By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
New Medium Enterprises (NME) attended the recent CEDIA Expo to brief dealers and the press on its new low-cost red-laser high-definition optical disc format for the global market, called HD Versatile Multilayer Disc (HD VMD).
A top-of-the-line model (ML-777) with 1080p DVD up-conversion and native HD output at up to 1080p/24 fps, will carry a $199 suggested retail.
NME claims to be a one-stop-shop for its multilayer HD VMD technology, supplying HD VMD players, software and disc replication systems.
It intends to eventually license its technology to CE original equipment manufacturers that will help drive the market for the fledgling format.
At launch, software titles for the United States will be limited to a handful of releases from independent producers and international studios offering content of interest to "ethnic" and special interest audiences, including a large catalog of popular Bollywood titles.
But NME executives said they are "in talks" with Hollywood studios to produce titles in the format for U.S. releases in the near future.
"We believe that when we launch in Q4, as the major U.S. studios find it harder and harder to make a profit from theatrical releases, we can provide an additional profit vehicle for them as well," said Shirly Levich, NME North America executive VP.
NME is a start-up that is publicly traded on the OTC exchange under the symbol NMEN.
The company claims to have a catalog of more than 3,000 titles, although most of the bigger titles will be restricted for release in markets outside of the United States.
The international catalog includes such recent box office releases as "Apocalypto," "The Queen," "Blade," "Lucky Number Slevin," and "The Passion of the Christ," in addition to international productions from Bollywood and Chinese film producers.
"What we've done is close deals in the last 12 months with many global content distributors around the world that license titles directly from the Hollywood studios and have the right to put it on any format they wish," said Alexandros Potter, NME executive VP. "Thus, we have Hollywood titles available for Iceland, U.K., France, Germany, India, Australia, Brazil, Poland, Scandinavia and other areas."
The initial NME ML-777 player is essentially a well-featured standard-definition DVD player with an HD decoder chip inside. Red laser pickups made by Hitachi are modified through a firmware upgrade developed by NME to read its multiple-layer media.
The ML-777 player will be fully backward compatible with DVDs and CDs and will up-convert standard-definition video to 1080p over its HDMI 1.3 connection. Other video outputs include component video, composite video and S-video.
An optical output is available to deliver surround sound formats including standard 5.1-channel Dolby Digital, DTS and more advanced surround sound formats including 7.1 channel surround and Dolby Digital Plus.
The HD DMV's multilayer technology can produce discs that hold up to six layers at 5GB per layer. The format will initially launch with three layer and four layer discs at 15GB and 20GB capacities, respectively.
Compression codecs used in the system include VC-1 and MPEG-2.
NME said discs can be produced to sell for a low-cost premium over current standard-definition discs. Existing DVD replication systems can be adapted to produce the discs by making "small modifications to the existing infrastructure."
"Current local replicators can upgrade their lines and manufacture multilayer discs," he said.
"Not everyone can afford to pay $50,000 to $100,000 to author just one movie," said NME's Potter.
"This is our advantage," said Eugene Levich, NME director and chief technology officer. "We don't need to build factories for making blue lasers. It will take another 10 years for blue-laser factories to be robust enough to produce product as efficiently as red laser systems."
To promote the brand and products, NME is planning a "viral marketing" campaign, feeding information through enthusiast blogs and Web sites.
Movie software in the United States will be sold through e-commerce. Software distribution in the United States will be handled through Anthem Pictures.
"Our intention is to bundle hardware with five HD VMD titles through Anthem," said Potter. "Some of the initial launch titles will include "213," "Mother Ghost," "8 Plague," and "Soldier of God" and a number of Bollywood titles."
Next year, the company plans to bring HD VMD recorders to market.
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