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News in Brief

Expected on the Japanese market in June is Hitachi's groundbreaking WOOO MS-DS400 that will come with a built-in 400GB hard drive and a multi-drive that can playback and record on all available DVD formats: DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+RW and DVD+R. Hitachi will also release the MS-DS250 (250GB) and DV-DS160 (160GB) in late May and early August, respectively. The DV-RV7000 and DV-RX7000, VHS Video/DVD recorder models, will be available in July. The company will initially produce a total of 24,000 units of the hard drive models and 6,000 units of the VHS Video models per month. No price details.

The China Sourcing Fair at Shanghai Mart which runs in April was a sell-out and brought some of the biggest names in global retailing and OEM electronics together with experienced China manufacturers and exporters.

A restored version of the 1982 filmed version Stephen Sondheim's groundbreaking musical, Sweeney Todd, 25 years after its Broadway bow, is to be released on DVD. Starring Angela Lansbury and George Hearn, the DVD special edition DVD is being put out by Warner Home Video, priced $25. The Broadway show won eight Tony Awards, including best musical. The film version, made for television, won three Emmys, including best actor for Hearn.

Survey research conducted by IDC and sponsored by a group of leading computer and consumer electronics companies forecasts that consumers will purchase some 11 million DVD burners for their home PCs over the next 18 months – a significant increase over earlier survey results – and outlines the features and functions fueling this growth.

Seven major movie studios have sued ESS Tedchnology a US microchip company for allegedly selling DVD descrambling technology to manufacturers unlicensed to receive it. The studios claim ESS Technology was required by the license for the "Content Scrambler System" in its microchips to refrain from selling them to DVD makers not approved by the DVD Copy Control Association. One of the users that bought the microchips from ESS is selling a device called the Aspire Digital AD-8000 DVD player and digital video recorder, which can copy encrypted DVDs, the studios allege.

The XV-N315 model is the first DVD player offered by JVC to play DivX discs and has achieved DivX Certification from DivXNetworks. This DVD player by JVC displays the DivX Home Theater Certified logo, assuring the consumer that it meets DivXNetworks' stringent requirements for quality, full format compatibility (plays back all versions of DivX video) and interoperability. ESS's DivX Certified Vibratto II MX DVD SOC powers the XV-N315 model, while the standard Vibratto II DVD SOC powers the XV-N310 model, without DivX support.

The UK's Raindance Film Festival is planning to launch its own DVD label in partnership with video outfit Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Sunplus Technology will double its monthly shipments of DVD player single chip to two million units in the third quarter. Sunplus sees increasing orders for DVD players in the second quarter and plans to then offer a new-generation DVD player system-on-chip (SoC) solution, which integrates servo, MPEG-2 decoder and MPEG-4 encoder/decoder functions.

The Taiwan Economic News says that Microsoft may back the FVD (Forward Versatile Disc), based on the red laser technology, as a format for optical storage. The technology is currently being proposed by major manufacturers from Taiwan and the DVD Forum, of which Microsoft is an increasingly important member, is assessing it. Seemingly, FVD supports a 6GB single sided single layer disc, and 11GB dual layer disc. According to the report, FVD so far has been adopted by 29 Taiwanese firms. They are hoping to persuade mainland Chinese manufacturers to follow their lead.

DVD Video sales in the Czech Republic, where player penetration is just 8%, are growing even faster than expected, according to Lada Hrabe, president and CEO of Bonton Film, a leading local distributor. Out of just over 2 million units sold since DVDs were first introduced in 1998, more than 1 million were purchased in 2003.

The music industry has announced legal action against 247 people accused of illegal file sharing outside the United States, taking its war against Internet piracy abroad for the first time. Recording industry associations in Denmark, Germany, Italy and Canada have filed lawsuits or taken other legal action, aiming mainly at heavy users accused of offering a large number of songs online. "This is not a U.S.-only problem," said Jay Berman, chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry in London. "We always knew we would have to take action outside the United States. At some point, you have to ask yourself when. That moment was now."

E-M-S New Media of Germany has been granted a 5m Euro extension to its credit line with Dortmunder Volksbank. The money will help finance the acquisition of new film rights to add to its 400-title DVD library. The company, which has a 2.9% share of the German DVD market, is expecting sales revenues in its home entertainment division of 19m Euro for 2004 and 25m Euro in 2005.

The Iomega Super DVD QuikTouch Video Burner 8x combines video-capture circuitry and a DVD+/-RW drive in one external box that connects to a PC via USB 2.0. Users can connect an analogue camcorder or VCR to the unit's inputs, press the QuikTouch button to tranfer VHS tapes to DVDs that can be played in almost any set-top DVD player.

A film distribution company, 1 More Film., has been launched in the Netherlands with a line-up of 32 movies. The company is headed by Wallie Polle and Suzan van der Veen, both recently with the Netherlands’ leading distributor A-Film. Polle is an industry veteran who has previously worked at Bij The Movies, Meteor Film, Polygram and Cinemien. Van der Veen previously worked with Kriterion, C-Films and Fu Works. Its first release on April 22 will be Bent Hamer’s Norwegian comedy-drama Kitchen Stories.

China has agreed to talks with the United States about a tax Beijing imposed on imported semiconductors that Washington contends gives Chinese producers an unfair advantage. The United States started a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the 17% value-added tax China places on semiconductors, the chips that power electronics. American chip companies and United States officials have said that China gives its producers an unfair advantage in the $19 billion Chinese semiconductor market by providing big rebates.

Germany's anti-piracy organisation (GVU) has just completed what may be one of the biggest ever operations against copyright thieves. Some 800 private apartments, company premises and computer centres were raided in Munich, Frankfurt, Bremen, Cologne and the Ruhr region over a three-day period, March 16-18. The GVU, which has been on the case for more than two years, said it had exposed the activities of two groups behind the illegal production and distribution of German versions of films including The Lord Of The Rings, Finding Nemo, The Passion Of The Christ, and Cheaper By The Dozen as well as the latest games software. The investigators seized 19 internet servers with 38 terabytes of memory to hold bootlegged films and software programmes, over 40,000 data carriers and more than 200 computer systems.

Director Oliver Stone has initially failed to halt the distribution in Spain of the DVD of Comandante, his documentary on Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator. In January, A preliminary injunction filed against co-producer MediaPro and Spanish distributor Manga Films alleged that the DVD distribution infringed Stone's moral author rights by including extras Stone had not agreed to. Stone claims the extras damaged the integrity of the film and Stone's reputation and right to control his image. A Madrid court rejected the preliminary injunction March 12. Stone plans to appeal.

Macrovision fourth quarter 2003 net revenues were a record $39.9 million, compared with $30.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2002, an increase of 32%. Net revenues for the full year of 2003 also set a record high, increasing to $128.3 million from $102.3 million for 2002, an increase of 26%. Pro forma earnings for 2003 were $37.8 million, 8% higher than the $35.1 million recorded in 2002. Pro forma diluted earnings per share for 2003 were $0.76, 10% higher than the comparable earnings per share of $0.69 last year.

At a press conference in Taiwan, Cheertek president Archie Yeh said his company has come up with a single-chip solution that integrates the functions of a DVD player and set-top box (STB). It is codenamed CTMan. The DVD/STB combo player, that can play DVDs and also receive digital video broadcasts (DVB), supports the DVB-S and DVB-T standards and a 256-color graphical user interface display. The chip also functions as a transport stream demultiplexer, TV encoder, DVD servo controller and MPEG-2 decoder, Yeh said. Products using the single-chip solution are in design-in stage at five IT makers in Taiwan and China, said Yeh, adding that Cheertek is expected to start volume shipments of the CTMan chips in May.

The Informa Media Group predicts that Sony will sell more than 30 million DVD-enabled PlayStation3s in Europe by 2010. It puts Microsoft in second place with 10 million sales and Nintendo trailing in third with five million. The new consoles, expected by 2005, could have up to 1,000 times more processing power than current models and emphasise online gaming.

Walt Disney Company signed an agreement with Microsoft to use its digital rights management system to protect its films and other media content. The software giant and the Disney media conglomerate have a multiyear agreement to co-operate on several long-term digital media initiatives to protect the security of digital content within the home and on Windows XP-based PCs as well as on a number of home and portable entertainment devices. The new system would enable purchasers of Disney content to move the product a limited number of times between different digital devices.