One of commercial DVD's strongest selling points has been the inclusion of "special features"—things like deleted scenes, director's commentary, and "making-of" documentaries. Plenty of discs also offer DVD-ROM content, which is often fascinating and fun, but has always required consumers to access it from their computers. With more and more consumers weaving their computers into their television-viewing experience (just ask the folks at ESPN.com, who receive tens of thousands of votes when they run polls during ESPN-TV's Sunday Night Football), that davenport to desktop transition is no big leap for some.
But wouldn't it be nice to access those DVD-ROM features directly through your set-top DVD player, and watch them from your sofa on your big screen? Enter InterActual Technologies, Inc., longtime supplier of Web-connecting solutions for DVD-ROM, which has begun licensing its InterActual Media Services to chipmakers to do just that. InterActual Media Services will sit on next-generation DVD players as a software layer between the DVD chip and an embedded browser, and allow viewers to access DVD-ROM and HTML content without popping the disc into their PC, according to InterActual CEO and president Todd Collart. "We're trying to take all the DVD-ROM content and migrate it into the living room," he says.
Up until now, certain DVD-ROM features like storyboards and "script-to-screen," which allows viewers to scroll through a movie's screenplay while watching the video, have been off-limits to TV-only DVD viewers, Collart says. "We're not inventing anything new here, in terms of content," he says. "We're just giving people a new way to deliver and access that content." And while techno-geeks might be interested in whether or not that content is DVD-ROM, HTML, or DVD-Video-based, the average consumer won't be able to tell the difference. "That's where it gets cool because the average consumer doesn't want to worry about that," Collart says.
InterActual Media Services include several components: ECMAScript API for controlling media, disc detection and authentication logic, user interface guidelines, certification tests and guidelines, and the ability to detect Internet connectivity on-the-fly. It's that last feature that bridges the gap between the Media Services (which are licensed to both chip and content manufacturers) and InterActual's InterActual Player 2.0 software, which is included on commercial DVDs such as Spider-Man, Insomnia, and Scooby Doo. If you're watching a DVD that's been authored with InterActual Player in mind, Media Services automatically detects whether it's in a player that's connected to the Internet and opens up the door to those Web-enhanced features.
This means studios can market DVDs with enhanced Web content that they continually update, Collart says, rather than hard-coding it into the DVD. LucasFilms has been especially interested in this, he says, updating online content for the Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace DVD every three months or so. That means a studio can provide value-added content after the disc is in the hands of the consumers, and do so cost-effectively, since it's cheaper to do HTML coding than it is to do DVD authoring. It also means they can add new, up-to-the-minute features like trailers for upcoming releases whenever they become available. "That way, DVDs don't become outdated," he says. "LucasFilms released the Episode 1 DVD in October of 2001, and then in November was able to run TV spots telling owners that their DVD just got better with the trailer for Episode 2." InterActual Player authoring is supported by major authoring tools including Creator, Scenarist, and Maestro.
InterActual's Media Services also offers what Collart calls "community-related" features for Internet-connected viewing. "They allow the Web site to control the local video, and then, for instance, ask viewers to vote for their favorite scenes and pull that information in real time," Collart says. This gives consumers added value, and provides content creators with more marketing opportunities. Currently, InterActual has licensing agreements with LSI Logic, Cirrus, and STMicroelectonics, with more on the way, he says.
Ralph LaBarge, head of AlphaDVD—a studio known for its WebDVD authoring and Planet Earth: Australia, winner of this year's EMedia Discus Award winner for Best Use and Integration of Web Content—sees InterActual's tools as a boon for authors like him, and for consumers. "Extending WebDVD titles to the set-top environment should help jump-start WebDVD, which has been stuck in the doldrums of being something that gets added to many movie titles as a bonus for DVD-ROM users," LaBarge says. "Very few titles have been designed from the ground up to take advantage of WebDVD features." LaBarge also says that bringing DVD-ROM capabilities into the set-top realm will allow authors more freedom even within standard, non-ROM aspects like menus. "Think how slick menus could become if we could use Flash for button highlights, rather than the very restrictive four-color button overlay graphic built into the DVD spec."