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DVDs Aren't Just For Viewing Anymore!

by Thomas on April 11, 2003 @ 4:15 a.m. PDT

Microsoft wants to let people know that DVDs aren't just for viewing anymore. Users of Windows-based PCs can participate in movies in ways never before imagined by creating their own commentary or actually becoming movie characters. And everything necessary is likely included in the DVDs users probably already own.

Added scenes and commentary have always been popular in DVDs, but today roughly 80 percent of all blockbuster DVDs contain enhanced features that are available on a Windows-based PC. Users are likely to find the DVD experience on a Windows-based PC more rewarding than that of someone using a conventional DVD player.

"These extras go far beyond the traditional special features like actor outtakes or director interviews that are advertised with most DVDs," said Tracy Overby, product manager for Windows at Microsoft. "The things you can access through a PC really bring the experience to another level. Gone are the days where you view a movie once or twice. By utilizing your Windows-based PC, there's always something new to check out."

Accessing these features requires no high-tech know-how. It's mostly accomplished with the click of a mouse. "Star Wars: Episode I" and "Episode II" DVDs have menu items with hotlinks; users with Internet access can click on the links to be taken to the Web site. In a DVD player, users see a message recommending they put the DVD in a PC. In other instances, the PC-based features are readily accessible as well. The user can just insert the DVD, and it will automatically run the InterActual software, offering access to the PC-enhanced features.

More people are making the DVD player part of their PC and home entertainment systems, so it's no secret the DVD industry is exploding. According to recent data compiled by CENTRIS, more than 23 million U.S. consumer households have DVD-ROM-enabled PCs. At the end of 2002, analysts estimated that nearly 50 million U.S. consumer households can enjoy a DVD movie in a DVD player, DVD-ROM PC or DVD-enabled gaming console. According to statistics released by the DVD Entertainment Group, DVDs represent 57 percent of 2002 home video consumer spending, driven by DVD retail sales, which increased 61 percent to $8.7 billion (compared with $5.4 billion in 2001). Consumers spent an additional $2.9 billion renting DVDs (more than double the $1.4 billion spent in 2001), bringing total 2002 DVD spending to $11.6 billion versus $6.8 billion in 2001, an increase of 71 percent.

The desire to enrich the DVD experience for millions is one Microsoft shares with those in the movie industry.

"InterActual enables studios to create enhanced DVD experiences that take people beyond the movie, into the realm of interactive, personalized entertainment," said Clint Ludeman, vice president of marketing at InterActual Technologies Inc., which developed the DVD technology. "The PC is really becoming a hub for entertainment, and we're happy to be a part of it."

For instance, in the new "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" DVD, fans can access an animated, interactive Hogwarts timeline and stay in touch via the Internet. "Austin Powers" and "Stuart Little" narrate and insert their own voices -- delighting family and friends -- into the dialogue of the movie.

Other DVD feature possibilities accessible via PC include these:

-- Script to Screen. Users can read along with the actual screenplay or script of their favorite story while watching the movie. They can track the writer's intent and judge for themselves if the actors hit their marks.

-- Enhanced commentary tracks. Did Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire really steam it up behind the scenes and do their own stunts? Users can find out with their PC.

-- Re-Voice Studio. Users can dub their voice over Shrek's (Mike Myers) and sing along, while they convince their kids they have single-handedly rescued the princess and befriended the donkey.

-- Voice Recognition. This allows users to navigate through the "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" DVD-ROM features and access set-top features using only their voices, giving kids the illusion of a magical experience interacting with the DVD.

-- Access to secret/locked Web sites. Paul McCartney includes never-before-seen footage and performances by using his "Back in the U.S." DVD as a backstage ticket, and Universal Studios Home Video provides its exclusive Total Axess Web site to unlock special online features for DVDs such as "Back to the Future" and "The Bourne Identity."

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