Digital video discs (DVD) compete with CDs -- The new format holds more data and offers better picture and sound

By George Mannes
Updated July 21, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Beginning next year, a new type of compact disc could revolutionize the way people play computer games, watch movies, and listen to music. But unless an ongoing war between two incompatible formats is settled peaceably, we all may end up watching the battle — and the launch — from afar.

At the center of the clash is the digital video disc (DVD). At the same size as an audio CD or CD-ROM, a DVD can hold more than 10 times the 650 megabytes of digitized information to which current CD technology is limited. A next-generation CD containing gigabytes of data, not just megabytes — billions of bytes, as opposed to millions — opens the door to an abundance of new multimedia products. Imagine a disc featuring not only a full-length movie but also a videogame based on the movie. Or a movie and its soundtrack album. Or an R-rated movie and its PG edit. Or a souped-up interactive adventure boasting quicker action and full-screen video crisper than that found in any of today’s computer games.

Although agreement on a single high-density CD standard remains a possibility, two opposing formats are barreling toward debuts sometime in 1996. One is the MultiMedia CD (MMCD), developed by compact-disc pioneers Philips, Sony, and 3M. The other is the Super Density (SD) disc, from Toshiba and Time Warner (parent company of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY), among others. MMCD is a single-sided disc holding up to 7.4 gigabytes; SD comes in one- and two-sided varieties maxing out at 18 gigabytes. For movie playback — an important application for both camps — MMCD and SD promise essentially the same things: sharper-than-laserdisc video in a CD package; surround sound as sophisticated as any movie theater’s; and assorted features, including parental lockout, different aspect ratios (wide-screen, full-frame, etc.) on a single disc, and multiple foreign-language tracks. In addition, both MMCD and SD machines will be able to play audio CDs. And though the first machines will be playback only, both formats, according to their proponents, eventually will accommodate recordable discs.

A desire to give folks more quality for their money won’t be the only motivation for studios to release their movies on DVD; the new format gives them an opportunity to sell yet again programming they’ve already put out on VHS and laserdisc. To encourage collecting, some labels say they will price DVDs cheaply: For instance, discs from Warner Home Video, says its president, Warren Lieberfarb (also a lead spokesman for the SD camp), will range from $14.98 to $24.98. Although manufacturers hope to be able to sell DVD players for less than $500, none has yet set a price.