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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 Doug Dixon. "It

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

Versatile Disc.

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 Sandra

Benedetto of Pioneer Electronics and Ralph LaBarge of Alpha

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

difference."

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

season.)

"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

highlights:

Save the memories! Boomers who recorded their babies’

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

accelerated.

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

begins.

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.

Make slide shows. Prices for DVD burners have fallen drastically.

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.

Be a director. DVD software lets everyone create professional

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.

Dixon’s book adds lots more detail about the wonders of DVD.

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

gadgets.


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