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Issue: February 1, 2002

Web DVD

By: By Christine Bunish

Web DVDs offer the promise of combining DVD-ROM's large capacity and interactivity, DVD-Video's superb image quality and the Web's ability to provide up-to-the-minute information and instant inquiry or ordering capabilities. They are essentially DVD-ROM discs on which reside DVD-Video, ROM and Web applications. Most are created for PC platforms only since there are less Apple Macintoshes on the market.

VISION WISE: CORPORATe is AN EARLY ADOPTER

"WebDVDs can be highly effective communications tools," says Tim Capper, president of Dallas-based Vision Wise, Inc. (www.visionwise.com), an interactive communications firm. "They offer the best of both worlds: high-end, high-impact video and instant connections to the client, his customers or his employees." Capper reminds us that "the innovators in DVD-Video were the movie companies who initially put bonus material on their DVDs that linked to the films' Web sites." But since most DVD-Video entertainment titles play on set-top boxes, moviemakers haven't been willing to pump money into greater Web integration, "unless it's an A-list title with a major site and merchandising opportunities," he notes.

It's been corporate clients who have discovered the advantages of tighter Web integration. "The Web is now more of a tool than an add on," Capper reports. "Businesses marketing products can use the DVD as a large collection of high-quality video, then link to the Web for descriptions and current price lists, which would be hard to keep updated on the disc. They can do database work on the Web."

But Capper believes prospective customers for WebDVDs, which are more expensive to create than DVD-Videos, should consider what they stand to gain above simple connectivity to a Web site. "There's got to be a measurable advantage. You've got to get a real return on investment from integrating product and database information or online commerce."

Vision Wise has seen a variety of applications for WebDVD. A bankimage. com project features a corporate overview and testimonials on DVD-Video and product information online. Episodes of the animated TV show Dragonball Z from Funimation has Web links to information on the characters. A WebDVD for popular Bishop T.D. Jakes of Potters House, who draws 90,000 people to his appearances, has his sermons on DVD-Video and scriptures online. A music video for new band Carsello has extra behind-the-scenes clips on DVD-Video and links to the Web for more information about the group and ordering its CD. A DVD-Video training project for the US Navy is likely to be a WebDVD in its next incarnation with the Internet acting as a testing station.

To gear up for WebDVD creation, Vision Wise has invested time in R&D for writing custom code that enables the platforms to talk to each other. Macromedia Director is used to program the DVD, and Flash and HTML to program the Web components. The DVD authoring software is Sonic Solutions' Scenarist.

Because WebDVDs tend to be costly and may require a longer development schedule, especially during the testing period, Capper suggests that people seeking simple Web connectivity consider business-card size CD-ROMs. "They can be a cost-effective marketing tool," he notes. "They can even have MPEG-1 video if you want. Where DVD comes into play is when a project is video intensive. But if you just want to drive people to a Web site, business card size CD-ROMs cost 50 cents each."

BLINK DIGITAL: SUPPLEMENTING DVD-VIDEO

"Using Web and ROM enhancements can be a very cost-effective way of supplementing and extending DVD-Video titles," says Jeff Stabenau, managing director of Blink Digital (www.blinkdigital. com), which opened in New York City in December. "Almost all titles can benefit from it. We put Web links in some form on 90 percent of the discs we do, even if it's just a link to the home page of the client."

When Stabenau was president of NYC's Crush Digital, the company created a DVD boxed set of the first season of Showtime's original series Queer As Folk, which contained a password key enabling buyers to link to the Showtime Web site where they could view clips from the show's upcoming season.

Now, Blink Digital is preparing several Web-DVD titles on Tibetan Buddhism for Wellspring Entertainment on which some of expert Robert Thurman's academic papers will reside on the ROM side of the disc. "Sometimes material is better served by being local to the disc," Stabenau notes. Although he doesn't yet have a sense of the growth curve for WebDVD, Stabenau believes the format will play "a fairly small supplementary role in entertainment products but a larger role in corporate training and education if and when those markets develop."

Being able to create WebDVDs is "more a matter of personnel and expertise than equipment," Stabenau points out. "You need people with a background in Web and ROM development."

In addition to a WebDVD-savvy staff, the new Blink Digital has a Sonic Solutions Scenarist DVD authoring system and uses Macromedia Director to craft products that can play on both PCs and Macs. "Where we can, we try to make titles accessible to both platforms," Stabenau says. Blink Digital also taps Interactual's PC Friendly software, a superset of instructions that allows video to be played back by a PC from the ROM side of the disc. "It's very disappointing that Apple hasn't developed functionality in QuickTime to allow it to do this," Stabenau adds.

MEDIA HIPPO: REQUESTS HAVE BEGUN

Burbank's Media Hippo, a browser-based software developer, branched out late last year with a DVD division called Ractive Media (www.ractivemedia.com) for capturing, compressing and authoring DVD-ROM, DVD-Video and WebDVD applications.

"DVD penetrated the consumer market faster than any other technology, much faster than the [audio] CD," says Media Hippo CEO Steve Miller. "There's a huge installed base of DVD players and game boxes that are also DVD-capable."

Media Hippo has been in the DVD business for two years but clients have just begun requesting WebDVDs within the last six months, according to Miller.

"WebDVDs enable you to get more information and interactivity on a piece of media," he says. "You can have the video, the interfaces, the authoring of a normal DVD, plus the Web-enabled parts. You can link to a Web component or build in Web-based programming on the DVD so everything is contained on the DVD itself, and you use the Web browser as the interface on the DVD."

Miller sees more interest in WebDVD from the corporate world than from entertainment. "Most people have Web sites, and they want to draw from the content and information generated by that medium," he explains. "Links to the Web also enable you to be dynamic and fresh with the content."Miller believes the medium, with high-quality video, interactivity and instant Web access, is a natural for training applications; Ractive Media has already created a WebDVD for Honda through the automaker's computer-based training company in Long Beach, Calif.

DVDLABS: DVD-ROM IS SPURRING GROWTH

DVDLabs (www.dvdlabs.com) was launched last year in Cambridge, Mass. for high-end DVD authoring and DVD-Audio authoring. The young company, which brings together a diverse group of industry veterans, sees WebDVD "just starting to take off. Clients are beginning to ask for it without being told," says president Roger Talkov.

He believes the demand for WebDVD has begun to grow because computers have started to come standard with DVD-ROM drives. "They're commonplace in the home so now more people can take advantage of this medium. We see Web DVD as our most popular product a year or two down the line. The educational and corporate markets for it are huge." DVDLabs has already done a variety of WebDVD projects. Feature film companies like DreamWorks and New Line seek Web integration "at a very basic level" for a lowest-common-denominator approach across a mass consumer audience, Talkov reports. They typically want a Web link on the main menu, which takes users to a movie-related merchandising opportunity.

Robert Gardner, a professor at Harvard Film Studies Center, asked DVDLabs to craft a Web-DVD that also has a book component. Students at the center can watch in its entirety on DVD-Video the Gardner-directed film Forest of Bliss or view the movie scene by scene, referring back to Gardner's book on the film or linking to the Web for more information on the making of the picture. "It's a good example of how to use WebDVD for educational purposes," Talkov says.

DVDLabs has also created Web links on DVD-Video in the form of time-based pop up windows that appear while the viewer is watching a music video, for example. "The window might say, 'For more information about...' and you just click and you're on the Internet," Talkov explains.

DVDLabs' expertise with DVD-Audio offers customers another component for WebDVD. "We did the first DVD-Audio disc with a Web link," says Talkov. "It uses everything the DVD spec has to offer: It plays on a DVD-Video player, a DVD-Audio player and it even has MP3 files on it." The disc, for audiophile company Telarc, features Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture recorded in surround and stereo. The video portion shows slides of the outdoor performance by the Cincinnati Pops with high-resolution AC-3 and DTS sound. The Web link offers merchandising tie-ins and more detailed information on the production of the high-end disc.

A second Telarc project, Celebrating the Music of Weather Report, is a tribute to the band Weather Report with similar high- and low-resolution audio, stills of the group and Web links to in-depth information on Telarc and the creation of the award-winning disc.

John Prine's latest DVD-Video based on his Sessions at West 54th performance, features extra footage from the popular music series, an interview and a Web link to the Oh Boy label's Web site for merchandising opportunities.

DVDLabs creates WebDVDs with Sonic DVD Creator and Sonic Scenarist, which feature Interactual's PC Friendly software as a system option. In addition, DVDLabs writes custom JavaScript and HTML code to enhance the WebDVD experience.

CUTTING VISION: WEBDVD AS MODERN-DAY BROADBAND

New York City's Cutting Vision (www.cuttingvision.com) sees WebDVD as an important business-to-business tool. "I think its strongest uses are for marketing, training and promotion," says president Jeff Beckerman. "The DVD with full-motion, full-screen video and great audio can hold your media assets, while the Web portion can be updated almost on a daily basis with Flash, HTML or Java."

"Companies have found a great advantage in using the entertainment and interactive components of WebDVD in training their employees," notes Eric Brunman, Cutting Vision's new media sales and marketing person.

"We've positioned WebDVD as modern-day broadband," Brunman continues. "With WebDVD you're able to store on the disc what you haven't been able to send over the phone or cable lines, and you're still able to link to the Web. You have two different layers."

But with the economy having "slashed a lot of budgets," WebDVD has "been a hard sell" to the corporate market, Beckerman notes. Cutting Vision just finished its own WebDVD as a demo of the medium's advantages. It includes examples of how to use a spot or video clip as a vehicle to increase sales or provide a consumer with valuable information.

Because of the potential complexity of WebDVDs, "it takes a company that's willing to commit to it for the long run," notes Brunman. Cutting Vision can shoot video content for clients and boasts graphics, editorial and sound studios in its facilities. It has a Sonic Solutions Creator DVD authoring system and uses Flash, HTML and Interactual's PC Friendly software to craft WebDVDs.

WebDVD creation is "a combination of DVD authoring and Web design," says new media developer Irene Lee. "Creating the content is no different: We utilize the best in graphics, animation, editing and sound design with our programming bringing it all together."

"WebDVDs are a lot of work and more expensive than DVDs," says Beckerman. "A huge amount of resources are needed. They require thinking out of the box and a lot of experimentation and can take a while to create. Think of WebDVDs as if you were developing a Web site and building a very creative and interactive DVD."

Lee believes WebDVD could also catch fire with the educational market. "Ebooks are based on text, but with a WebDVD you could watch video on the browser and see text in sync with it. Educators may have a lot of this content already, so they wouldn't have to start from scratch" to create the new media, she adds.