Fresno, Calif. Lawrence Carlson sells cars. He also likes music. The 51-year-old has been a member of local bands all his life. That's why when he bought his first DVD player six months ago he selected one that could double as a karaoke machine.
What he got was much more.
Not only can the bearded salesman-musician whose dark hair shows a slight dusting of gray practice his vocals, Carlson can watch films that are clear, sharp and have a clean sound that nearly rivals a trip to a movie theater.
All because of the hottest electronic gadget on the market called the digital versatile disc player commonly known as DVD.
DVD players work like a compact disc player. But along with music, the discs contain movies, trailers, interviews with actors, variations of scenes and film endings and whatever else the filmmakers wish to include. The entertainment buff gets much more on a DVD film than a videotape of the same movie.
"Because of the great sound that makes it like sitting in the theater I will look for movies to rent on DVD before VHS," says Carlson, a car salesman in Fresno. "Because the sound quality is so much better I will be more inclined to rent more movies."
In high demand
Carlson has joined more than 10 million others nationwide who have bought DVD players since the machines hit the market in 1997. CD players took seven years and VCRs eight years to hit 10 million machines sold.
"I can definitely tell a difference in the clarity between movies on DVD and those on VHS," says Carlson. "Plus some of the added features are nice. The machine will tell you how much you have left in a movie. It divides the movies into chapters so you can go to certain spots.
"There is also interesting information about the movies. Plus there are usually subtitles in three languages Spanish, French and English."
Each DVD disc can hold up to eight different audio streams for multiple languages, commentaries and music-only tracks or close captioning.
When it comes to the video part of the DVD, Amy Jo Donner, executive director of the DVD Entertainment Group, explains there is very little difference in most players. All DVD players have twice the image resolution of VHS. That means a sharper picture even on a large-screen television.
"You need to look for the player that appeals to you," Donner recommends.
More than 100 DVD player models are being marketed under 40 different consumer electronics brands. And prices can vary wildly depending on the additional features available. Players are available at more than 14,000 locations.
Ralph Tribbey, DVD editor for Video Store Magazine, is amazed that a format launched in March 1997 is already in one out of every eight homes. He calls that increase dramatic for electronic sales.
"That doesn't even include a couple of shadow factors like PlayStation 2 and computers that also play DVDs," Tribbey says.
Because a DVD player can also play CDs, players will rise in price if they are designed to hold multiple discs or have enhanced audio qualities such as Surround Sound.
Of course, you could have a machine that shows movies with superior audio and visual quality while baking a 25-pound turkey, and it would be rendered worthless if there weren't enough movies to make the consumer switch from VCRs to DVDs.
Jumping on the bandwagon
Kyra Kirkwod, associate editor of the trade publication Video Store Magazine, says by next year DVD purchases will surpass videotapes. DVD will be tops in rentals by 2004.
Data compiled by the Video Software Dealers Assn. shows that DVDs accounted for from 3 to 5 percent of all rentals in January 2000. DVD rentals leaped to 10 percent of the market total by December.
Although not all companies that produce videos currently offer DVDs, the major studios from Playboy to Disney have gotten behind the format. The companies are releasing all new titles in both VHS and DVD. Plus studios are going into their libraries of old films to make more than 250 new DVD titles available each month.
"Studios realize they can't afford not to release titles on DVD," Donner says. "DreamWorks shipped 3.5 million copies of 'Gladiator' and it sold more than 2 million copies (in DVD). Those are amazing numbers and just show the demand."
"A drop in the price of movies has been a reason for the increase in sales of DVD players," said Ken Hawes, manager of Ventura TV Video Appliance Center in Fresno.
The DVD Entertainment Group reports the average DVD owner buys about five movies with their player and will purchase another 38 discs in the first 12 months.
Carlson does not follow the national trend of buying DVDs instead of renting, "But I didn't buy movies on VHS either," he says.
Making the switch
But what, you ask, about recording on a DVD machine? Do you need both a DVD and VCR in your life? The answer is yes, at least for now. Unless, of course, you want to spend about $5,000 to purchase a DVD machine that can record.
Hawes says consumers just need to be patient. He expects the price of DVDs that can record to drop dramatically next year.
Despite the growing interest in DVDs, some consumers still hesitate to make the switch.
If your TV set is more than five years old, it may not have plug-ins for a DVD player. So you're looking at buying a new TV, too. Most new televisions have the plug-ins, which are either in the front or the back of the set and marked for DVD or audio-video.
Hawes hears the same arguments made when audiophiles were being pushed to dump their turntables in favor of CD players in the 1980s.
"People say they have so many videos already that they don't want to change. My answer is to get a DVD player to go along with the VCR and stop buying movies on video," Hawes says. "The DVD format is already very strong and I don't see it getting replaced anytime soon."