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News in Brief

Bertelsmann-owned music giant BMG has called in the Slaughter and May law firm to carry out a due diligence in what is being seen as the latest move in the proposed merger between the German firm and AOL Time Warner.

Following its two-tier pricing initiative with the UK release of the James Bond DVD blockbuster Die Another Day, MGM has decided to continue with that pricing policy in Britain. MGM will be releasing all rental products on the same day as corresponding retail products, with all rental products adopting a dealer price tag of £35 for both VHS and DVD. “MGM strongly believes that adopting this strategy will benefit both rental and retail by significantly increasing overall revenue and creating more money for comprehensive, joint marketing support – including above the line advertising,” the company says.

Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, Wolfson Microelectronics plc, has introduced a new family of multi-channel input devices for the next generation of Class-D DVD players. (Full story in Product Launches)

Prices for DVD player single-chip solutions continue to slip, according to reports from Asia. Intensified competition among suppliers have pushed chips down $1 to $7. Companies such as Sunplus Technology, Cheertek, Zoran and ESS Technology have accelerated their production and sampling. Taiwan-based MediaTek still claims the lead in the global DVD player single-chip market, with about a 50-60% worldwide share. To keep the top position, the company is now focusing on developing single-chip solutions that integrate an RF IC and MPEG-4 decoder for portable DVD players.

Leading UK packaged entertainment retailer Woolworths is about to increase store space for DVD and VHS by 25%. The national chain store says it plans to become more aggressive in order to maintain its market position in the rapidly growing home entertainment sector. Other changes mooted include the installation of DVD charts on store walls in order to increase the format’s profile. Music DVD will also have a dedicated charts section.

Mail order company Bclub (formerly Britannia), owned by Universal and a leader in UK home entertainment sales, has launched a new proposition, Channel, to appeal to an older target market. The new brand will be supported by a magazine and the website. The company thinks the move will provide an opportunity to sell back catalogue in the UK.

Claiming to have the fastest DVD writer ready for market in September, BenQ America has introduced an 8X-speed DVD recorder, the DW800A that records in the DVD+R format and at 4X in DVD+RW. The claim is the $200 product can create a full 4.7-Gbyte DVD+R disc in seven minutes, half the time that it takes existing 4X DVD burners to perform that task. (More in Product Launches).

DVD Region-Free, a $40 DVD tweaking tool, has been updated with the new version rewritten to gain more speed and stability. It includes new features especially aimed for backing up DVDs from different regions. (More in Product Launches)

In the US, DVD-enabled game consoles now represent one-third of the installed base of DVD players. Analysts say 20 million households own one of the two DVD-enabled game consoles. This figure encompasses all PlayStation 2 console owners plus 48% of Xbox owners who bought the optional DVD playback kit. Respondents to an ongoing Centris poll of consumers indicated substantial usage of these consoles to watch DVD movies. Over a six month period, 54% of those with DVD-enabled consoles reported watching a DVD on it within the past 30 days.

New Line Home Entertainment's special edition of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring took four of the 15 DVD Awards handed out at the 6th Annual DVD Awards gala at the Universal City Hilton. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets disc received the award for Best Standard Release as well as the Viewers' Choice honours which were determined earlier this month by nearly 40,000 DVD fans that voted on various web sites . . .

. . . in a related event held at the Universal City Hilton the night before, the 1st Annual Entertainment Packaging Awards (dubbed the Alex Awards in honour of Alex Steinweiss, the father of the album cover) were handed out. Steinweiss received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

One of the UK’s largest national retail chains, WHSmith, is trialing try-before-you-buy DVD stations at a newly-opened major store. The new store, designed to “meet the needs of today’s shopper,” will form the template for a further 24 outlets due to open across the country before Christmas. They will incorporate the successful elements of the trial. Among the initiatives are CD listening post-style DVD ports that allow customers to view film trailers in-store before they decide what to purchase. Customers scan in the bar code of the DVD they want to watch and a trail or information about the film appears. WHSmith says the new store, in Guilford, will have giant plasma screens running information and trails geared specifically towards the DVD department.

NewTech Infosystems is boasting a new, robust version of Dragon Burn for Mac OS X system users in an effort to establish it as the new standard for Mac CD and DVD burning software. (Full story in Product Launches)

DVD X Copy Xpress computer software is due to be launched in the UK September 1. Developed by the New York-based company 321, the ripping programme will be sold through the major computer retail chain PC World. Lavinia Carey director general of the British Video Association and chair of the Alliance Against Copyright Theft, told reporters: "The only way the industry can combat it is by using robust copy protection measures, but the trouble is that it can hack all kinds of stuff and it's totally illegal. I'm sure it would instantly fall foul of our UK law, but what we need is the implementation of the EC Copyright Directive because that would make the circumvention of technical measures illegal."

Targeting a market that’s looking for an easy way to take a clip or segment from a DVD, the newly launched Cinematize 1.0 ($50) enables users to extract a clip or segment from any DVD, even a complex one, and save it in a format compatible with standard movie and audio editing software. (Full story in Product Launches.)

InterVideo’s family of WinDVD Creator Platinum 2 software video editing products and WinDVR 3 Digital Video Recorder software have been enhanced with a new Dolby Digital Consumer Encoder. (Full story in Product Launches.)

The Malay Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry is close to finalising an official ceiling price for the retail of DVDs, VCDs, CDs and cassettes, in a move to combat piracy. Ministry is waiting for a report on production costs before submitting the recommended prices to the Cabinet. In the campaign against pirated CDs and VCDs, the government claims it is making gains. The number of premises found to be selling the items has been reduced from 2,300 in August 2002 to only 131 this month. Additionally, 1,300 legal premises are being constantly monitored.

In a related move, the Motion Picture Association and the Malaysian government raided operators of five web sites suspected of selling illegal DVDs, in the film industry's latest attack on Internet piracy. The MPA said it seized more than 30,000 optical discs, which were largely pirated copies of DVDs from member Hollywood film studios. The raids led to the arrests of nine people who allegedly ran an illegal web mail-order ring for pirated movies. One targeted site, DVDExpress2u, sold new-release DVD films such as Confidence or 2 Fast 2 Furious for about $12.

Elonex, Evesham Technology, Hi-Grade Computers, Hewlett Packard, Packard Bell, PC World and Time Group all plan to market PCs running Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition in the UK later this year.

The Mebius PC-SV1-7DB, due August 28, is Sharp's latest Windows XP notebook PC featuring a built-in TV tuner. The Mobile AMD Athlon XP-M processors 2000+ machine enables users to quickly play DVD and music CDs, or watch TV, without booting the operating system.

Data storage and media products company Verbatim has gone with Sonic's complete, integrated line of CD/DVD creation, copy, backup and playback applications for its new DVD+/- Producer 44 Dual Format DVD drive. Sonic's DVD/CD suite of integrated applications includes MyDVD, RecordNow!, Simple Backup and CinePlayer. (More in Product Launches.)

Available in October and November respectively, Sony’s new Dual RW drives, the internal DRU-500A ($350) and the external DRX-500UL ($430), encompass four popular DVD recording formats for the utmost in recording functionality and playback compatibility. Drives combine the DVD rewritable (DVD+RW/-RW) formats with the write- once (DVD+R/-R) formats and enables users to transfer home movies from tape to DVD discs, edit them for playback in most DVD players and DVD-ROM drives. (Full story in Product Launches.)

Probably a first: US broadcaster ABC Television has created a DVD promoting the network's new Autumn Season programme lineup. Aim is to provide an entertaining and effective promo give-away, i.e. a DVD that will excite and educate viewers about the new programs airing on ABC this year, as well as movies and returning ABC favourites. Some 150,000 DVDs will be given away within the next month. Among other distribution initiatives, DVDs will be placed in packages bought through the Disney auction site on EBay, and in all gift bags at tradeshows where the Autumn season will be premiered.

EMI, which had its bid to merge with Warner Music rejected by the European Commission, has nonetheless offered to buy Warner’s recorded music division, valued at $1 billion, according to the New York Post. The British company is said to be poised to pounce should the current talks between Warner and BMG break down. The tabloid says sources close to the deal say there is growing pessimism among the dealmakers that they can iron out their differences.

The first officially DivX Certified DVD player, the KiSS DP-500, is now available for sale. The DP-500 ($300), powered by the EM8550 DVD processor from Sigma Designs, is being touted as a revolutionary network-connected DVD player from Denmark’s KiSS Technology that is capable of playing back DivX video, including versions 3.xx, 4.xx and 5.xx.