ers of data on a disc than the oth­ers. It of­fers 20GB stor­age ca­pac­ity a disc by com­bin­ing four lay­ers of 5GB each or three hours of 1080p HD con­tent a side.

And there is a prom­ise of multi- lay­ered discs be­ing able to carry 100GB of stor­age against present HD DVD and Blu- ray ca­pa­bil­i­ties of 15GB to 25GB.

That’s all fine, but how does this new stan­dard com­pete against the bur­geon­ing be­he­moths or, more pre­cisely, the many film stu­dios, dis­trib­u­tors, hard­ware pro­duc­ers and tech­nol­ogy part­ners who have aligned them­selves to Blu- ray ( mostly) or HD DVD?

It at­tacks two of the world’s fastest grow­ing mar­kets, China and In­dia, and signs up a deal to dis­trib­ute Bol­ly­wood films.

NME also has some quite strate­gic part­ner­ships brew­ing, in­clud­ing one with the French dis­trib­u­tor of The Lord of the Rings tril­ogy and this deal with Icon, dis­trib­u­tor of Apoca­lypto , The But­ter­fly Ef­fect and its se­quel, Gos­ford Park, Miss Pot­ter and oth­ers.

NME has also signed for­eign- based film sup­pli­ers in Ger­many, Poland and Scan­di­navia, among other places.

It is ex­pected to roll out the discs and play­ers here within the next six months, with new play­ers com­ing in at less then $ 300.

Pric­ing will be the key and give the for­mat its true com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage, at least in the short to medium term.

Yet one doubts the for­mat can over­whelm the in­cum­bents, even though HD DVD and Blu- ray haven’t launched with the kind of oomph we may have ex­pected.

It only con­fuses the process and makes you won­der how des­per­ately we need to com­mit to new tech­nolo­gies.

Which leads to an­other piece of DVD news that ques­tions the longevity of DVDs and pre­sum­ably the life of this col­umn.

Warner Bros Home En­ter­tain­ment Group has an­nounced it will test re­lease the block­buster movie 300 via video on de­mand and DVD si­mul­ta­ne­ously in Bel­gium, Scan­di­navia and other Euro­pean mar­kets later this year.

Still, you’ll need snappy broad­band to en­joy VOD. Per­haps the DVD for­mat is safe in this coun­try for some time yet.

* * * DISC WATCH: Con­struct­ing Aus­tralia twodisc edi­tion ( Road­show, $ 39.95, G). Many ter­rific doc­u­men­taries have been re­leased in re­cent weeks and this amal­gam of the three lo­cal do­cos screened on the ABC is as good as any. In­cludes the pro­gram about the his­tory of the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge fea­tur­ing The Aus­tralian ’ s Peter Lalor.

bodeym@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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