Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Whither DVD?

By Margaret Moser

APRIL 20, 1998:  CDs on steroids and speed or the latest technological innovation to hit the market, DVD is most definitely the acronym of the moment. So what exactly is DVD? Will it really change our lives or simply become the eight-track of silver discs? Digital Video Disc (or digital versatile disc, or any combination of words beginning with DVD, it seems) is a CD with the capacity to store video data in addition to audio and computer data. Its appeal is that it may soon take the place of audio CDs as well as laser discs, video tapes, and CD-ROM, though not everyone is eager to embrace such standardization. DVDs are being favored by most computer and electronic companies as well as by the music and film industry but that future is murky for most consumers, who are looking at the bottom line of having to buy new electronic equipment to make use of DVD technology.

The very letters "DVD" bring myriad images to mind. There's the DVD video, a disc with video programs and played through a DVD player and a TV. There's the DVD-ROM, which stores computer data but is read by a DVD-ROM drive connected to a computer. Most computers equipped to play DVD-ROM can support DVD videos, but DVD players cannot read DVD-ROM. If that's not confusing enough, there's an even newer twist called "DVIX," which is more or less like an in-home rental service accessed through a modem. Those who survived the 8-Track Invasion of the Sixties, the Beta Battle of the Seventies, and the Death of Vinyl by CD in the Eighties should hold on tight to their laser-disc players, because that's where the lines will be drawn.

DVD does seem to have some distinct advantages besides quality viewing, audio, and durability, including most of the LD perks. Besides being hardier than videotape, DVD is compact, can offer up to eight digital audio tracks, has instant fast-forward and rewind capacity, and more interactive features. The DVD players currently on the market provide the expected features of audio CD compatibility, parental control, language options, etc. but a few of them are designed to be compatible with LDs, video CDs, and TVs.

For Austinites, DVD is not yet a hot trend. After contacting a number of independent and chain video rental outlets, only Encore Movies & Music seemed to have wholeheartedly embraced the concept, stocking not only titles for rent but players for sale. Encore owner Chuck Lokey is enthusiastic about the possibilities of DVD, and is firmly of the mind that it is not just the wave of the future, it is the future. Lokey cites the superior picture and audio clarity as reasons for the likelihood of its success, noting that the most popular DVD titles rented at Encore include "anything with special effects or lots of action," and names Con Air, T2, Contact, and Austin Powers. He also readily acknowledges the "new toy" aspect of DVD but thinks the format will survive. At any rate, he's ready for the future with 400 titles on Encore's shelves and more to come.

"Too trendy," shrugged Chris Bultman of I Love Video's Airport location, saying that the popular indie store has "no plans to carry DVD." Of course, there have also been no announcements for the Faces of Death series on DVD, either, but I Love Video's sentiment is echoed by Vulcan Video's Ted Branson. Branson's assessment of the likelihood of either VV location carrying DVD was "never," pointing out that they don't even carry laserdiscs for rent, though he personally would "never get rid of my VCR [or] LD player."

Waterloo Video is taking a more cautious approach to meeting the new kid on the block. Lori Holbrook says they currently offer 50 DVD titles but they are for sale only, and not rental. She also notes they specialize, naturally, in primarily music videos, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan's Live From Austin. With stores like Encore and Best Buy offering DVD rentals and sales, Holbrook says Waterloo is in no hurry.

National chains often find themselves at the mercy of the corporate office decision-makers, and questions to Hollywood Video about DVD availability referred queries to their Portland, Oregon headquarters, though they allowed that they would probably be carrying DVD titles by 1999.

Interestingly, Blockbuster Video's corporate-run stores do not stock DVD titles but some of the local franchise Blockbusters do. At the Capitol of Texas Highway location, manager Chris Pardo gives a thumbs-up to DVDs, saying they are "renting well, mostly in new releases." He also says his store carries well over 100 titles in stock with about 10 new ones coming in every week. Cedar Park's Blockbuster store is less optimistic, feeling that "by the time people catch on to this some new thing will probably have come along." Still, with 22 titles on the shelf and 30 more on order, DVD is offered "because they're probably the next big thing" and because they want to "[ease] in slowly" to the market. And how are the titles renting? "Terrible," they admit without hesitation.

Bet that doesn't bother Chuck Lokey at Encore.

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