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April 1, 2005 06:38 - Pioneer announces DVD-R DL recorders

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Pioneer Corporation announced today the introduction in Japan of the DVR-530H and DVR-555H, the world's first DVD recorders with built-in HDD to incorporate the Dual Layer DVD-R (DVD-R DL) technology, which allows recording up to 24 hours of content on a single DVD-R DL disc. In accordance with a rapid expansion of the DVD recorder market in Japan, the DVD format has now practically become the standard for recording TV programs at home in Japan.

Pioneer's new DVD recorders realize superior performances in terms of recording time, operability and dubbing convenience by offering DVD-R DL recording as well as a variety of easy, convenient functions including: "Quick Disc Navigator," "Help Navigator," and the industry's fastest high-speed dubbing of 100X max (HDD to DVD). Onto a DVD-R DL disc, the new DVD recorders can record up to 24 hours of video content in the MN1 recording mode, or a maximum of about 6 hours with the same picture quality as commercially available DVDs.

For the HDD, the DVR-530H (equipped with a 200 GB HDD) can record up to about 569 hours, and the DVR-555H (with a 250 GB HDD) up to about 711 hours. Also the new recorders are equipped with the "XP+ recording mode" (to HDD), which allows recording even better quality images at 15 Mbps, besides the previous highest picture-quality recording mode "XP" (10 Mbps). The industry's fastest high-speed copy capability of approximately 100x speed (HDD to DVD-R) makes it possible to copy a one-hour program in about 40 seconds.

The DVR-530H and DVR-555H will be available in early May and early June respectively in the Japanese market. No retail prices of these models are suggested. Check out the press release (Source) for more information on the new recorders.

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Donnie Hoover

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April 2, 2005 21:17 - Red ray fights Blue ray in DVD disarray

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A CONSORTIUM OF Taiwanese vendors are proposing another optical storage format which is set to muddy the already unclear waters for future high definition high capacity drives.
According to today's Economic News, government quango the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) is backing a plot backed by U-Tecg Media, CMC Magnetics, Benq and other LCD manufacturers for the forward versatile disk (FVD). The main advantage if such a format is adopted is that the vendors won't be forced to follow the rest of the industry and pay royalties to the industry giants, it seems.

The article quotes one senior figure as saying that red ray HD FVD will rival Blu-ray HD DVDs, plus they'll be much cheaper than Blu-ray machines machines and disks.

FVD format disks will support up to 6GB for single drives and 11GB for double sided disks, while future disks will breach the 15GB barrier and support resolutions of 1920 x 1080, said the newspaper.

But it must be asked whether the Taiwanese vendors have an earthly attempting to push an alternative format at this late stage of the game, seeing as Hollywood giants are already placing their bets on existing horses such as Blu-ray.

It appears that the Taiwanese vendors are hoping that mainland China will swing behind "Red Ray" formats - which certainly would give the horses already in the high definition DVD race a massive attack of the heebie jeebies.

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Donnie Hoover

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April 5, 2005 23:06 - Sonic Brings DVD Capabilities to Pace Cable DVR Set-top Boxes

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Sonic Solutions(R) (Nasdaq:SNIC), the leader in digital media software, announced today it is demonstrating its Sonic AuthorScript(R) CE engine on a new digital video recorder (DVR) recently launched by Pace Micro Technology, a leading digital set-top box provider specializing in the development of emerging technologies across all television platforms. Pace's recently announced Tahoe HD DVR is expected to be one of the first DVRs with DVD burning and playback functionality to be compatible with several different North American cable conditional access systems. With AuthorScript CE running on the Broadcom BCM7038 chipset, Multiple System Operators (MSOs) can offer their customers easy, powerful, and reliable DVD play-and-burn features. The Pace Tahoe HD DVR is being demonstrated at the Pace booth (#5958) at this week's National Cable Television Association (NCTA) Show.

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Donnie Hoover

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April 7, 2005 21:39 - DVD PRODUCER DOES TURN WITH TV

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Thanks to its DVD expertise, Automat Pictures has produced its first non-disc-related original program for cable.

Automat scored the gig because of its experience producing more than 100 DVDs since its launch in 2000. The Los Angeles-based company assured IFC that crafting the documentary Still Swingin' A Look Back at an Indie would be nearly identical to the creation of DVD bonus features.

The Independent Film Channel aired Swingin'--which looks back at the making of the 1996 Miramax Home Entertainment film Swingers--at various times April 1-2. Swingin' was not tied to any fresh DVD release for Swingers, which has been available on disc for several years.

"We had worked with Jon Favreau for Elf, and that's why IFC thought of us," Automat president Jeffrey Schwarz said of the company's DVD work on New Line Home Entertainment's 2004 holiday title. "We went after the principal players behind Swingers, which Jon starred in and wrote. People's schedules were crazy, but we got five of the talent involved."

That hustle is similar to the activity needed to generate the typical DVD doc extra. Director Doug Liman and star Ron Livingston co-starred with Favreau in the project.

"This really was a no-brainer," added Schwarz, who produced Swingin' with Automat co-president Laura Nix. "Many of our DVD featurettes are retrospective documentaries. [Swingin'] was basically breaking down a DVD and finding the dramatic beats behind its making."

One difference, arguably attractive to IFC, is that production costs for the 20-minute Swingin' were kept well below six figures. On two-hour feature films, DVD production budgets can hit $500,000 for an A-list blockbuster title.

"Our intention has always been to produce for TV in addition to DVD," Schwarz said. "We've always tried to elevate the content on DVDs, and this shows that the work we do can translate to a larger audience."

In addition to Elf, recent DVD productions from Automat include The Punisher, Philadelphia (Anniversary Edition) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Earlier this year, Automat produced an episode of HBO First Look for New Line's The Son of the Mask. That helped promoted the film's theatrical run as well as its upcoming May 17 DVD rollout.

Schwarz hopes Automat can land more non-DVD-related TV work as a follow-up to Swingin'. In that vein, Schwarz noted that Automat is in final negotiations to produce a long-form documentary exclusively for cable.

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Donnie Hoover

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April 8, 2005 20:40 - Icahn threatens Blockbuster takeover

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Living up to his reputation as a fearsome corporate raider, Carl Icahn struck against Blockbuster on Thursday, vowing to nominate his own slate of directors at the company's upcoming annual meeting and threatening a complete takeover of the retailer if his demands aren't met.

In a letter sent to Blockbuster chairman-CEO John Antioco, disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Icahn excoriated Blockbuster management for mishandling the failed acquisition of Hollywood Entertainment. He also accused the company of going on a "spending spree" in pursuit of dubious new business plans.

The letter took dead aim at Antioco, calling his recently reported pay package "unconscionable" and finding fault in "the way you are running the company."

The letter put forth a plan of action for Blockbuster's May 11 annual meeting. But it only hinted at areas of appeasement such as sweetened shareholder dividends.

Icahn wrote: "I am determined to put into nomination a slate which if elected will attempt to:

"1) Bring discipline to the spending spree currently in effect, 2) control any further egregious bonuses, 3) strongly urge the board to give greater dividends to the shareholders and 4) be sure that any offers for the company see the light of day.

"If we cannot bring about those changes to our satisfaction, we plan to attempt to take control of the board of directors in the 2006 annual meeting," he said.

Icahn has been steadily accumulating Blockbuster shares. According to the filing, he now controls 11.4 million Class A shares, or 9.7% of the total, and 5.5 million Class B shares, or 7.7% of the total.

That makes him the company's largest single shareholder.

Icahn also accumulated a nearly 11% stake in Hollywood over the course of the long bidding war for the company between Blockbuster and Movie Gallery and had urged a merger between the Top 2 retailers. His letter calls Blockbuster's decision to drop its bid for Hollywood in the face of resistance from federal regulators a "grave error."

In a statement, Blockbuster dismissed Icahn's criticisms as sour grapes.

"He was heavily invested in our acquisition of Hollywood, which did not go through for reasons outside our control, and now he's looking for a short-term payback," a company spokesman said.

News of Icahn's raid, which broke just before the bell, sent shares of Blockbuster soaring in late-day trading. The stock closed up 6.25% on the day, to $9.70.

The move appeared to catch many investors off guard, as they focused on Icahn's apparent continued interest in Hollywood.

The Wall Street maverick recently disclosed he had boosted his stake in the No. 2 retailer, sparking speculation that he would try to force Movie Gallery to up its offer for the company. The speculation had kept shares of Hollywood trading above Movie Gallery's $13.25 a share offer price in recent days.

At least some analysts were puzzled by many of Icahn's criticisms of Blockbuster in his letter.

"You have to look at the fact that this is a mature business," McAlpine Associates president Dennis McAlpine said. "Is Antioco chasing some wild geese? Probably. The trouble is you don't know yet which ones are the wild geese and which ones are the pheasants. So I don't know what else you do."

The Blockbuster spokesman also took issue with Icahn's criticism of Antioco's pay package, noting that the details of the agreement had been previously disclosed at the time of Blockbuster's split off from Viacom. The spokesman called the recently reported value of the package of $54 million "misleading."

"The value of the package is contingent on John's continued employment and on significant future stock appreciation," the spokesman said. "It was designed to keep John involved in the company over the next five years and focused on increasing shareholder value."

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Donnie Hoover

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April 13, 2005 19:21 - Taiwan makers poised to produce blue-laser HD-DVD discs

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Ritek and CMC Magnetics are preparing to begin production of HD-DVD (High-Density Digital Versatile Disc) discs, a blue-laser DVD standard of the next generation developed by Toshiba and NEC, in the third or fourth quarter of this year, according to the two companies.

Since blue-laser HD-DVD is compatible with the current DVD technological specifications, existing DVD production lines with addition of some advanced equipment can be used to manufacture HD-DVD discs, Ritek pointed out. Trial production of HD-DVD discs has been finished at its test lab and volume production will be started next quarter at the earliest, Ritek indicated.

CMC plans to start volume production of blue-laser HD-DVD discs by the end of this year, the company noted.

As production of Blu-ray Discs, currently the other next-generation blue-laser DVD format, entails different manufacturing equipment, Ritek plans to begin volume production in the first or second quarter of 2006, the company said.

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Donnie Hoover

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April 19, 2005 20:43 - Lawsuit may cause DVD jukebox to tilt

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Having made two fortunes developing high-tech products for businesses, Michael Malcolm decided to try his hand at entertainment gear for the home.

His company's digitally powered products have won plaudits from reviewers for making it easier to manage and enjoy DVDs. But they also attracted a lawsuit from the group that dictates how DVDs must be protected against piracy, demonstrating how tricky it can be for entrepreneurs to transform entertainment using the digital tools that remade other industries.

Kaleidescape's products allow people to copy their DVDs onto a home server — a set of hard-disk drives connected to a home network. The system lets users store all their movies in a single place yet watch them on any screen in the house.

At $27,000, the basic setup costs more than a new Honda minivan, in part because of the products' elaborate anti-piracy features.

Said Malcolm, the company's co-founder and chairman: "We've taken every step we could think of to prevent people from making an infringing use of this system."

Nevertheless, Mountain View, Calif.-based Kaleidescape ran afoul of the DVD Copy Control Association, the group that controls the anti-piracy technology on Hollywood DVDs. The association is a coalition of movie studios, consumer electronics manufacturers and technology companies whose actions reflect the wishes of all three segments.

In a lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County, Calif., Superior Court in December, the association accused Kaleidescape of violating its agreement with the group by, among other things, letting people make permanent copies of their movies.

"The license has provisions we have to enforce," said Bill Coates, an attorney for the DVD association. "We don't want to sue anybody, but Kaleidescape was unmoving."

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Donnie Hoover

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April 21, 2005 17:12 - Congess legalizes DVD censorship

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An attachment bill to the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act called the called the Family Movie Act will soon make it legal to alter a motion picture so long as all the sex, profanity, and violence have been edited out. The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act was approved on Tuesday by the house. The Senate has already passed its own version, and the President is expected to sign it. It's a big win for Hollywood as it sharpens penalties for pirates.

On AfterDawn forums, one frequently asked question is how to remove unwanted scenes from DVDs to make them fit for viewing by a younger audience. Some services are available that will do this but Hollywood takes a sceptical look at them. Two such examples are Family Flix and CleanFilms. These companies claim that they are not violating any copyright laws as they purchase a legal copy of a DVD each time they edit one. Hollywood studios are still upset with this action as the companies are essentially profiting from re-distributing their works.

The Director's Guild is very unhappy also as these companies tend to just leave the movies in any state that they want and Directors claim that it ruins what they tried to create in the movie. The directors agree that when someone buys a DVD they should be allowed to edit it for personal use if they want since they legally purchased a copy. However, they disagree with somebody making changes to the DVD and then going ahead and selling their edit, which is precisely what these companies are doing, they claim.

It seems that courts would favour the studios in this battle but companies like CleanPlay may not be so easy to beat. CleanPlay uses a DVD player and a downloadable filter template to cut out the scenes on playback. Therefore they are not actually altering the DVD and re-distributing it at all, just using a template. So in this case, whether or not that can be classed as Copyright Infringement is unknown.

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Donnie Hoover

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April 23, 2005 16:08 - The Newest DVD Recorders

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VHS has yet to go the way of the eight-track or reel-to-reel tape. Even so, the newest generation of DVD recorders are now cheaper and have more features. So are they worth buying? ABC7 Eyewitness News teamed up with Consumer Reports to find out.

In Consumer Reports' electronics lab, dozens of DVD recorders are run through a battery of tests. DVD recorders let you do something you can't do with a digital video recorder like TiVo alone. Gerard Catapano from Consumer Reports says, "The drawback to those devices are when you record a program, it's recorded onto a hard-drive, which is non-removable." But with a DVD recorder, your recording goes right onto a disc that you can add to your DVD library.

Another plus with a DVD recorder: preserving your home movies. Catapano says, "The advantage of having a DVD recorder is that it's easy to make copies of your family movies from your camcorder onto a DVD disc." A simple cable connection makes the transfer a snap. And a DVD recorder can help you transfer your old VHS tapes to disc as well. The least expensive way to accomplish this, get a DVD recorder to hook up to your VCR. Testers rated the Panasonic model number DMR-E55 excellent. It costs 300 dollars. But the easiest way to do VHS transfers is with a combination DVD recorder - VCR. Consumer Reports top rated another Panasonic model number DMR-E75V, which goes for 400 dollars.

Consumer Reports says both of the recommended DVD recorders have "time-slip" capability. It lets you start watching a recording before a program is finished. You can also watch a previously recorded program while you're recording a new one.

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Donnie Hoover

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April 25, 2005 15:55 - Record labels unveil CD/DVD to fight Internet

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A new solo album by Bruce Springsteen that arrives in stores Tuesday will be riding the latest technological wave to hit the record industry: Dual Disc.

With an audio CD on one side and a DVD full of bonuses on the other, Dual Disc is the latest bid by record labels to hold on to consumers who increasingly are getting their music from other sources, such as the Internet.

Springsteen's album, Devils & Dust, is being released exclusively on Dual Disc, while such artists as Jennifer Lopez and Beck are releasing two versions of their CDs. Dual Discs, which can be played on normal CD and DVD players, generally retail for a dollar or two more than regular CDs (Devils & Dust retails for $18.98), depending on the label and the artist. But with discounts at many stores and online sites, the final price often is close to that of a CD.

"It's a new tool for labels and artists to bring consumers back into the habit of buying music by providing them with a product that has more value," says Paul Bishow of Universal Music Group's eLabs, which handles new formats.

But the operator of one Valley record-store chain views Dual Disc as a sign of continued concern in an industry that has seen sales drop 18 percent since 1999.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction to being brought to their knees," says Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds Record Exchange in Tempe and Phoenix.

"The industry obviously isn't doing well, and they realize they've angered their customers, so they're trying to figure out how to win them back."

With listeners able to download single tracks from Web sites such as Apple's iTunes (www.itunes.com) for about $1 per song, Dual Discs are aimed at offering extras that can't be found on the Internet.

The flip side of Springsteen's album, for example, includes a film by Danny Clinch that catches the Boss performing five songs on an acoustic guitar and talking about his creative process in between.

The DVD side also includes the entire album in 5.1 surround sound and enhanced DVD stereo to allow owners of DVDs to use upgraded sound systems.

"If you look at consumer trends in entertainment, the movie studios and (video) gaming industry have done a brilliant job of building more value into their products," says John Trickett, CEO of 5.1 Entertainment, a pioneer in the Dual Disc field.

"Consumers are looking for a bigger entertainment experience - something with more depth."

The music industry has been locked into what Trickett calls a "two-dimensional" format with audio CDs for two decades.

"We even lost the album art when we went from vinyl records to CDs, unless you have really good eyesight," he says.

Initial consumer reaction to Dual Disc has exceeded expectations, Trickett says.

Dual Disc has made up more than 30 percent of sales for Lopez's Rebirth and O, by former boy-band singer Omarion.

At this point, many Dual Disc releases feature larger acts, such as Good Charlotte, Jessica Simpson, Los Lonely Boys, Indigo Girls and Duran Duran, but Bishow expects that the new technology will grab "an ever-expanding piece of the pie."

Artists also are warming up to the concept.

Trent Reznor, leader of Nine Inch Nails, mixed traditional and DVD sound for his group's upcoming album, With Teeth (due May 3), at the same time, Bishow says, to allow himself to focus equal energy on the enhanced format.

Universal also will rerelease the new albums by Beck and Three Doors Down on Dual Disc format soon, Bishow says.

Other recent Dual Disc releases include Gretchen Wilson's Here for the Party, Good Charlotte's Chronicles of Life and Death, Simpson's In This Skin and Duran Duran's Astronaut. "Anytime the industry makes an effort to give the public their money's worth, we need to commend them, because they spent so many years trying to sell us as little as possible for as much as possible," Stinkweed's Lanning says.



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Donnie Hoover

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