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DVD is not only for video home entertainment

by Bob Auger

It’s easy to believe that the world revolves around the Video Home Entertainment industry, particularly when viewed from the perspective of global DVD revenues in excess of $30 billion last year. The fact that players are cheap and disc manufacture is so inexpensive (replicators would never offer ‘cheap’ DVDs, would they?) should induce many other potential users to enter the market but somehow the industry seems to ignore significant sources of revenue, preferring to stick to show business.

The recent the London British Education an Training Technology show (BETT), which proclaims itself ‘The world’s largest’, occupied almost the whole of the extensive Olympia exhibition centre. The floor was packed with technology-driven stands from major names, including Microsoft, Dell and Intel, although for the first time in many years, Apple failed to show up.

As far as packaged media goes (and that’s a long way at BETT) nearly 25 years after its launch CD-ROM was everywhere, covering curriculum subjects from language learning and chemistry comprehension to mastering mathematics. More than 225 exhibitors were offering software on CD. The Play Station Portable made a showing too, notably from ConnectED, who offered to show how ‘the technology of the future can help you fulfil against key educational criteria.’ And of course, broadband and the internet were pressed into service in support of everything from school attendance records to parental contact.

So where was DVD in all this 21st century paraphernalia? Invisible! Despite determined investigation, the only stand majoring on DVD delivery was Mandarin Day – a Chinese company offering a two-volume course on speaking Chinese, using printed books and two DVD-ROMs. Now it’s certainly true that others, such as Channel 4 Learning with its broadcasting background, had a few DVDs to show but these appeared to be little more than containers for linear video, not educational tools in their own right.

Times are supposed to be hard at the moment for the DVD business, margins down, competition fiercer than ever, consumers preferring to rent rather than buy, so why not make use of the undoubted authoring talent that is out there to exploit the massive installed DVD player base and produce something for the benefit of education and learning?

Almost every teacher and student has at least one DVD player in their home, as well as access to a PC or laptop with DVD drive, and the images can be displayed on hand-held portables or wall-sized whiteboards. The discs are inexpensive to replicate, long-lived and simple to replace. There are no complicated install programs to run, no security issues to confront and almost no ‘compatibility issues’.

Now for those who still can’t bring themselves to believe that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way round, it may be hard to accept that creating titles for the world of education can be as exciting and worthwhile as authoring an exercise video. This attitude has led to a comprehension gap that means missed business chances on the one hand and missed educational opportunities on the other.

There’s a need to find a common language to bring the two sides together, to explain that DVD is not just linear video with a few ‘interactive’ bonus tracks thrown in. To show educational publishers that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune and take months to create worthwhile, fun, interactive titles that will encourage users to learn at their own pace and still meet curriculum requirements.

Of course, I have an axe to grind in writing this. I’ve been involved in making educational DVDs since 2001 and I’ve seen how effective they can be. To quote one user from a pilot DVD project, supporting English as a Second Language in high schools, “It enables me to learn about foreign countries and at the same time increase my English competency. I think it is very good”. The schools were located in Beijing, China – from the evidence of the DVD-based Mandarin course on offer at this year’s BETT show, it seems that the lesson has been well taken.

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Prospects for 3D in the home

There has been a lot of hype about 3D TV. But the industry getting behind a broad realm of technologies is a far cry from a monetisable mass market. Fundamentally, 3D is complex, more so than HD as technology and ecosystem. Screen Digest' TOM MORROD examines the issue.

This complexity will be reflected in uptake of 3D. It is often said that 3D is easier for consumers to 'see' than HD, thus driving true demand. But it can be countered that a market is not just about demand. It is about supply, price and information - all in questionable quantities.

Supply is a big piece of the puzzle and crucially, like HD, 3D is an ecosystem. It is certainly about the TV receiver, polarised or active switching; the glasses (easily forgotten but not necessarily 'in the box'). But it also takes in the decoding device - set-top box, games console or BD player; the distribution medium (broadcast/unicast), games console or 3D BD; the content and the process of capture, editing and contribution, including broadcasting infrastructure when not printed to disc.

Only about 20 per cent of broadcaster equipment is HD, 30 per cent of TV screens and less than that of set-top boxes. We are still in a very early stage of actual upgrade across the HD ecosystem. And while the HD infrastructure across broadcasters and operators can be used to transmit lower resolution 3D to some existing HD PVRs, all those TV screens will need replacing.

Price is a murky issue spanning both consumer and professional equipment. Many of the early announced prices for 3D TV sets are considerable inflations on similar non-3D TVs. This is especially true for passive polarised, where more technology is built into the display. However, active switching, offering screens at similar prices to non-3D displays, have a hidden cost: the glasses may cost up to $150 a pair, a major consumer cost.... Read More...