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And Then There Was DVD

First came the CD-ROM, storing a mind-blowing 650MB of digital content--text, photos, software, sounds and even video footage--on a 5.25-inch disk. And now there's the DVD-ROM, a sister product to the new DVD video disks you may have seen at your local video store. With DVD-ROM drives now showing up as standard components in many PCs, the multimedia industry is asking itself the big question: Will the DVD-ROM, offering 10 times more capacity, succeed where the CD-ROM failed?

You'll recall the excitement in the early '90s about CD-ROMs as a new medium for delivering multimedia programming. Many companies rushed to market with fancy titles--everything from encyclopedias to disks celebrating hip rock bands, describing exotic journeys and providing interactive history lessons. Today's CD-ROM market, though, is a victim of impossible economics. Between production expenses and the licensing of high-quality photos and video, producing an entertaining CD-ROM can cost more than $300,000. But few titles sell enough copies to earn back that kind of investment, so publishers slashed budgets--and production values--and the market crumbled.

DVD stands to do better, but don't hold your breath. One big plus: A DVD-ROM disk can hold several hours of broadcast-quality video or thousands of crisp, full-screen photos. And its coding process strongly protects that material against unauthorized copying--a big bugaboo for Hollywood studios and news organizations, which balked at releasing their valuable properties on the insecure CD-ROM format.

But for now, there are no standard specifications for the minimum PC setup people need to view DVD-ROMs. For the next year or so, about the only form of DVD interactivity you'll see is the kind found on 12-inch laser disks beginning a few years ago--a set of still photos and maybe a short trivia quiz tacked on to the end of a feature movie. Even with millions of DVD-ROM drives expected to show up under holiday trees this season, "The DVD market is mainly about movies," says Blaine Graboyes, co-founder of New York City's Zuma Digital, one of 125 DVD production firms in the United States. "DVD-ROM will develop, but it'll take years."

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