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News in Brief

SALES OF DVD PLAYERS in Canada skyrocketed in 2003, with more than 50 percent of all households now owning one. That’s up sharply from 36 percent in 2002, says Statistics Canada.

FOLLOWING THE OCTOBER release of Really Bend It Like Beckham on DVD and its Bafta nomination, 3DD Entertainment has secured deals with international broadcasters for the TV rights for the show.

PRODISC TECHNOLOGY, the third-largest producer of optical discs in Taiwan has obtained certification for its 16x DVD+R/-R discs from Pioneer and A Grade Lab certification for its 8x DVD-R discs from the DVD Forum. Prodisc claimed that it is the first Taiwan company to obtain the certifications, which are expected to help the firm compete for OEM orders.

SONY COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT INC entered the handheld video game market December 12 with the sale of its new PlayStation Portable, pitting it against competitors ahead of the holiday sales period. PSP users can play full-scale 3D-CG games and view high-resolution video images, according to the company. Sont shipped 200,000 PSP units across Japan and plans to start sales of the product overseas as well.

ARMOUR AUTOMOTIVE is to supply an aftermarket in-car DVD system for the Rolls-Royce Phantom model. This in-car DVD system, developed jointly between Armour and Rolls-Royce, will be supplied to Rolls-Royce for distribution through their worldwide dealer network. The first order is for 50 systems and deliveries are expected to start in December 2004.

CLARION CORP. is the latest aftermarket automobile entertainment system manufacturer to step up to the plate with iPod support. The company plans to unveil a new in-dash DVD player/monitor for automobiles that will feature full iPod integration. TARTAN VIDEO, buoyed by US consumer interest in Asian horror remakes such as The Ring and The Grudge, is launching the new label, Asia Extreme. Distributed through TLA Releasing, the line will feature horror films and thriller DVDs originally According to Tartan, it already has sold more than $50 million worth of Asian video product in the UK.

MICROSOFT CORP. is further expanding its presence in India with plans to open a research centre in Bangalore. The latest Microsoft Research campus will open in January 2005, the software giant said. The researchers in India will focus on ways to create, store and search information in multiple languages, as well as technology for use in emerging markets and other specialties.

WORLDWIDE SEMICONDUCTOR sales rose a scant 1.5 percent in October, to $18.8 billion from $18.5 billion in September, as many chip users pared inventories, the Semiconductor Industry Association said. The trade group for American chip makers also predicted that fourth-quarter sales would be little changed from the third quarter and said that it still expected year-on-year growth of at least 28 percent.

OEM QUOTATIONS for 16x DVD burners, which had been stable at $60-65 for some months, recently fell to $55-58 due to increasing competition to meet orders from Dell, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and other international PC brands, according to Taiwan makers of optical disc drives (ODDs). Hitachi-LG Data Storage (HLDS), Toshiba-Samsung Storage Technology (TSST), Lite-On IT, BenQ and Pioneer are the main competitors for 16x DVD burner OEM orders.

THE THREE TOP producers of optical discs in Taiwan – CMC Magnetics, Ritek and Prodisc Technology – will not participate in the ongoing cutting of OEM prices for CD-R and DVD+R/-R discs. CMC chairman Robert Wong, Ritek CEO Gordon Yeh and Prodisc chairman Min-Fa Lin met to discuss issues regarding global oversupply and competitive price-cutting. The three companies agreed they would not participate in the optical-disc price wars brought on by price-cutting on the part of competitors in China and the expanding production capacity of some Taiwan manufacturers. The top-three Taiwan companies supply 60% of the world’s production capacity for CD-R and DVD+R/-R discs.

TECHNO SYSTEMS RESEARCH of Japan has projected that global demand for DVD burners would reach 57 million units in 2004 and 81 million units in 2005.

SILVER SCREEN STUDIOS’s Murder by Deception is the company’s first direct-to-DVD feature film and is now in the post production stage.

MUSIC DOWNLOAD service Napster and movie rental giant Blockbuster have announced a combined digital music and online DVD rental offering. They have launched the new Digital Duo card in the US, offering consumers one month of digital music and one month of Blockbuster Online DVD rental service for $20. The Digital Duo card will be offered exclusively at 5,000 Radio Shack stores across the country during the initial launch period. The card provides unlimited access to Napster's song library, as well as two a la carte track downloads, and unlimited Blockbuster Online DVD rentals with up to three movies out at a time, plus two free in-store movie or game rentals, for the month-long duration of the card.

A TEAM of physicists, computer scientists, and network engineers has won the Supercomputing Bandwidth Challenge with a sustained data transfer of 101 gigabits per second (Gbps) between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. This is more than four times faster than last year's record of 23.2 gigabits per second, which was set by the same team. The team hopes this new demonstration will encourage scientists and engineers in many sectors of society to develop and deploy a new generation of revolutionary Internet applications.

SONY SUBSIDIARY Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International has changed its name to Sony Pictures Releasing International (SPRI).

THE RUMOUR IS that starting next quarter, US-based ESS Technologies could begin selling a chip solution for DVD players at a price lower than that offered by Taiwan-based competitors. ESS is expected to start selling its solutions below $4, while Taiwan-based firms such as currently charge $4.50-5.50 per chip. ESS and ALi jointly developed a DVD-player controller IC in 2001and recently renegotiated their cross-license agreement. Starting next quarter ESS will not have to pay ALi a $1 royalty fee for every MPEG-2 chip ESS sells.

TAIWAN’S LEADING optical disc drive maker Lite-On IT is to bring out next month a DVD recorder sporting a 160GB hard disc drive (LWV-5045). Launch price is £445 and undercuts the 160GB HDD + DV recorder models including Pioneer’s DVR-720H-S (£745) and Panasonic’s DMR-E95HS (£660).

UNIVERSAL HOME ENTERTAINMENT is rushing Oscar contender Ray to DVD just 13 weeks after it bowed at the box office, where it has grossed nearly $60 million so far. The DVD comes out just in time for Oscar balloting on February 1 and Hollywood sees it as a new way of getting attention. Disc will be priced at $29.98, with a limited two-disc special edition also available for $44.98. The film, directed by Taylor Hackford, stars Jamie Foxx as the American musical legend Ray Charles.

LEADING UK CE retail chain, Dixons, is to phase out video cassette recorders because DVD players are outselling VCRs by a ratio of 40:1. The convenience of newer technology, hard disc drive recording and relatively low prices are the key factors in consumer preference for DVD players and PVRs. DVD players cost as little as £25 and Dixons offers a combined DVD player/recorder for £149. John Mewett, marketing director at Dixons, said: "We're saying goodbye today to one of the most important products in the history of consumer technology. The video recorder has been with us for a generation - and many of us have grown up with the joys - and occasional frustrations - of tape-based recording. We are now entering the digital age and the new DVD technology available represents a step change in picture quality and convenience.”

EMI HAS BENEFITED from a significant digital music downloading, which has boosted the company’ sales revenues following the European launch of the iTunes online music store. In the 6 months to the end of September, EMI's music download sales quadrupled and digital revenues were £12.2m -– a six-fold increase on the £2.1m figure for the same period last year. EMI said digital revenues accounted for 2% of turnover and it expects this figure to grow further following the launch last month of a rival download service to iTunes, Microsoft's MSN Music.

PEDDLING better durability and increased storage. Japan-based TDK has begun selling blank recordable DVDs treated with a patent pending polymer. The coating has now been endorsed by the Blu-ray Disc group, which has faced significant concerns over the format’s susceptibility to scratches. Hewlett-Packard said it will include Blu-ray drives in its PCs starting in late 2005, thanks in part to improvements made possible by TDK's technology. PC giant Dell is also supporting Blu-ray.

LOOK FOR THE TAIWANESE to raise the writing speed of DVD+R DL (single-sided double-layer) burners from 2.4x to 4x, perhaps as soon as the first quarter of 2005. Taiwan makers will also upgrade the writing speed for DVD+RW/-RW from 4x to 8x, some manufacturers say. The DVD Forum recently approved the DVD-R DL format at 4x writing speeds.

MARKING THE NOVEMBER LAUNCH of the new Live Aid DVD box set, cinemas across Europe, including locations in London, Zurich, Milan, Rome, Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin, featured screenings of a specially prepared compilation from the set. DTS says many theatres chose to deliver the premiere in 5.1-channel DTS Digital Surround using the DTS XD10 Cinema Media Player, thereby “providing the ultimate combined audio and visual experience for their audiences.”

UNIVENTURE, a manufacturer of a wide array of media packaging solutions, announced that its UniKeep Disc 10 Wallet, with the company's patented Safety-sleeve disc pages, is now being used by Maxell Europe for retail packaging of selected Maxell DVD recordable products. Univenture's operation in Dublin, Ireland is providing complete packaging fulfillment services for this project.

BROADBAND CONNECTIONS in the UK are growing at their fastest rate as the UK catches up with European countries. British Telecom says that 600,000 new connections to its broadband services were established in the last three months, taking the total number to almost 3.3 million, with 5.3 million using broadband in some capacity.

MICROSOFT has expanded its MSN music store to eight European countries in a bid to beat Apple's iTunes Music Store. The move involves MSN's existing digital music partners. The Spanish, Dutch, Austrian and Swiss stores, for example, are operated by Loudeye's European subsidiary, OD2, which is the foundation for MSN's existing European stores.