Digital Video Disc (DVD)
DVD is gaining a lot of momentum as we move further into a digital age and in fact, in the next year or so, you will see more and more digital television broadcasting and even digital movies in the theater with the release this year of the long awaited Star Wars movie. We have had a chance to put several DVD systems together and I am impressed with the clarity of picture and sound that they are delivering. You might remember that at the last couple of Comdex shows, I had a chance to look at some rather monster screens and projection units playing DVD movies and was really blown away by what I saw. Both in the quality and in the price of the equipment. Today, you can get a DVD CDROM drive and encoder card to connect to your video adapter for under $250. The problems here is that you need some serious horsepower to play these. I would recommend no slower than a Pentium II computer running at 350MHz and at least 64MB of RAM. You also better have an AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) graphics accellerator card with at least 8MB of RAM. In fact, some of the new video cards will have DVD decoding capability on board the card and if so, it is worth buying as then you can simply buy a DVD drive for under $150. For new systems, that would be the way to go.
As to performance, we have been running one on a 19 inch Viewsonic monitor and if I run it full screen, I discover, that it doesn't really look that much better than a home television so it is important to check the video resolution on the monitor and the system settings. I have also noticed that the picture will pause and jump occaisonally which means that the computer is not really keeping up with it. Now that could be either the CD ROM drive isn't fast enough or it is sending too much data to the computer to process. Not sure at this point but it does show that you need a lot of computer power to push DVD.
Another problem is that most people today have computers pretty loaded down. Just the other day I saw a new Pentium II 450 that had over 22 tasks running that were automatically started up when you turn the computer on. Now while this is a bit excessive in my view, what that means is that you have all those tasks and programs actually sitting there either doing something, watching for something, or waiting for something to happen. It can be the kiss of death if you are trying to do something sensitive like creating a CD with a CD writer system. Most of the time you won't notice the difference but playing DVD movies takes a lot of resources out of your computer and having a number of silent processing going on will certainly impact performance.
Getting back to the DVD picture, you have a lot of options in showing the DVD movies. You can see it in the origional "letter box" mode or standard TV aspect ratio. What also makes a difference is if you have some high quality PC Speakers connected to your system. You then get good theater quality sound right in front of you. Course for me, I would still rather watch a good movie on my television set and I guess I will just have to wait for the digital TVs to come down in price.
DVD (Yet another conflicting standard)
Before getting into the DVD (Digital Video Disc) conversation, lets take a quick step back. The ability to create our own CDs is still to me an infant technology. When I still see people having all sorts of difficulty creating the CDs because of conflicting software, finicky drives, and overloaded computers, we are still, to me, quite a bit away from the ease of use and practicality claimed by the vendors. The create your own CD market place was launched less than three years ago but in 1999, vendors are anticipating shipping over 15 million drives. This year, this becomes a $4 Billion industry with an estimated 700 million individual CDs sold. I realize that the bulk of these go to mass produced software distribution, but still we are talking a large number. What will really take off is the estimated shipment of 1.4 billion CD-R and CD-RW discs this year. It is hard to beat the thought of getting 650MB of your files and data onto a disc that now sells for around $1.50 each for the CD-R. In fact, with technology getting better all the time, I find myself hardly ever using my floppy diskette drive. All my programs come on CD, what I need to transfer to my desktop from my laptop and back goes via the network. I nearly send all my data files via the internet and email. So what do I need a floppy for' Then again, I recall installing a 5.25 floppy in a new computer for a client last week so there you go. But back to DVD. According to HP, DVD, by the year 2001, will be shipping more drives than the CDR and CD-RW type drives. Do people really want to watch movies on their computer' Well, the answer is probably not but we begin to see some really new products coming out for DVD. DeLorme, the makers of the Gazateers and Global Positioning Systems software and maps, is coming out with a DVD version of their AAA Map'n'Go program, Eartha Global Explorer, and others. The advantages are quickly obvious when on a CD, you store 650mb of data and information. The DVD will store today, 3gb.
So, what could throw a wrinkle into this charge to DVD' Well, for one thing, it is tough to put a DVD into a computer selling for less than $1,000. Today's DVD drives sell for around $150 while the typical CD drive is less than $50 and the CDRW (better ones) are still $350. Besides DeLorme, I still don't see much in the way of DVD titles other than the movies and I still don't want to watch a movie on my computer, at least not on a 17 inch screen or less. Another impediment is that the CD media is quite cheap especially for software manufacturers who buy in very large quantity. There are very few applications that won't fit onto a single CD. In listening to the folks at HP, they obviously think the future is quite bright for DVD. More titles and movies, the ability to include a tremendous amount of video content, future lower prices, and hopefully, a DVD killer application, probably a game.
And finally, the charge to DVD will be confused by the constantly changing standards for writeable DVD. Today, there are currently four standard for DVD writeable drives; DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, and DVD+RW. From the consumer point of view, I will sit this one out for the time being. Who wants to get into another Sony VHS Betamax argument. Another problem to consider is that while most of today's shipping CD drives will read a CD-R and CD-RW disc, dont count on your home DVD drive reading any of the new writeable discs. I suspect that soon enough when the standards are set, you will see DVD drives being able to read them but again, watch for more details.
If you must go into the writeable DVD market, I would take a look at the DVD+RW standard being pushed by HP, Sony, Ricoh, and Yamaha among others. This standard is a 3.0 gigabyte capacity disc using both high performance CAV and CLV methods of writing the disc. CAV and CLV are two more buzz words to put in your glossary meaning Constant Angular Velocity and Constant Linear Velocity. CAV is better suited to data files while CLV is for video recording. You will also find that DVD+RW is also much faster at writing the disc, where today's higher end CD-RW writes at around 600 kb/s, the DVD+RW will be around 1730 kb/s. For more information about DVD+RW, check out their website at www.dvdrw.org/dca Sony expects to have a drive available this fall. No pricing yet is set.
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