I have seen the future, and it is digital. On June 18, cinematic history was made as <I>Star Wars: Episode 1---The Phantom Menace</I> became the first movie in the U.S. to be publicly screened from a digital source rather than a film print (see <A HREF="http://www.guidetohometheater.com/shownews.cgi?430">related story</A>).
Every year, as summer sales for consumer-electronics products drag a little, manufacturers and retailers wonder which products will be the trend-setters in the upcoming holiday season. According to a report just released by <A HREF="http://www.idc.com">International Data Corporation</A> (IDC), the hot niche for 1999 will be a new product category: digital video recorders (DVRs) from companies like <A HREF="http://www.replaytv.com">RePlay Networks</A> and <A HREF="http://www.tivo.com">TiVo</A>.
Last week, <A HREF="http://www.panasonic.com">Panasonic</A> announced that it will market hard-disk video recorders with <A HREF="http://www.replaytv.com">ReplayTV</A> technology under the Panasonic brand. The company expects to be one of the first outside Replay Networks, Inc. to market hard-disk recorders with ReplayTV, which allows television viewers to record shows "on the fly" directly onto a built-in hard disk.
Plasma displays have taken a big leap toward affordability. On June 10, <A HREF="http://www.plasmavision.com/">Fujitsu General America Inc.</A> announced a major reduction in the price of its Plasmavision 42 at the InfoComm International '99 confab in Orlando, Florida. The new price of $6995 is a 30% drop from the former suggested retail of almost $10,000---and half the price of the 42's predecessor, which was introduced at CES in 1997.
Last month, at HI-FI '99 in Chicago, Telarc's Bob Woods dismissed fears of a format war between the Super Audio Compact Disc---a format developed and promoted by Sony/Philips---and DVD-Audio. "Someone will make a universal player," he promised.
News Corporation's <A HREF="http://www.fox.com/">Fox Network</A> and the <A HREF="http://www.nab.org/">National Association of Broadcasters</A> have gone their separate ways. Fox made the announcement on June 8 in protest over the Association's refusal to lobby against legal limits on the number of television stations one company can own. The limit is now defined by Federal law as a total number of stations that reach no more than 35% of the more than 100 million homes in the US. Three weeks earlier, <A HREF="http://www.nbc.com/">NBC</A>, a unit of General Electric, had threatened similar action over the NAB's refusal to change its policy.
Last week, <A HREF="http://www.directv.com">DirecTV</A>, a subsidiary of <A HREF="http://www.hughes.com">Hughes Electronics</A>, announced that its direct-broadcast satellite (DBS) television service acquired 110,000 new customers in May. This figure is a record for that month, the company reports, and a 57% increase in net customer acquisition over May 1998. An additional 145,000 customers---who previously subscribed only to programming from US Satellite Broadcasting---were gained last month by DirecTV when Hughes completed its merger with USSB on May 20.
Last week, <A HREF="http://www.microsoft.com">Microsoft</A> and <A HREF="http://www.wink.com/">Wink Communications</A> announced an agreement to promote interactive content and commerce based on the <A HREF="http://www.atvef.com/">Advanced Television Enhancement Forum</A> (ATVEF) specification for interactive television. Wink Communications says it will optimize its Response Network Service (which provides the broadcast and cable-television industries with viewer-response services) to support ATVEF-compliant content for television devices that use the Microsoft television-software platform. In turn, Microsoft claims that it will use Wink's Response Network to handle certain ATVEF-based advertising direct-response services. As part of the agreement, Microsoft invested $30 million in Wink Communications.
W<I>arren Beatty, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Oliver Platt, Paul Sorvino, Jack Warren, Isaiah Washington. Directed by Warren Beatty. Aspect ratio: 1:85:1. Dolby Digital. 108 minutes. 1998. 20th Century Fox 4110398. Rated R. $34.98.</I>
According to the <A HREF="http://vsda.org/">Video Software Dealers Association</A>'s weekly VidTrac reporting service, <I>Saving Private Ryan</I> has debuted as the top-renting video ever. In its first six days of release, the report says, <I>Saving Private Ryan</I> has been rented by more consumers than any other film in the same opening-week time period.