WebDVD: DVD gets connected

WebDVD: DVD gets connected

Mark Waldrep

a new and powerful enhancement, known as WebDVD, has finally made its way into a few DVD-Video titles. Featuring a DVD-ROM hybrid component that simultaneously maximizes both a computer’s functionality and that of the Internet, WebDVD is a direct result of the rapid increase in DVD-ROM-equipped computer and third-party add-on drive sales to consumers. Even conservative estimates put the number of DVD-ROM-equipped computers at ten times the number of set-top boxes!

Clearly, word has spread that Hollywood movies can be played on your laptop, desktop, or mini-tower, as long as you have the right MPEG-2 decoding hardware and a robust DVD-Video navigation program. But it’s DVD’s ability to play back high-resolution audio and video–coupled with the Internet–that holds the greatest promise. With the successful hybridization of the Internet and disc-resident media assets, the much-maligned “world wide wait” becomes virtually instantaneous. At long last, the Internet offers more than simple animations, poor-quality video, compromised audio, and snail’s-paced accessibility.

why the web?

The first title to capitalize on WebDVD functionality was Troma Team Video’s Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., released in fall 1997. While this initial attempt was a simple auto-connect program written using Apple Media Tool, it paved the way for more specialized software. New Line Cinema’s recent DVD-Video release of Lost in Space, for one, allows the user either to connect to the Internet to access games and additional content or view the DVD-Video portion of the disc on a computer. While 200,000 copies of Lost in Space shipped into the DVD-Video retail channel, it’s likely that many consumers will experience the title on their computers.

Another Web-connected model that has emerged maximizes DVD’s storage capacity by placing high-resolution media assets on the disc under the direct control of a Web site. The disc then becomes a repository for “bonus” media unavailable to the consumer except through a Web connection. One of the first titles to embrace this model is Earthlight II, from Mill Reef Entertainment. Its producers previously had been required to email personalized access codes to each consumer–a method allowing users to view and download additional imagery–but they wanted to be able to “unlock” high-resolution photographs through their Web sites post-sale as well. Using a program called SpinWare Connect, Mill Reef placed the photos on the disc in an encrypted file. Users could then visit the Earthlight Web site, pay a small fee, and transfer the files to their hard drives. The potential for instantaneous after-purchase revenue is tremendous, and will undoubtedly become quite sophisticated in the coming months. For instance, DVD-10 discs may soon feature a second side dedicated entirely to media that could be “unlocked” by visiting a Web site, leaving you to pay only for the portions of the disc you’re interested in!

Not all of these hybrid discs will require payment, though. Morgan Creek, for one, added a WebDVD twist to its Wrongfully Accused DVD-hybrid title. Because the film is a parody of The Fugitive and dozens of other classic movies, producer Mark Berger and the creative team at AIX Media Group decided to add a trivia game which displays a brief clip from the movie, then asks players to choose which film is being parodied. Once again, SpinWare Connect was employed to embed disc-based “hidden” QuickTime movies into the movie’s Web site so they would be instantly available to the Web browser. (These movie clips require no downloading and are compressed at very high quality because the Web’s bandwidth limitations are removed.) After the user has successfully answered all ten questions, two additional unreleased scenes are played from the same encrypted file; they are also available on the DVD-Video portion of the disc as “Easter eggs”–media that must be “discovered” by exploring the disc in non-standard ways.

it’s all about connections

Of course, WebDVD’s potential for the entertainment industry is huge. Imagine being able to “unlock” additional segments of TV series issued on DVD, or letting music consumers acquire catalogs of their favorite artist or record label from the disc already in their drives. On the corporate side, Web-connected DVD hybrids will play an even bigger role. By nature, sales and marketing presentations require maximum-quality audio and video media, coupled with screens of textual information. While it would be possible to construct a DVD-Video title containing an entire presentation, the disc would quickly become dated. If the DVD disc is regarded instead as a repository for graphics, video, and audio media–and an HTML Web site is programmed to access them–a very powerful combination is created. I, for one, look forward to the day when uninspired PowerPoint presentations are obsolete and truly interactive information delivery is the norm.

Only a few DVD-Video/DVD-ROM hybrid titles are capable of connecting to the Internet. This number will increase dramatically once DVD-ROM drives become standard peripherals. While a simple connection to a given Web site doesn’t offer anything special, the need to download compelling content stills exists. And when additional content that can be progressively “unlocked” is placed on the disc, the future will be bright, indeed.

Mark Waldrep (mwaldrep@aixentainment.com), regular columnist for DVD Between the Lines, is founder and President of AIX Media Group and Associate the mid-1980s, and is the inventor of i-trax, a hybrid audio and data CD format.

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