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News in Brief

TOSHIBA will be releasing its flagship VARDIA RD-X7 DVD Recorder model in Japan in the middle of June, looking to impress consumers with its advanced DVD recording capabilities. The company has removed the HD DVD functions and is promoting the unit as a high-end DVD recorder with a price to be set around ¥160,000 (€990). The RD-X7 has ground/digital tuners for the recording of TV broadcasts, offers an 1TB hard disk storage capacity and can record content on DVD-R/RW/RAM and DVD-R DL media. It does not support recording/reproduction of HD DVD discs. The device also supports the "Dubbing 10" function, which will allow Japanese consumers to make up to 9 copies of a recorded digital TV broadcast. Copies require both a recorder that supports the new feature as well as usage of CPRM DVD-RW/-R disk (VR mode).

RESEARCH from Scripps Networks has shown that US viewers with access to high-definition (HD) television channels watch more television than do non-HD households. However, HD-enabled homes still tune to standard-definition (SD) channels in large numbers, even when HD versions are available. The study suggests that the cable industry practice of segregating HD channels into tiers far removed from their SD counterparts may discourage the viewing of high-definition programming. In contrast, satellite operator DirecTV assigns HD and SD feeds the same channel number and their interactive program guide can be programmed to enable automatic HD tuning. The study is based on actual set-top box tuning data gathered by research firm TNS from approximately 300,000 households in Charter's Los Angeles cable system, one of the largest in the nation.

NETFLIX CEO, Reed Hastings, told investors at a recent presentation he expects the company to have 10 million subscribers by next year, but the DVD-by-mail business will peak in as soon as five years. He cited as risks the growing popularity of stand-alone DVD rental kiosks, improving video-on-demand services from cable and satellite companies and more competition in streaming from Web giants like Inc and Apple Inc and the potential of renewed promotional spending by Blockbuster Inc in the by-mail sector.

SONY Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) will launch its first BD-Live-enabled Blu-ray title outside the US market, with the release of Men In Black in selected international territories, beginning 16 June 2008. This release coincides with the recent Blu-ray Disc Profile 2.0 software update for PlayStation 3, making it the first Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player available on the market. Men In Black will bring network-connected features in international territories for the first time. These features include a BD-Live multi-player interactive trivia game, as well as exclusive downloadable theatrical, home entertainment previews and an FAQ about BD-Live functionality.

EARTH Cinema Circle (ECC) is a different kind of DVD subscriber club. Owned by Gaiam, this company offers a subscription service that delivers a compilation of environmental films to members on a bi-monthly basis. These films, which are mailed in 100% post consumer mailers, are also packaged in 100% recycled and recyclable packaging developed by NAPCO. ECC is also looking at making its products as carbon neutral as possible with its "Go Zero" carbon-sequestering programme, develop in partnership with The Conservation Fund.

ACCORDING to analysis by Understanding & Solutions, global sales of consumer electronics equipment rose 15% in 2007 to reach $480 billion, and those numbers are set to rise 7.6% to $516 billion in 2008. While these figures look promising, the competition for disposable income is fierce with three broadly different usage and consumer interest profiles. Audio visual-centric product (TV, video, audio) accounted for 33% of consumer electronic sales in 2007. Flat panel televisions have driven the value of the global TV market at least 15% per year. However, strong growth has also occurred in handheld MP3 devices.

AUDIODEV, the world-leading supplier of test equipment for quality control of optical media, has already won several orders for Blu-ray Disc testers worth a total of SEK24 million (€2.6 million). The testers will be delivered in the second and third quarter. The blu-ray disc testers from AudioDev focus on high precision and measurement accuracy and include replica and stamper testers for prerecorded and recordable media.“It’s gratifying that AudioDev has received these first major orders for testers for mass production of BD-discs,” says Christer Sjöström, CEO of AudioDev. As per the agreement, customers could not be named.

FROM a sample of 26 Japanese PC and home electronics volume retailers, research analysts BCN found that Blu-ray recorder sales had surpassed 50% of the Japanese DVD/HDD recorder market in April 2008, while Blu-ray recorders account for 30% of overall recorder unit sales so far. Matsushita electric Industrial (Panasonic) has the largest share (45.8%) of the total Blu-ray and HD DVD recorders sold in April, followed by Sony (37.8%) and Sharp (16.4%). Last January, Sony had sold the 59.7% of the total high-definition recorders in Japan, but Panasonic greatly boosted sales by releasing its new DMR-BR500 model with retail price below ¥100,000 ($970) in March. While now out of the HD DVD business, Toshiba continues promotion of its DVD/HDD recorders in Japan.

PANASONIC has announced that is has developed a single chip Blu-ray chip which combines both reading the disc and decoding the content. Previously these functions were performed by seperate chips and required seven extra memory chips on the mainboard of the Blu-ray player. By combining the functionality into one chip, 50% less space is required and 25% energy is saved. The chipset supports BD Profile 2.0, MPEG-4 H.264 and VC-1 codecs, 7.1 audio, and will make it possible to manufacturer smaller BD players, cheaper, more energy efficient Panasonic expects to start shipping the chips to manufacturers in June 2008.

SPEAKING at the recent All Things D conference. Howard Stringer, CEO at Sony, believes that Blu-ray will last for 10 years or more despite the rise in digital distribution as their is a "long lead time before downloads can reach the quality of Blu-ray." He went on to comment further that the PlayStation 3 was on life support for a while but that the console is moving its way towards profitability and a long lifespan. However based on the company's recent failures of a digital music player and interactive television ventures, he added that Sony was only now running 5 percent profit margins. "If we have any more success, we'll be bankrupt," he added.

US chain Staples will begin carrying Flexplay Entertainment's self-destructing DVD movies this month. The discs, manufactured with Flexplay's time-limited technology, can be viewed for only 48 hours after removal from a special sealed pouch. After two days the DVDs become unplayable and can then be discarded or
recycled. Flexplay has partnered with environmentally friendly recyclers, plastics suppliers and selected retailers to implement several closed-loop recycling options including consumer mail-in, prepaid postage options and collection points through local environmental organizations.

BLU-RAY makes its first appearance in the Middle East with the arrival of Panasonic's new DMP-BD30 Blu-ray Disc Player. While Blu-ray players have been available to UAE consumers in one form or another since as early as December 2006, the DMP-BD30 represents Panasonic's most up-to-date technology and is its first foray into the Middle East's Blu-ray market.

IN the two years since the Blu-ray high definition disc format launched, it has sold over 11 million film discs, according to recent research from the Redhill Group.

TOSHIBA is releasing its new SD-590J" DVD player in Japan at the end of this month for ¥13,800 ($130). Toshiba claims that the new player, which features an HDMI interface, upscales standard DVD video to 1080p, and offers quality comparable to native high definition video. The supported disc formats include DVD-R/RW (VR mode), DVD video, MP3/WMA, JPEG stored on CD-R/RW as well as DivX. The available outputs include RCA, S-video, composite and HDMI.

PROACTION Media is debuting a new type of disc that it claims is not only eco-friendly, but also cost-effective. The new Flex-Lite Disc is made using 50% less plastic than regular DVDs, which reduces the carbon footprint for manufacturing by more than 70% and is 100% recyclable. The disc has the same capacity of a DVD-5 DVD disc, but it is very light and flexible and is a more durable data storage solution than the traditional DVD media.

ROME Fiscal Police have arrested 12 members of an organised criminal gang involved in the distribution of pirate CDs and DVDs, according to the IFPI. The arrests, which took place in Naples and Milan, followed several months of investigation by the police. A series of raids uncovered six illegal pirate factories, five in Naples and one in Milan, which contained 350 burners. More than 70,000 CDs and DVDs were seized during the raids, alongside more than 100,000 counterfeit inlay cards. The gang members have been charged with conspiracy and copyright infringement and face jail sentences of up to six years. The Italian authors' society, SIAE, provided technical assistance to the Fiscal Police.

FOR the financial year ending 31 March 2008, Sony reported PS3 sales of 9.24 million units, up 5.63 million from FY2006 and bringing the total sold so far to 12.81 million units. The PS2 still outsold the PS3 by a far margin, checking in with 13.73 million units for FY2007 (down 0.98 million units) and a cumulative total of 172.95 million units so far. The PSP has become the most popular Sony game console during the year, selling 13.89 million devices. Sony has sold about 40.69 million PSPs to date. Total console shipments for FY2007 were 36.86 million.

FORTY-FIVE percent of HDTV owners in the US now claim to be familiar with Blu-ray Disc, up from 35% in June 2007, according to the NPD Group. While only 6% of all consumers surveyed said they plan to purchase a BD device in the next six months, NPD found purchase intent to be higher among the growing population of HDTV owners, boding well for the future of the format. NPD's 2008 Blu-ray Disc Report reveals that 9% of HDTV owners plan to buy a BD-capable player in the next six months. "With HDTVs now in approximately 40 million US households, that percentage translates to a pool of almost 4 million potential BD player buyers," according to Russ Crupnick, entertainment industry analyst for NPD.

NEC ELECTRONICS has started shipping samples of SCOMBO/UM2A, an SoC chip designed for use in Blu-ray Disc (BD) systems that support 8x recording and playback, in Japan. The chip is targeted for use in personal computers and audio-visual equipment. NEC Electronics employed a wideband analog signal processing circuit in order to support Blu-ray 8x recording and playback. The circuit was originally developed for use in 20x DVD systems. Furthermore, the company adopted the CMOS technology to produce the analog circuit, instead of using the BiCMOS technology. Compared with the company's existing product, the footprint of the latest chip is 20% smaller, and the power consumption was reduced by 33% to 1.8W.

OPTICAL disc equipment manufacturer, Singulus has reported receiving orders for 21 Blu-ray dual-layer machines in Q1 2008 and claims this figure shows the new technology is being adopted faster than its predecessor, DVD, 11 years ago. The German company has also received additional orders for Blu-ray dual-layer machines this quarter including a key U.S. customer accepting a machine for the first time.

LG ELECTRONICS has launched its new line of optical disc drives, which feature reading and writing speeds of 6x. The latest models are the BE06, GBC-H20L and GBW-H20L. Unique to LG, the line offers SecurDisc capabilities, which provide data protection and content access control on all current optical formats, and LightScribe technology, which enables consumers to easily create direct-to-disc labels right from their drive.

BLU-RAY Disc Association (BDA) has provided some positive statistics on BD take-up. In a survey conducted by Sony Computer Entertainment America, results for the first half of May 2008 indicate that 52% of almost 3,000 PlayStation 3 (PS3) owners plan to purchase six or more BD titles in the next 12 months. Approximately 50% prefer to exclusively purchase or rent movies in BD format, even if they have to wait longer for the title release, and over 40% report increased movie viewing since the purchase of a PS3.