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WORKING WEEKEND: Being Potter-trained by a DVD

10 May, 2002 By: Bruce Apar

My kids belong to one of those new minority groups. They are not Harry Potter consumers. That's an apt term for the legion of fans that has virtually consumed the four novels to date, making British author J.K. Rowling bloody rich and the Harry Potter movie a box-office record-breaker … until that not-so-itsy-bitsy spider guy crawled along last weekend.

At its essence, good marketing is ineffable – its charms cannot be rationally explained. That just about sums up my gut reaction to Warner Home Video's Harry Potter DVD package when it arrived. There's something about the property's logo and the rest of the key art – which appear on the DVD's outer jacket and again on the two-disc, eight-panel gatefold package – that not only reinforced its well-established appeal but, in my case, extended it.

Further proof is that my 11-year-old Elissa, obviously a Muggle like her old man for her Harry-defying consumer behavior, at first professed she was indifferent to watching the video. Then, with the DVD box lying around the house seductively in that come-hither pose, she asked to watch it, and liked it.

I have my own method of madness in sampling DVDs. I'll be online at the desktop in the den, with a vestpocket home theater to the side – TV, DVD and VCR.

When I had trouble finding my way around the presumably kid-friendly if (in my case) adult-stumping Disc 2 DVD-ROM – with all manner of games and places to explore – I simply put on the Disc 1 DVD-video containing the movie itself and located the chapters that would give me the clues to continue navigating with some trace of dignity.

Is this sort of TV-PC tandem-tasking so unusual? Not if you believe recent research by Jack Myers, a television industry market analyst, that shows a significant percentage of people have their TV and PC in the same room.

This personal adventure also made me realize that even without reading the book I was learning pertinent details about the colorful subculture that is Harry Potter. It almost makes me want to pick up one of those bestsellers – almost.

The object lesson, perhaps, is that, when used proficiently by content developers, DVD is a publishing platform as much as it is a movie on a silver platter.

DVD also is still a nascent and temperamental technology. Potter marks the first mass-market application of something branded One-Voice that allows the PC user to talk his way through parts of the DVD-ROM by barking instructions into the PC microphone.

There is definitely a learning curve in using this cool application, but kids will get a big kick out of it when they do figure it out. I also experienced parts of the DVD-ROM where the synthesized voices exhibited the audio equivalent of pixelation, akin to a vinyl record skipping. And in one or two instances, when I clicked on the microphone function, an error message told me to insert the DVD into a PC, where it already was.

But that is as likely a function of my computer. Even when DVDs are authored and replicated with optimum quality control, there is no accounting for how a title will perform in the wide range of computer hardware out there.

Warner Home Video deserves its props for loading its Potter DVD with enough interactive DVD-ROM and WebDVD activities to engage all those precocious Potterphiles who'll be buying this digital-in-the-round phenomenon come May 28.

MGM Screeners Different Than Finished DVDs
I was both wrong and right in what I wrote here last weekend about MGM's trailers on No Such Thing and Hart's War.

Wrong in implying that consumers watching those DVD titles would be unable to use the MENU function when in the trailer park at the head of the program. Right in stating I was not sure whether this was a new policy and we'd check into it.

Well, MGM has graciously clarified for us that the screener DVD copy sent to media types (that would be me) is the same “announce package” sent to retailers to aid in their buying decisions.

It is understandably both costly and time consuming to encode menu navigation into the prerelease screeners, which are shipped well in advance of the title's street date. MGM assures us that the consumer copies of all its DVDs offer the user full MENU activation when watching the trailers.

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