Shanghai, China -- Backers of a Chinese optical-disk format are trying to rekindle interest in the technology as an alternative to legacy DVDs and pricey HD-DVD or Blu-ray media. But internal friction, controversy and a closing window of opportunity are conspiring against the format's success.
For more than three years, a handful of Chinese companies have been trying to kick-start the market for the Enhanced Versatile Disc, which is slightly higher in capacity than DVDs and is based on proprietary Chinese technology. Backers hoped EVD, as an alternative to DVD, would free Chinese manufacturers from intellectual-property royalties paid to consortia like the DVD Forum. But the effort to get EVD out the door stumbled, resulting in few players on retail shelves and a smattering of content incapable of rivaling what's available on DVD.
That looked set to change recently, when 19 Chinese manufacturers gathered in Beijing to show off about 50 EVD players they said would retail for an average price of $88--about 2.5 times the cost of a basic DVD player--and the EVD Alliance said members would stop producing DVD players by 2008.
That immediately caught the attention of chip makers that make a tidy profit supplying devices to Chinese DVD equipment makers. Phones began to ring, and it turned out the DVD news "wasn't true," said Tim Vehling, senior director of LSI Logic Corp.'s Consumer Products Marketing division. Soon after, many members of the EVD Alliance made their own statements, setting the record straight.
Haier Electronics, aggressive in the EVD arena, estimates its ratio of EVD to DVD players will be 35:65 by 2008, since demand is high for DVD in rural areas. Skyworth Digital, with a dozen EVD models, said half of its production will be for EVD by 2008.
Indeed, most alliance members are waiting to see how the market plays out. "We won't run the risk of quitting DVD or HD-DVD only to support a homegrown standard," said Chao Chen, a marketing manager at Amoi Electronics, which is a member of the EVD Alliance but hasn't started making players yet.
Chip makers and content providers are likewise taking it slow. Jun Shi, who oversees content development at Antaeus Corp., an investor in EVD, said the company has been in touch with Hollywood studios like Warner but that little has come of it. "If Warner doesn't see the profit brought from EVD, they just won't provide content," Shi said.
That's EVD's problem: Since the players must be compatible with DVD, royalties are still paid, defeating the purpose of developing a DVD rival in the first place. So backers of EVD are trying to create a high-capacity disk. If they succeed, then EVD may be repositioned against HD-DVD and Blu-ray.