Interview with Kevin Collins, HD DVD Evangelist for Microsoft

HD-DVD and Blu-ray have been battling it out for position as the next standard for high definition video formats, as consumers are beginning to adopt HDTV television sets and are starting to look beyond existing DVD quality. As part of a push to promote HD DVD, Microsoft and other members of the HD DVD group have been touring the country with a fully outfitted, HD DVD home system on wheels . The HD DVD Experience rolled through town last week, and we took the opportunity to talk with Kevin Collins, Director of HD DVD Evangelism at Microsoft, about HD-DVD and the outreach efforts the group is doing to show consumers their technology. socalTECH's Ben Kuo interviewed Kevin at The Grove last week.

What's the idea behind the truck and the promotion?

Kevin Collins: This truck has been going around the country, to educate consumers about HD-DVD. There's a variety of things here from the ecosystem, there's notebooks from Hewlett Packard with HD-DVD drives in them, there's one here from Acer, with a 21 inch LCD panel, and are also showing the Xbox 360 accessory drive, which is $199 and shipping since last week. It comes bundled with the King Kong DVD, and the universal remote, so it's a great value. It plugs right into the back of the Xbox 360. We're also showing an experience that would simulate a living room, and inside the truck is a pretty high end, custom home theater whose main purpose is to show the picture quality you can get out of a Toshiba HD-DVD drive on higher end components.

Why a roadshow?

Kevin Collins: Well, the HD DVD North American promotion group consists of Warner, Paramount, Universal, Microsoft, Toshiba, Intel, and Hewlett Packard as the core group. In a combined effort, there was a $150M campaign announced at VSDA conference in Las Vegas in the July timeframe. Those companies are coming together to really educate and tell consumers what HD DVD is. The branding DVD is very familiar, and HD DVD is the next generation. What we wanted to do was show consumers three things around HD DVD. Obviously, there's the high definition video, there's also high resolution audio and interactivity.

There's a lot of confusion between HD DVD and Blu-ray, do people know the difference, and do they care?

Kevin Collins: A lot of people don't know about either of them. But the target audience is the 20 million HD TVs in the United States today. This format allows those people who own those HD TVs to get the best video experience possible. That's really the target audience we're going for, to show them for a very small investment compared to what they paid for their HD TV -- $499 for the Toshiba player, $199 for the Xbox add-on, they get a picture you don't get over satellite, cable, or over the web. The momentum is incredible, as of last Tuesday, there are 110 HD DVD disks for purchase. Everything from the Searchers, Grand Prix, to King Kong and Batman Begins. There's a wide variety all the way in between. Lots more than when DVD first came out. There's already a huge library of content, and by the holidays there will be over 150 HD DVD titles. As far as the confusion, for those who have heard of both, we like to highlight what is unique about HD DVD. I worked on the HD DVD video specification, and that's part of the DVD Forum. That's the group that officially sanctioned HD DVD. In there, we brought in with consumer electronic companies, studios, authoring houses, and software houses, and came up with 122 scenarios to have with HD DVD. While picture and audio was one of them, the third thing that is critical to the studios that would encourage customers to purchase and repurchase new content was interactivity. Those include picture and picture, and a whole new experience not possible in the theater. Another key component about HD DVD that really is consumer focused is HD DVD is the only format that decodes the new, advanced Dolby Digital HD inside the player.

How people have HD DVD players are out there now?

Kevin Collins: There are over 35,000 Toshiba HD DVD players and a second generation player coming out. From what I hear the Xbox 360 player has been flying off the shelves, particularly here in the LA area. However, we're still early.

Are other manufacturers shipping HD DVD players yet?

There will be a big ramp up for the holidays, we expect other things in the pipeline at the Consumer Electronics Show, where other manufacturers will most likely be supporting HD DVD players. As Toshiba comes out with its second generation player in December, a half height version like you see in the Xbox accessory, that will be a very good thing for consumers.

With two competing formats, do you think someone will figure out an intermediate format, or is the hope that someone is actually going to win this battle?

Kevin Collins: Well, I don't know. HD DVD has the most titles out, and has the cheapest price point. It's pretty easy to get into the game over the lots of compelling titles out there right now. Obviously there's always the talk from consumer electronic companies that there will be dual-format players. But if you spent that much money on a high-def television, most of them are $1500, or $3500 for a rear projection television, to get the best quality at that price point, the price delta between the different players is about $500, which is a lot of DVD content. The other thing that is unique with HD DVD is it's the only format with a combo disk, where one side plays HD DVD and the other side regular DVD, a lot like the disks that have normal screen and wide screen. What that allows--and I'm an early adopter obviously--is I can play the high-def and my wife can take it upstairs and watch it on a regular DVD player.


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