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DVD Console Maker Vialta Plans New DVD Variation

18 Jan, 2002 By: David Ward

In yet another variation on the movie distribution model, DVD console maker Vialta has announced plans to launch its ViMagazine discs May 1, offering consumers the chance to unlock hours of movies, music and other entertainment content to either rent or purchase.

Vialta launched its hardware player, the ViDVD player, late last year. The machines feature traditional DVD playback, Internet connectivity, and the ability to play MP3s and karaoke discs as well as display digital photos. The $279-$299 players carrying the Vialta brand are available only at Micro Centers.

But marketing and communications director Ken Tenaglia said the company recently introduced a new model with progressive scan and signed a deal with Apex Digital to bring out Apex-branded players. Both those moves, along with plans to add additional hardware makers, should enable Vialta to rapidly expand its retail outlets, he added.

But the key to Vialta's long-term strategy is the ViMagazine disc. The discs, which will be mailed to Vialta owners each month, are technically DVDs but use a proprietary non-DVD Forum-approved compression software that enables the company to pack 14 hours of content onto a single disc.

Some of the content will be offered free to consumers but there will also be unlockable pay-to-access material, including movies, karaoke, cartoons, documentaries, concerts, cooking and other lifestyle programming as well as music. Much like the failed pay-per-pay Divx model, Vialta plans to have consumers go online after they've previewed the content and then unlock the content either to rent for a few days or purchase outright.

While he would not go into detail on exactly how the company can get that much content onto a single disc, Tenaglia said it would be near-DVD movie quality. "You and I won't know the difference, but technical people may," he said. He added that most of the movies will probably not include the special features of current DVD films, such as outtakes and director's commentary. He suggested Vialta would at least initially not pursue day-and-date access to new releases but will instead focus on getting near day-and-date and catalog movies. But Tenaglia said the company is confident that consumers will be willing to overlook the lack of those features for the convenience of having 14 hours of entertainment at their fingertips.

Company president and former Walt Disney and ABC executive Didier Pietri is in negotiations with the studios to license content. While he wouldn't say which studios are interested, Tenaglia did say the company would be announcing its first content deal in the next 30 days.

The ViMagazines will initially be mailed to ViDVD owners for free, but eventually the company will move to a subscription-based service, charging consumers a nominal fee to cover shipping and handling. Tenaglia said there are no plans for retail distribution of the discs, adding that could change if the number of Vialta installed grows rapidly.

ViMagazines not only feature an index of content on that disc, but also a complete index of past issues, which Tenaglia said will make it easy for users to quickly build a library and locate the entertainment they want, all without leaving their homes.

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