January 2002|Talk about a shakeout! Over the last couple of years, the DVD authoring world has been on a virtual carnival ride. Prices have fallen like a giant roller coaster's first descent and the powerful, sophisticated DVD engines that were built to turn the wheels of esoteric professional interfaces now drive the relative Teacup and Saucer kiddie rides of consumer-level applications. Is it big power gone to waste? Or has DVD authoring finally developed enough to bring video communications to non-video professionals? Or, even bolder, can DVD authoring become the killer consumer application that digital video has been seeking for more than a decade?
DVD authoring clearly isn't just for professional service bureaus and Hollywood studios anymore. It's now a process so easy that the proverbial grandmother could author a DVD, if she had a camcorder and a DVD burner. But there's the rub: few grandmothers do have burners, at least not yet, and that's left many big names in DVD authoring standing at the gate of this new consumer-oriented thrill ride. However, it's still standing room only on this attraction and just as many companies have been turned away, eager new ones—both new to authoring and outright new—have stepped forward to nab a seat.
What's in store for this industry on the move? Older applications are still as powerful as ever, but the ones that might seem like toys to traditionalists actually offer some surprising capabilities. But it remains to be seen whether professionals can use them for any serious projects and if they will bring new business and consumer users to the fold. Or, it is possible that the format wars of competing writable DVD hardware will burst the software companies' bubble when it's almost ready to float skyward.
2001 was, indeed, an odyssey for DVD authoring. Of the more than half dozen prominent companies that started the year in authoring, only Sonic Solutions and (with a small percent of the market at very high end) Panasonic remain to start 2002. All others were victims of either the success or failure of DVD authoring to date, depending on the perspective. At the same time, several new companies have taken their place, banking on the boom time to come.
The tenuous success of DVD authoring in reaching the masses is that end-users can now find very affordable DVD authoring tools. This trend was initially sparked by Sonic Solutions' bold 1999 introduction of DVDit! for $500 when the nearest competitor was $5,000 and most others were in the five-digit range. DVDit! set the stage for a dramatic transition from the powerful (though often cumbersome) tools designed for a small group of professionals to more affordable, easier to use tools for novices. Unfortunately, the pace of that change left several companies behind. With sagging returns, Daikin was absorbed in 2001 by Sonic, Spruce by Apple, Minerva's DVD authoring tools by Pinnacle Systems, and Multimedia Technology Center by SmartDisk, all joining Astarte, which was acquired by Apple almost two years ago. Intec America also closed its doors.
In hindsight, the pace of change was probably too fast for Sonic, as the anticipated affordable DVD burners did not appear immediately to entice new users to begin creating discs. Hardware delays left Sonic scrambling toward the less glam- orous alternative of burning DVD disc images to CD-R for computer playback. That was a marketing compromise and Sonic didn't make any killing from what they term cDVD. But, the company spent the time in limbo wisely, establishing OEM partnerships and generating an installed base of more than one million users and market recognition to go along with it.
Minimally, Sonic now appears well positioned to benefit from rising consumer interest and the hardware piece that is finally fitting into place. Pioneer's DVR-A03 is now available for under $500, with speculation of sub-$300 pricing within just a couple of months. The format wars among DVD-R, DVD-RAM, and DVD+RW wage on, but to the distinct consumer benefit of lowering prices. Sub-$500 DVD-RAM/DVD-R drives have already pushed Pioneer to lower prices and more price cuts are on the way for both as volumes increase. Add to that the emerging DVD+RW drives that also burn discs that play in most consumer DVD players and the days of desktop DVD burning may finally have arrived.