Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the November 20, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
DVD Technology: Spicing Up Media & the Economy
No technology ever has been adopted as quickly as the
DVD. By the time the Christmas buying rush ended last year one-third
of all American homes had a DVD hooked up to at least one of its televisions.
"It took five years," says DVD expert
was twice as fast as the VCR." The technology also won a spot
in consumers’ hearts faster than did the radio, television, color
television, or personal computer.
A drastic price drop — way down to $89 for some models — helped
spread the new format. And while most consumers now see the DVD as
an excellent way to watch movies at home, there is so much more to
come. New hardware and software are making DVD technology more useful
for business and more fun for consumers.
For those who just got comfortable with the CD (Compact Disc) reader
on their personal computer, the prospect of moving now to DVD may
seem a little daunting. That’s why Dixon’s new book, Desktop DVD Authoring
($35 from New Riders Publishing — www.newriders.com), is a welcomed
and comprehensive, easy-to-read guide to all things DVD. As Dixon
explains at the outset, DVD can stand for Digital Video Disc or Digital
Thanks to that versatility, it can also get pretty involved. For consumers,
Dixon clearly explains everything about how to choose and install
a DVD, discusses what a portable DVD is and whether it is worth the
money, and gives extensive information on DVD burners and recorders.
Also of interest to consumers are sections on using software to create
everything from photo albums to enhanced home movies on DVDs.
For media professionals, there are sections on DVD authoring with
Apple DVD Studio Pro and Sonic ReelDVD, and on feature film authoring
with Sonic Scenarist.
Dixon hosts an evening on "The Future of DVD and Fixed Media"
on Thursday, November 21, at 8 p.m. at a meeting of the Princeton
Media Communications Association at the Sarnoff Corporation auditorium.
The meeting is free and is open to the public. The panelists are
Benedetto of Pioneer Electronics and
DVD. Call 609-688-0025. Dixon also appears in Princeton Public Library’s
free TechTalk series on Tuesday, January 7, at 6:30 p.m. Call 609-924-9529.
Dixon, a graduate of Brown (Class of 1977), is a technology leader
at Sarnoff. "I take technology that is developed here," he
explains, "and turn it into products for the outside world."
His current project is called JND, which stands for "just noticeable
The whole point of digital media, he says, is compression, and in
compression "you throw away quality." This can be a problem
in applications — medical diagnosis, for instance — where
an image needs to capture every detail clearly. Now a human has to
check for quality, but JND gives this power to a computer. "It
allows a computer to evaluate quality the way a human would,"
says Dixon. "It’s based on the human visual system. Instead of
paying someone to watch it, the computer watches it."
Other projects Dixon has worked on include iris recognition and Video
Brush, a consumer software product that builds panoramic images from
video and photo.
In addition to his work at Sarnoff, Dixon has built a website, Manifest
Technology (www.manifest-tech.com), which provides encyclopedic
information on PC video, streaming media, DVD authoring, handheld
media, digital photography, wireless services, video gaming, and consumer
products. On the site are more than 90 articles Dixon has written
"to help make sense of multimedia technology, especially video
editing and DVD authoring."
Dixon’s first book was How to Use Adobe Premiere 6.5. He writes for
Camcorder and for Computer Video magazines and has contributed a number
of technology articles to U.S. 1 Newspaper. (He is now working on
an article on the coolest new consumer tech gadgets, scheduled to
appear in U.S. 1 on November 27, just in time for the holiday shopping
"What strikes me, working in this industry," says Dixon, "is
that it’s a lot of fun. There is so much happening." Sampling
the latest electronic goodies before most, Dixon says he is now most
excited about the marriage of the mobile phone and the PDA, allowing
connectivity everywhere without the burden of lugging around a laptop
and a bunch of spare batteries and wires. While all of the new gadgets
are a miracle for Boomers, who turned out term papers on a manual
typewriter and chatted with chums on a cord-bound phone, Dixon says
his kids see all the advances as natural. His 16-year-old son, Brian,
is a junior at Hopewell Valley High School, and his daughter, Karin,
21, is studying media at Rider University. "It will be interesting
to see what will surprise them," he says.
Meanwhile, there is plenty about DVD technology to awe anyone who
grew up watching movies only in theaters and considered the photo
album the last word in organizing the family snapshots. Here are some
first steps, teenagers’ pre-prom preparations, and adult kids’ weddings
on videotape "should really think about rescuing the tapes,"
says Dixon. Those memories are meant to last forever, but will only
stay fresh on videotape for about 10 years. "They’re already decaying,"
he says. And that is true for videos stored under perfect conditions
— on their sides in a room with low humidity and a fairly constant
temperature. Add high humidity and the rate of deterioration is vastly
Digital recorders are becoming affordable — about $900 before
discounts — and provide an easy way to extend the shelf life of
those memories. While no one knows for sure how long images on a DVD
will last, Dixon says 50 years is a safe bet and 100 years is a real
possibility. What’s more, he points out, when that time begins to
run (give instructions to grandchildren), and the DVDs need to be
transferred to a new DVD, the copy will be perfect. For while copies
of a VHS tape are not as good as the original, copies of a DVD are
in all ways identical to the original.
And, Dixon reports, DVD camcorders are now on the market. The early
ones are pricey (around $2,500), but a new model due out from Panasonic
is expected to be priced around $1,000 — in the same ballpark
as the high resolution 8 mm camcorders were a few years ago.
<d>Download television shows. The same digital recorders
that take videotapes and turn them into DVDs can also record television
programs. A cross between a VCR and a computer, some of the newest
DVD recorders include a hard drive. Among the reasons Dixon likes
DVD recorders is that they do not require winding, re-winding, or
skipping around to find where a program or favorite part of a movie
DVD recorders are programmed the way a VCR is. A new model from Panasonic
packs 12 hours of programming onto a two-sided disc and has a hard
drive capable of storing up to 52 hours more.
Unlike TiVo and similar systems, which download television programs
onto a hard drive, DVD recorders do not display a complete menu of
television programs. It is possible to tell TiVo to hunt for and record
every program in which Alan Alda appears or every airing of Seinfeld
or I Love Lucy throughout the day. DVD recorders do not do this (not
yet), but their advantage is that they can make a permanent copy of
the programs, where programs on a TiVo need to be wiped away when
it’s time to record more programs.
It is now possible to pick one up for $300, which is about one-quarter
of the price the machines fetched just a couple of years ago. Some
computers, the high end iMac for example, come with DVD burners, and,
says Dixon, laptops equipped with DVD burners are just coming on the
market. The burners allow families to easily make slide shows and
movies of their kids’ lives, and give companies a new tool for turning
out training materials, sales presentations, and marketing pitches.
looking movies — whether for the board room or the family room.
Apple, long a leader in desktop publishing, is leading the charge
for bringing movie-making within the reach of everyone.
Dixon says a great strength of the company’s iPhoto and iDVD software
is that it is easy to use. He warns, however, that it is limited.
"iPhoto does six things," he says. "If you buy into their
vision of what you want to do, they have a great solution." With
Apple, an upgrade to a more sophisticated capabilities will cost about
$1,000, says Dixon, adding, "there’s nothing in the middle."
For PC owners there are DVD authoring tools that cost as little as
$30. For that amount, the software brings in photos, trims them up,
lays them out, and provides a menu for finding them. More money buys
more interactivity, more highly customized menus, multiple sound tracks,
and many more features.
In a phone interview, he adds one more attribute of the new technology:
"DVD," he declares, "is what has been holding up the economy."
While this statement sounds a bit over the top at first, it is undeniably
true that DVD has lured tens of millions of Americans into their local
Best Buys and Circuit Citys, has given Hollywood a brand new product,
and has given a boost to PC and software sales.
And the revolution is spreading across demographics. Dixon says digital
photography is among the most popular courses at the Ewing Senior
Center. With prices dropping, it is only a matter of time before those
seniors — like their Boomer children and tech-savvy grandchildren
— read a book like Dixon’s and start lusting for the latest DVD
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.