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EXPANDING DVD CAPABILITIES TO BE HOT TOPIC AT CONFERENCE.

Byline: Enrique Rivero Staff Writer

Digital Versatile Discs, already packed with features that one could only dream about just a few years ago, could soon have more interactive features than NASA's Mission Control has buttons.

``DVD is not a revolution, it's an evolution in technology - it opens up a whole new avenue for entertainment media,'' said David Obelcz, product manager of consumer software at mail order computer retailer Gateway.

Those avenues will be topic No. 1 at the DVD '99 Conference and Technology Showcase, which will run today and Thursday at the Universal Hilton Hotel & Towers.

There is much that can still be done with DVDs, which reached retail stores only a few years ago. But how, exactly, that will shake out is the million-dollar question, said Garrett Smith, vice president of digital mastering operations for Paramount Pictures, who will moderate a panel exploring value-added DVD features such as alternative endings and restorations.

``That's the curse and the beauty of DVD - you can do so many things with it,'' Smith said. ``It's a matter of what's practical and where do you put your emphasis to be competitive.''

Should DVDs have multiple audio formats? Should they include Web links for personal computer use? Should they meld with games based on the characters in the movies? Those are all questions that DVD makers - and the market - will decide in the near future.

As it is, consumers are taking to the technology. Year-to-date sales of DVD players soared to 1.4 million units compared with 321,000 during the same period in 1998, according to the Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association.

Approximately 8.4 million DVD software units were sold from Jan. 10 through July 25, vs. 3.2 million during the comparable year-ago period, according to tracking service VideoScan.

The software can be played on set-top DVD players and computer DVD-ROM drives.

Some companies such as Chatsworth-based distributor Image Entertainment Inc. are well into plans to get the most out of the technology.

Executives at the company, which recently expanded from licensing titles to producing programming, have been ``noodling'' with ways to get 5.1-track Dolby Digital and DTS, and discrete two-channel stereo sound onto one disc, said director of marketing Garrett Lee.

The company recently shot a live concert with Peter Frampton in the high-definition format for release on DVD. It also will be available for high definition broadcast.

The company also wants to produce DVDs of live concerts that exploit the format's highly touted - but rarely used - multiangle capabilities, he said.

The majority of consumer desktop and laptop computers sold by Gateway come equipped with DVD-ROM drives, with which consumers can access Web links and other features on DVD movies that they can't with a set-top player, Obelcz said.

He foresees, among other things, more interactive features incorporated into DVD movies.

``You can take that same DVD and put it in a computer and open up a whole new arena of features that you can't have at a set-top box,'' he said. ``The PC is one of the best environments in which to put interactive material.''

The Universal City conference is intended to give industry insiders an opportunity to learn from each other, said Charles Van Horn, executive vice president of the Princeton, N.J.-based International Recording Media Association, which is co-producing the conference.

``What we're trying to do is get more of them aware of how to do it, what can be done to add excitement to the product and just share creative approaches that each is taking,'' Van Horn said.

CAPTION(S):

Chart

CHART: EXPLOSIVE GROWTH

Although DVD players still represent just a fraction of VCR sales, the sales growth rate for DVDs is remarkable.

SOURCE: Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 4, 1999
Words:625
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