Monday, March 10, 2008

Oh goody. Here comes another hi-def DVD format

Just weeks after the battle for the next-generation high definition DVD format ended, with Blu-ray triumphing over HD DVD; a new contender has emerged.

A new system that is incompatible with Blu-ray, called HD VMD, for versatile multilayer disc, is trying to find a niche. New Medium Enterprises, the company behind HD VMD, says its quality is equal to Blu-ray but costs less. By undercutting Blu-ray in production, replication and hardware costs, it thinks it can find a market among consumers with less income, particularly outside the US.

An HD VMD player costs less than a Blu-ray because it uses the red-laser technologies found in today’s standard-def DVD players. The Blu-ray and HD DVD machines use a more-expensive blue laser system. “We do not intend to take on Blu-ray,” said Shirly Levich, New Medium’s VP and product development manager. “We see VMD as a natural extension of mass market DVD product enhanced to HD capabilities. We shall not rekindle the format war.”

The industry and consumers may not see it that way, given that the company is promoting its price advantages. While Blu-ray players typically cost more than $300, an HD VMD unit is priced at $199. Sales through Amazon are scheduled to begin in five weeks. No talks have been held with the big-box retailers, like Wal-Mart Stores.

New Medium thinks its secret weapon is Michael Jay Solomon, one of Hollywood’s best-known film distributors, who has been named its chairman.

Although he has yet to approach the studios, Solomon, a former president of Warner Brothers International Television, said his long tenure in the industry would help him succeed in licensing movies for HD VMD. “It’s a combination of my good experiences and continual relationships,” Solomon said.

No matter how cheap a player is, it is useless unless major movies are released using its format. To date, New Medium has come up short. Just 17 movies are available to customers in the US at the company’s online store, including little-known ones like “The Enigma With a Stigma” and “Kandukondain Kandukondain,” a Bollywood production. Its major suppliers to the American market are Anthem Pictures, Eros Entertainment and SFM Entertainment, all independent distributors. Some bigger movies, like “Apocalypto,” are available in other territories.

But even without major studio movies, Solomon thinks the company will be successful. The low cost of producing HD VMD master discs, from which the consumer products are made, and the inexpensive consumer players have attracted owners of movie rights in China, India and Spain. Solomon said Australia, China, India, Central Europe, Russia and Scandinavia would be major markets. “We can sell players for $90 and make a profit,” he said.

In the United States, Solomon believes that producers of lesser-known movies, like religious organizations and independent filmmakers, will see HD VMD as a cost-effective way to create high-definition versions of their programming.

The Blu-ray camp is unimpressed. New Medium’s price strategy will fail, said Andy Parsons, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association, a trade group, because it relies on a false assumption: Blu-ray technology will always be more expensive.

“When you mass produce blue lasers in large quantities, hardware costs will absolutely come down,” Parsons said. “I’m sure we’ll eventually be able to charge $90 for a Blu-ray player.”

The HD VMD camp “is pitching a solution at a market niche that does not exist,” said Carmi Levy, senior vice president for strategic consulting at AR Communications, a Toronto research firm. “And even if it is a niche, you will never sell enough to make it a business.”

Solomon dissents. “Our idea is to create a player that people can afford. There is room for the two of us.” Unfortunately, consumers who bought HD DVD players that are now orphaned may not agree. (info from The New York Times)

No comments: