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Common Technology, Diverse Applications

4 Oct, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

“Move Up.”

“Move Down.”

“Full Screen.”

“Hide Player.”

“Show Player.”

Those are all commands common to PC-based DVD player software, though in most cases the user navigates with a mouse to produce the result.

On a very few discs, most prominently Warner Home Video's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the disc will actually respond to a user's voice command, using voice response (VR) software, providing the PC is fitted out with a microphone (most new PCs are). So if a viewer playing the disc on a PC asks it, “What do I say?” it will actually display a list of navigation commands the disc can interpret and follow to run the DVD-ROM features.

“Although VR could work for any title, I feel it works best on titles that have playful features, or ones that are deeply exploratory,” said Paul Hemstreet, Warner Home Video VP, DVD special features, who was integrally involved in developing the features for Harry Potter, Warner's first disc to use VR technology. “The more features there are, the more fun it is to navigate through them using your voice.”

The developers at adult video company VCA Interactive couldn't agree more, so when they developed a PC-based DVD software player for their products, they added a few commands.




Oh, baby. Oh, brother!

“We can build in an unlimited number of commands,” said Allen Gold, VP of VCA Interactive DVD, who notes the company's debut VR interactive adult title, Double O Blonde, will include the player software and a mike to get new users started when it becomes available in January.

Oddly enough, the goals for VR DVD are the same, even when the discs have polar opposite content.

“We want to make the experience of viewing the DVD-ROM features easier and more enjoyable,” Hemstreet said. “It frees up the hands and makes it easy for people, kids and adults alike, to navigate around. People don't have to worry about clicking the wrong thing, or using awkward touchpads, for example.”

Parents won't want their children using the features on VCA's titles, but the fact that VR holds equal appeal for juvenile and adult audiences is hardly lost on Gold.

“We had our demo last year at the AVN show. The feedback was incredible,” he said. “It's very fantasy. You're talking to her.”

If there is any obstacle to widespread adoption of VR DVD, it is the need to play the discs on a PC-based player. Gold and Hemstreet agree that more people will use the features when they become available on set-top players.

“I think what could really push ROM usage is developments with set-top players,” Hemstreet said. “Plans are under way to create players that can read many of the basic ROM html pages. This will open more audiences to the features and encourage exploration on DVD-ROM drives.”

So while it seems clear parents won't want their children using an interactive player to wander through VCA titles, Gold plans to use the VR player software — which works on standard navigation features of any DVD -- as a selling point for the company's upcoming VR titles.

“Dad can buy Double O Blonde, download the player and the kids can use it to watch their DVDs,” he said.

Gold is also careful to make sure the covers of VCA's more than 9,000 titles are soft-core enough to display in an ordinary video store setting. And the nature of his content lets him avoid one of the challenges that family suppliers face:

“The greatest challenge is producing enough content for the ROM features to make VR worthwhile.” Hemstreet said. “That's why titles such as Harry Potter were so great to work with -- the nature of the film makes it easy to come up with ideas for ROM.”

Like Gold, he is always on the lookout for new opportunities to incorporate VR features. “We are working to make the experience even easier for the user,” Hemstreet said. “As PC processors get faster, most people will have better computers as well that can take advantage of these technical developments.”

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