Europe's online source of news, data & analysis for professionals involved in packaged media and new delivery technologies

News in Brief

THE Blu-ray Disc Association has set the 31 October 2007 deadline for mandatory BD-Java support in all new players released after that date. All BD hardware must be able to play back picture-in-picture video via BD-Java. The mandate also imposes on all Blu-ray players to hold a minimum 256MB of persistent memory storage to help power the picture-in-picture feature. Also, any BD player sporting an Internet connection will have to have 1GB of such memory, in order to hold whatever content users decide to download from the Web.

AT the recent IRMA Forum, the long-running industry association announced another change of name. The International Recording Media Association says that it will rename itself the Content Delivery and Storage Association, to keep up with the increasingly digital nature of the industry and attract a broader membership base. This is the third name in the association's history. In 1998, what was the ITA (International Tape Association) moved with the times and became the IRMA, to more closely reflect the industry.

TORONTO-based replicator Cinram have acquired US interactive games software company Ditan Corp for $50 million. The company makes and distributes direct-to-store video games for video-game publishers, retailers and home video studios. "Ditan's strong relationship with the interactive software industry and well-established footprint will provide Cinram with a point of entry into a new industry that is directly adjacent and complementary to ours," Cinram CEO Dave Rubenstein said in a statement.

TOSHIBA announced the availability of its new Qosmio G40 laptop which includes an HD-DVD recorder, 17-inch (1920x1200) HD monitor, 200 GB hard drive, 2GB RAM, Intel Santa Rosa T7300P Core 2 Duo CPU, 512MB Geforece 8600M GT graphics card and HDMI 1.3 functionality. Scheduled in Europe in June for 3000 Euros.

RAIDED Best Music retail store in the Chinatown of Vancouver, Canada, was the front for a counterfeiting operation that copied movies, music videos and video games which were sold for about $15 each. The police seized boxes of counterfeit material and DVD burning equipment that could have produced nearly 300 DVDs a day. There were “in excess of 500 North American movie titles, more than 800 game titles [and] thousands of Asian music video titles." The Entertainment Software Association estimates $3 billion is lost in revenues in Canada each year by the gaming industry alone because of piracy and counterfeiting.

KOREA and the United States have reached agreement on a comprehensive set of commitments that will liberalize trade between the two nations and will update levels of copyright protection. Korean copyright legislation and enforcement practices – particularly as they relate to Internet-based theft – while recently improved, are still lacking. This agreement will also require Korea to extend the term of protection for sound recordings and performances to 70 years. Achieving global harmonization of the term of protection is increasingly important in a world so interconnected through digital media, says the US delegation.

ACCORDING to figures from The Official UK Charts Company, Blu-ray disc sales hit 32,602 units in March ignited by the release of the BD-enabled PlayStation 3 console, up from a mere 1,635 discs sold a month earlier in February. During that month HD DVD sales of 11,069 units eclipsed Blu-ray figures, but the situation has reversed with HD DVD sales only increasing by around 3,000 units in March to 13,968 with Warner’s Batman Begins the top-selling title. Some 165,000 PS3 units were sold on its launch two weeks ago.

FIRST generation HD DVD players from Toshiba can now be updated to support new features, thanks to the mandatory Ethernet port on every player. Firmware update version 2.1 can be downloaded over the Internet for owners of Toshiba HD DVD player models HD-XA1, HD-A1 and HD-D1. The firmware adds "support for certain anticipated network delivered content in future HD DVD discs." Also addressed are issues where HDMI output does not work or works intermittently with HDTVs or monitors and improvements in playback to eliminate pixelization, block noise and audio dropouts.

DELUXE Entertainment Services Group intends to enter the New York market by opening a full-service facility in downtown Manhattan. Services will include a motion picture laboratory, high-definition telecine, editorial and media management services along with a digital intermediate post-production centre. The facility is expected to open some services by October 2007 and have full operation in early 2008.

DUBLIN-based Research and Markets analyst forecast that China’s film industry will grow from generating $250 million in box office profits in 2005 to reach close to $900 million by 2010 and almost $2 billion by 2015. Furthermore, China will follow a steep upward trend to overtake the U.S. film industry, currently the dominant global market leader, by sometime in 2050.

MICROSOFT originally planned to select Taiwan-based Lite-On IT as a new OEM maker for its Xbox 360 external HD DVD accessory with shipments to begin in April. However, Lite-On IT has had to delay its volume production schedule as it has not yet received product certification from Microsoft, according to industry sources in Taiwan.

APPLE has passed the 100 million iPods sold since its launch in November 2001. Also, over 2.5 billion music tracks, 50 million TV programmes and 1.3 million feature films have been purchased online from Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

MPEG-LA has announced the availability of the VC-1 patent portfolio licence covering the VC-1 (SMPTE 421M-2006) digital video coding technology which is part of both the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats. The License includes essential VC-1 patents owned by 17 different companies including DAEWOO, Fujitsu, Philips, LG, Matsushita, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba and JVC, and covers players writers and media. The MPEG LA’s chief executive officer, Larry Horn, notes that bringing the different companies together within a single licensing scheme has been challenging.

SONY Corp's game division said it may cut up to 160 jobs in Europe to streamline its operations as the PlayStation 3 battles fierce competition from rival video game consoles. Computer Entertainment decided to revamp its European operations in response to a shift in video game entertainment towards more interactive gaming and increasingly sophisticated content, said a company spokesperson.

NETFLIX Inc. on Wednesday posted the highest first-quarter profit in its 8-year history, but the online DVD rental pioneer's performance flopped on Wall Street. Investors turned their thumbs down largely because Netflix had trouble attracting and retaining subscribers amid stiffer competition from Blockbuster Inc. during the first three months of the year. To make matters worse, Netflix management warned its service may continue to be upstaged by Blockbuster through the remainder of the year. As a result, Netflix expects to finish 2007 with 600,000 to 700,000 fewer customers than the Los Gatos-based company had projected when the year began.

HD DVD announced it is the first of either format to reach 100,000 stand-alone players sold in the US market, saying Tuesday the price drop helped to spur sales of the product. Not included are PC or Xbox 360 drive sales. It is said those products are also selling strongly as well, meaning the actual number of HD DVD players sold is likely significantly higher than that number. It is also the first time sales numbers on either format hardware has ever been released.

SHARES in rental chain ChoicesUK dropped sharply after the business issued a shock profits warning. The chain said “unseasonally fine weather” has had an adverse impact on its business, with rental in particular suffering. A company statement said: “The Board does not believe that trading for the remainder of the current period will make up for the poor performance over these four weeks. Consequently, it now expects that the financial performance for the current period will be substantially below market expectations.” The retailer is expected to make an announcement in due course after assessing its strategic and financial options.

TOSHIBA has decided to sell its wholly owned subsidiary Toshiba Entertainment Inc to advertising agency Hakuhodo DY Holdings Inc in May for an undisclosed amount, according to media sources. The sale comes after the company’s disposal last year of its holdings in record company Toshiba-EMI Ltd to EMI Group Plc, and will complete its exit from the entertainment-related DVD business.

THE Blu-ray Disc Association is rolling out BD-Plus, which it describes as a more advanced copy protection technology. As yet unused and unproven, the BDA intends to bring forward its planned release to toughen up content protection by installing a small piece of encryption software on a Blu-ray player, with each disc having its own key. This will add between seven and 28 days production time per title. 20th Century Fox is expected to be the first to release a BD+ encrypted title.

INPHASE Technologies, the world’s leader in holographic data storage, and Rorke Data, a leading storage solutions provider that is a subsidiary of Bell Microproducts, Inc. announced that the two companies have entered into a reseller agreement in which Rorke Data will resell InPhase’s Tapestry holographic drives and media to customers in the broadcast, digital media, healthcare, and corporate sectors.

TOSHIBA is aiming to sell around 3 million players compatible with the HD DVD next-generation optical disc format in the year to March 2008. This figure is up sharply from the 250,000 units it sold in the last fiscal year. The global market for next-generation DVD players is seen at 4-5 million units this year, with Toshiba seeking a 60-70 percent share, according to media reports.

NEW Medium Enterprises has gained the backing of ORAVA, a major electronic equipment supplier to the Polish, Slovakian and Czech market. The agreement ensures that ORAVA will open its distribution channels to NME and will promote its HD VMD format within ORAVA's most established territories. ORAVA Ltd, is the largest Slovak supplier of TV sets and plans to pursue expansion within Hungary, Bulgaria and Ukraine territories, each recognized as promising markets.

BLU-RAY has become the first high definition format to sell more than one million discs, a milestone it has achieved in less than a year. Blu-ray disc sales also accounted for 70 percent of the high-definition movies sold during the first quarter of 2007, according to sales figures published by Home Media Research. However, according to stats cited by the HD DVD Group, which are based on recent data from Nielsen Videoscan, Universal, Warner and Toshiba, HD DVD titles are now at 998,059 units sold, representing less-than 2,000 units below Blu-ray’s announced figures.

ASPEX Semiconductor is developing its eighth generation architecture which will take the firm into the consumer market with a low cost, multi-codec high definition video compression system-on-chip (SoC).
The SoC will target applications such as HD camcorders, HD-DVD/Blu-Ray recorders, and advanced home gateways. Further details of the architecture will be released in the next few months.

THERE are more than 150 video-on-demand services operating in 24 countries in Europe, according to a new report from the French Directorate for the Development of the Media and the European Audiovisual Observatory. France leads the pack with 20 services, followed by the Netherlands with 19, the U.K. with 13, Germany with 12 and Belgium with 10. Of the total 150-plus services, 94 are delivered via the Internet to users’ PCs, and 47 are delivered via broadband IPTV and can be accessed on TV sets. Of the content being offered on the services, more than half of the titles available are films. VOD release on the same day as the DVD release is becoming more frequent, mainly in the Scandinavian countries.

SONY Shiroishi Semiconductor Inc, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation, has announced that it has now increased its monthly production capacity of blue-violet laser diodes to 1.7 million. Since starting production in 1986, the company's cumulative shipments of laser diodes up to March reached two billion units (including infrared lasers for CD players, red lasers for DVD players and blue-violet lasers for BD players). In addition, Sony Shiroishi is to offer an expanded line-up of blue-violet laser diode products, targeting BD applications. In April it started shipping lasers with an output power of 170 mW for recording; this is to be joined in June by a 20-mW laser for players, and in November by a 240-mW laser for recorders.

SIMPLAY Labs, LLC, the leading provider of testing technologies, programs and interoperability design standards for the high-definition consumer electronics industry, announced that Samsung's BD-P1200 Blu-ray Disc Player is the first high-definition DVD player to pass the Simplay HD Testing Program. The Simplay HD Testing Program helps consumers identify HD components, such as HDTVs and next-generation DVD players, that will work together to provide a consistent "plug and play" user experience and maximize users' access to premium HD content.

SIX Hollywood studios recently claimed victory after a Beijing court found a video retailer guilty of selling pirated DVDs. The case was brought by the MPA on behalf of Warner, Pictures, Universal, Paramount, 20th Century Fox and Disney, citing examples of 13 illegal movies. According to Variety, the court found Beijing Cherry Blossom Star Culture Co and its affiliated shop guilty and fined it close to $2,000 on each count, for a fine totaling $25,260.

CINRAM reported first quarter revenue of $443.9 million compared with $447.8 million in 2006, and earnings before interest, taxes and amortization (EBITA) of $69.6 million compared with $72.0 million in the first quarter of 2006. Cash flow from operations increased to $119.4 million in the first quarter of 2007 from $83.8 million in the comparable 2006 period. First quarter DVD revenue was up seven per cent to $242.0 million from $225.5 million in 2006 as a result of a nine per cent increase in volume which was driven by a strong release slate for certain of our major customers, which was partially offset by price declines. Cinram also recorded first quarter high-definition disc revenue of $1.9 million.

IN THE Taiwan retail market, small brands or brands without a reputation have recently provided a large volume of DVD+R/-R discs of which purchasers have found as many as 30-50% failed in performance. Such defect rates are historically very exceptional, according to Taiwan retail channels.

MOTOROLA is set to unveil a mobile phone with full-motion video display and the means to play feature films on small removable storage cards, Chief Executive Ed Zander has said, speaking at the Software 2007 conference in Silicon Valley. The device would show 30 frames-a-second, full-motion video. It would initially be targeted at the European market, where 3G networks are more widely available than in Motorola's home U.S. market.

DESPITE iTunes being seen mainly as a music download service, it has partly helped Disney boost its profits by 27% by selling its TV shows and movies through the service. Since Disney started selling content through iTunes in September 2006, they have made 23.7 million TV show sales and 2 million movie sales, with 12 million TV shows and 1/2 million movies sold alone in its first three months.