Wisconsin Library Association
Geneva, Wisconsin
October 29, 1998
Kristine R. Brancolini

Part 1: DVD (Digital Versatile Disc)   |  Part 2: HDTV/DTV  | 
Part 3: Audio and Video on the Internet   | 
Conclusion  |  Bibliography

The Association of College and Research Libraries is in the process of finalizing new "Guidelines for Media Resources in Academic Libraries." I chair the Media Resources Committee, which wrote the new guidelines. In those guidelines we talk about the adoption of new formats:

"Presently, most media resources are analog formats. Nothing has yet replaced analog media, film, videocassettes and laserdiscs, for the playback of motion video. These formats remain the backbone of academic media collections. These materials will remain viable for some time to come. However, while supporting these traditional formats, media librarians must assess rapidly-evolving new formats and be ready to adopt them when they stabilize. We must still evaluate new formats, but move more quickly than in the past to incorporate them into our collections. Libraries must plan for format adoption."
This morning, I will focus my attention new formats and suggest a way to evaluate those formats as they become available. While my remarks will be applicable to all types of libraries, some of the issues and solutions will be more appropriate to school and academic libraries and some will be more appropriate to public libraries. I will attempt to maintain balance. The format that shows the most promise for both consumers and libraries is DVD; I will also describe its competitor Divx. Happily, Divx has no application in libraries for reasons that will become immediately clear to you. So that’s one digital format we can safely ignore. The rollout of high definition broadcast television, scheduled for this weekend, may also have implications for new video formats and library collection-building. So I will spend some time on HDTV. I will conclude with the network delivery of video as an alternate to acquiring video stored as physical objects in our libraries.

My handout today is a list of Internet resources on new video technologies. It’s available on my department’s Web site, but I also brought printouts so you can refer to the list during my presentation.

Part 1: DVD (Digital Versatile Disc)

Sometime between 1995, when I first began hearing about DVD, and the time it was released to the public in February 1997, DVD experienced a name-change from Digital Video Disc to Digital Versatile Disc. This name change came in recognition of its multiple uses, including video, audio, text, and data. When I say DVD, I mean DVD-video. DVD-ROM was released in February 1998 but there isn't much software yet. DVD-audio is still under development but may be available next year. The future of DVD-audio is uncertain due to a competing proprietary format called 24/96 Digital Audio Disc – or DAD for short (Stereo Review, March 1998). There is also a potential format war, with the Warner Music Group on one side and Sony/Philips on the other.

A DVD is a 5-inch optical disc. It looks like an audio CD or a compact disc, but it differs in important ways. It is a high-capacity storage device that contains at least 4.7 GB of data, which is a seven-fold increase over the current CD-ROM standard. There are two variations that offer even more storage capacity, a 2-layer version with 9.4 GB capacity and double-sided discs with 17 GB capacity. These highest-capacity discs are designed to replace CD-ROM to store large databases. DVD video is intended to replace VHS as the primary mean for distributing entertainment to the home. A DVD disc holds 133 minutes on each side, which means that two two-hour movies could be held on one disc, offering six discrete channels of audio. DVD video is encoded with MPEG-2 compressed video and Dolby AC-3 (Dolby Digital) audio. Picture quality is superior to laserdiscs, with 500 lines of resolution to laserdisc's 400; VHS contains only 250 lines of resolution. DVD offers consumers picture and sound quality superior to existing distribution formats, in a compact, durable package. DVD is primarily a format for the distribution of feature films at this time, but there are indications that it will eventually replace VHS for the distribution of educational video as well.

The first DVD player was a combination DVD-laserdisc player. The early adopters of DVD were expected to be laserdisc owners and that prediction has been realized. It was clear from the beginning that DVD would bring the demise of laserdisc, but since laserdisc players are only in approximately 2% of U.S. households, clearly, knocking out laserdisc alone was never the goal of DVD manufacturers. They want the VHS market as well. There are 2,000,000 laserdisc households. There are 80-90 million VHS households.

DVD players were released in twelve test markets in February 1997, however, the first software was not released until March 19. By the end of the year an estimated 200,000 players (excluding combination players) were actually purchased by consumers. 1.53 million DVD discs, selling for approximately $22 each, had been sold to consumers. The October 15, 1998, issue of LaserScans reports that 555,774 DVD players have been sold to retailers in 1998 as of October 2. The price ranges from $20-$30.

Industry analyst Chris McGowan reported in the March 15, 1998, issue of LaserScans that while DVD is rapidly overtaking laserdiscs, it has yet to make significant inroads into the sale of VHS. In 1997 2,000,000 DVD discs were sold, 5,160,000 laserdiscs, and 266,332,000 VHS tapes. If you compare the number of players sold, 349,482 DVD players were sold (this figure includes combination players), 48,776 laserdisc players, and 16,700,000 VHS players. The Yankee Group predicts that DVD will be in 3.6 million U.S. households by the end of 2001. However, one cautionary note in the midst of all this optimism. The February 14, 1998, issue of Billboard reported the results of a national survey on DVD. The survey results were released at a conference held January 30-February 1, so the survey was conducted in late 1997 or early 1998. Of the 1,807 U.S. households surveyed, 81% said they are "not very familiar" or "not familiar" with DVD. Only 18% of those interviewed knew something about the format. So if your library users have not overwhelmed you with requests for DVD software, don't be surprised!

What about libraries? The early adopters of DVD among consumers have been laserdisc owners. Therefore it might be expected that libraries with laserdisc collections might be early adopters. However, libraries have been slow to adopt laserdiscs. I have never found an accurate figure for the percentage of libraries that collect laserdiscs. In 1993 I conducted a survey of the members of the Association of Research Libraries. 86% were collecting videorecordings at that time and 77% of those libraries were collecting laserdiscs. Sixty-three percent of all respondents were collecting laserdiscs. However, this sample represents the largest academic libraries in North America; I suspect that the overall adoption rate is much lower for all academic libraries. Consequently, I suspect that few libraries, public or academic, have begun collecting DVD. To find out, last April I conducted a survey via the Videolib listserv. I received 34 responses, 8 from public libraries and 26 from academic libraries. I asked how many had heard about Divx, because it is a competing format and some believe it will hamper the growth of DVD. 24 respondents had heard about Divx, 11 had not. I asked those who had heard about Divx if it had influenced evaluation of DVD for the library. 7 responded yes, 17 responded no. Then I asked if their library is collecting DVD. 1 library responded yes, 31 responded no. 2 are somewhere in the middle – even though I though it was a yes or no question! The only library that is systematically collecting DVD is a public library. At that time they have bought 23, but no one is checking them out yet. Three libraries have bought players and plan to buy software soon. The one library that is actively collecting plans to buy a computer with a DVD-ROM drive and have people play the DVDs on the computer. Skipping to the last question, when asked "Do you plan to begin purchasing DVDs?" 14 responded no; 1 yes, within 6 months; 2 yes, within the next year; and 14 responded yes, but not sure how soon. I haven’t repeated the survey since April, but I suspect that the situation has shifted somewhat. About two weeks ago there was an exchange on Videolib listserv about DVD packaging, which sparked a discussion of who’s buying it.. More academic libraries have jumped in, a couple in a big way. As with consumers the activity is among libraries with laserdisc collections. We’re worried about the decreasing availability of laserdiscs and looking for a replacement format. Libraries that never adopted laserdiscs don’t seem to be buying DVDs yet

In the survey I asked about Divx. What is Divx and why might it influence our decision to adopt DVD as a video format? On September 8, 1997, Richard L. Sharp, chairman of Circuit City Stores, the nation's largest retailer of television, stereos, and other consumer electronics, announced a competing digital video format, Digital Video Express, known as Divx (pronounced Div-ix). Divx was conceived as the answer to film distributors' fears about DVD copying. It features superior anti-piracy and anti-copying protection. It is also designed to eliminate VHS from the rental market. As I noted previously, DVD does not seem to be having much impact on VHS sales. That is because VHS continues to dominate the rental market. Divx manufacturers hope that it will help displace VHS in the rental market. The consumer purchases a Divx disc for approximately $4.50-$5.00. The consumer may watch the disc an unlimited number of times within 48 hours. The 48 hours does not begin until the consumer plays the disc for the first time. However, once the 48 hours has elapsed, the consumer must pay every time the disc is played again. The player must be attached to a phone line and the consumer's credit card is billed approximately $3.00 for each additional play. If the consumer does not want to view the disc again, he or she throws it away. If the consumer wants to view the disc an unlimited number of time, he or she will be able to pay to convert it to an "open" disc. The cost would be approximately $12 –-in addition to the original purchase price. Divx is essentially a pay-per-view system. DVD discs will play on a Divx player but Divx discs will not play on a DVD player. Divx was released in Richmond, Virginia, as a test market in April 1998, with 65-70 titles; nationwide release did not occur until late September. Currently, 190 Divx titles are available, according to the official Digital Video Express Web site.

Public reaction to Divx has been overwhelmingly negative. As an avid media watcher, the hostility has been fascinating. The E-Town Web site conducted a poll soon after the Divx announcement in September 1997. They asked one question: "Do you like the Divx concept?" They received a record 786 responses -- five times higher than usual. 96.8 percent said "no." ( A more recent survey, reported in the Setpmber 27, 1998, issue of the Stereophile Guide to Home Theater News, supports this sentiment. In late September the ABC News Web site included a neutral, informative introduction to Divx by Chris Stamper. The story included an opportunity for readers to vote on whether or not they would spend $500 for a Divx player. As of midnight September 23, only 121 people, out of a total of 7137 who voted, said they would buy a Divx machine – or 1.7%. ( There are a number of anti-Divx Web sites. One of my favorite articles is called "3 Good Things about Divx; 33 Bad Things about Divx" ( There was an official opposition organization last spring, The National Organization to Ban Divx (, but it’s Web site is not longer accessible and I’m not sure the organization still exists. Nevertheless, you can still find abundant anti Divx sentiment on the Web and in the news media. Early adopters of DVD are livid and believe that Divx is a serious threat to the viability of DVD. At first it seemed that consumers would be required to adjust. Five major film distributors, Disney, Paramount, Universal, DreamWorks SKG, and 20th Century Fox, are releasing on Divx, nd they had no plans to release widely on DVD. Disney and Universal planned to release selectively on the open DVD format (E-Media Professional, May 1998), but the others not at all. However, recently the situation changed and all major distributors will be releasing on open DVD. This is wonderful news for libraries.

From a library perspective, Divx is a disaster. A Divx disc that has been "opened" can only be played on one player, the player for which it was licensed. Consequently, libraries cannot lend Divx discs, even if they have paid to "open" them. The good news is that if Divx really works the way it has been reported in the media, it is one format libraries can cross off their list of potential formats to support.

What is the current potential for DVD in libraries? I have identified five factors that librarians use in deciding to adopt a new format. Let's examine each of them:

  1. Format Stability and Incompatibility. DVD was looking relatively stable until the news about Divx. Divx is a major problem for consumers, so that makes it a problem for libraries. With the Divx controversy, consumers may be postponing buying DVD players. Or they may buy Divx players and still come to the library for materials. Remember, open DVD will play on a Divx player. One industry analyst explained the impact of Divx this way: "Divx has clearly reduced the chance for DVD to replace VHS before the next DVD generation carrying film with HDTV resolution." (

  3. Available Materials. According to the official DVD Video Group Web site, 1668 titles are available today (well yesterday). To see a complete list, visit the "The DVD Software Guide" on the E/Town web site ( or the DVD Video Group Web site ( The offerings are primarily feature films, with a smattering of documentaries. Until recently, there was nothing on DVD that is appropriate for my library collection that I could not buy on VHS or laserdisc. That situation has changed over the past few months. I have bought widescreen versions of films on DVD because I could not acquire them on VHS or laserdisc.

  5. Equipment. DVD players range in price from about $150 to thousands of dollars, but $350 is typical. Any format that I adopt for my library collection must be supported with equipment for playback. I must compare the cost of supporting a new format with the cost of supporting existing formats. I pay about $250 for a VHS player and used to pay about $500 for a laserdisc player. However, Pioneer has discontinued the last laserdisc only player. If I want to buy one now, it will have to be a DVD/laserdisc combination player, which costs about $1,000. The cost of adding new and expensive equipment is a major consideration. Another consideration for academic librarians is equipment in classrooms. Unless your institution is planning to purchase DVD playback equipment for classrooms, instructors may be frustrated with restricting student viewing to the library. Public librarians have other equipment concerns. Since most video is watched in homes, public librarians must ask themselves if their user base has bought heavily enough in DVD to support the new format in the library. Since the early adopters tend to be collectors, you may not have heard from them yet; they are still buying what they want to watch. (For use patterns of early adopters, see the E/Town Poll.)

  7. Physical Characteristics. DVD is smaller than laserdiscs, which is good news from a storage perspective. However, for public libraries, the smaller size may also mean that the discs are more prone to theft. There have been some questions about the quality of freeze-frame for film study. Douglas Pratt reported in the The Laser Disc Newsletter that for straight-through play, he prefers DVD, but for stopping and starting—close study of a film—he prefers laserdisc. This has implications for those of us with collections that support film studies. Random access searching is also reported to be inferior with DVD, another problem for instructors using feature films in the classroom. Finally, from a respondent to my listserv survey, I heard that there is some concern about the physical durability of DVDs. In the March 1998 issue of Home Theatre magazine, there was a report that video rental stores are finding that DVDs can withstand only between 10 and 15 rentals. This is disturbing news for libraries. However, I have been unable to obtain the article or confirm this report. Another concern is packaging. While some DVDs come in plastic cases with cover art, some distributors use a cardboard box. A couple of weeks ago, my colleague at the University of Virginia posted a query on Videolib listserv looking for appropriate packaging. He found a source.

  9. Selection Information/Acquisitions. Selection and acquisition do not seem to pose difficulties even at this relatively early date. The laserdisc publications, such as The Laser Disc Newsletter and LaserScans, are reviewing DVD along with laserdiscs. Their publications will be the place to watch for the demise of laserdisc; when the balance shifts away from laserdisc toward DVD, that will be a good indication that the format is in decline. In the October 15, 1998, issue of LaserScans Jeff McGowan report: "We are now seeing only about 30-40 new LDs per month instead of last year's pace of 100-125 monthly releases." However, some distributors are experimenting with simultaneous release on DVD, laserdisc, and VHS. In a recent survey of laserdisc and DVD owners, Douglas Pratt of the Laser Disc Newsletter (February 1998) found that 78% would by the DVD over the laserdisc if a title were available on both formats. Ken Crane's Laserdisc Superstore is selling DVDs at 20% off suggested retail (, so availability presents no difficulities for libraries. Ken Crane is also slashing the prices on some laserdiscs, indicating that the format may be in more rapid decline than anticipated. For the past year, since October, 1997, the number of new titles on DVD exceeded the number of new titles on laserdisc (The Laser Disc Newsletter, November, 1997) .
I believe that libraries that already collect laserdisc will be abandoning that format more quickly than we had anticipated. For public libraries the situation will probably vary considerably based upon consumer acceptance of the new format among their users. Many observers and industry analysts believe that it will take recordable DVD to knock out VHS. Initially promised before the end of the century, the situation has been complicated by two competing recording formats, DVD-RAM and DVD+RW. And both of these are designed for PCs. They are both incompatible with consumer DVD players. The November 1998 issue of New Media reports, "DVD recorders for the home ARE coming, but the morning we can wake up and play a DVD of last night’s Letterman show is still many years away."

Part 2: HDTV/DTV

High definition television is coming – this weekend! -- and as media librarians we know that new developments in the world of consumer electronics, especially developments with a video component, always seem to have implication for our collections. At first I was largely uninterested in HDTV from a professional perspective. I knew I wouldn’t be buying a new expensive television for my home anytime soon, and I suspected that HDTV wouldn’t have much impact on my video collection either. But I recently discovered that two major players have entered the market, major players that get my attention: PBS and Microsoft.

My husband is a PBS producer who works for our local public television station. A couple of weeks ago he was invited to a workshop on the conversion to digital. He couldn’t go, but when he discussed the workshop with people from his station who attended, he alerted me to the possible impact on my collection. But first, let’s spend a couple of minutes reviewing the characteristics of digital video.

Digital TV (DTV). Digital TV (or DTV) uses digital signals – zeros and ones – to transmit broadcast TV information. Digital signals are less sensitve to "noise" than analog signals, producing higher quality signals. DTV will also improve the audio quality of television broadcasts, transmitting CD-quality "surround sound" along with digital video. Digital TV includes HDTV (High-Definition Television) and Standard Definition Television (SDTV).

Digital SDTV. Digital SDTV offers essentially the same picture resolution as today’s broadcast TV, but with much higher quality due to the elimination of snow, ghosts, and other impurities associated with analog TV. The picture quality is similar to digital direct broadcast satellite, but with the addition of digital "surround sound" audio.

HDTV. HDTV offers a picture that is dramatically sharper and clearer than that of any current television. HDTV resolves about five times more picture information than today’s digital products, such as direct satellite broadcasting or DVD. Its resolution (picture sharpness) is about 10 times better than VHS tape. It rivals film in its depth, clarity, definition, and impact. HDTV is recognizable by the shape of its screen, which employs a 16:9 aspect ratio compared to 4:3. This gives it the wide-screen effect found in movie theaters and with letter-boxed videorecordings.

On or around November 1 three dozen stations will begin broadcasting HDTV. The first HDTV broadcast will occur this Sunday; ABC will present the 1996 remake of 101 Dalmatians, but very few people will be seeing it in high definition. But digital television is coming for all of us. The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that each of the four networks must have an affiliate with digital TV facilities in the top 10 markets by May 1999. The means that 30% of U.S. households will have access to DTV on that date. By November 1999 the rollout will reach the remaining top 30 markets, covering 50% of the U.S. TV households. All other stations must construct digital facilities by 2002 (commercial stations) or 2003 (non-commercial stations). The first HDTVs are expensive –- beginning at about $7,000 -- but set-top boxes (STBs) will be sold that will convert the digital signal (both SDTV and HDTV) to an analog signal. The converter is expected to cost about $150, but I haven’t been able to confirm that price.

Broadcasters have three options for delivering digital programming:

HDTV, which requires 4 times the bandwidth of digital Standard Definition Television (SDTV) but the picture and sound quality described a minute ago.

SDTV Multicasting, which allows each station to transmit four SDTV programs at the same time.

Enhanced Digital Television (EDTV), which will use the data transmission capabilities of digital TV to deliver the kind of supplemental material currently available on a Web site or a CD-ROM.

I recently spoke with Steve Krahnke, Director of Regional and National Programming for our public television station. He is a PBS producer who most recently worked on the series Liberty! The American Revolution and the person who is responsible for the digital conversion of programming for a consortium of central Indiana PBS stations. After our conversation, I am convinced that the third option – EDTV – has the greatest potential for library collections. November 10 and 11, PBS will broadcast an enhanced DTV version of Ken Burns’ "Frank Lloyd Wright" biography. You can only access the additional material with computers equipped with an Intel video receiver. Intel is distributing them to people as an experiment. Viewers using the PCs will be able to access additional interviews not included in the Burns film and take "virtual tours" of three Wright buildings. PBS producers currently budget large amounts of money to create a companion Web site. One researcher at PBS Online told me that PBS views the program as the Executive Summary; only the Web site offers complete information. Now viewers will be able to access this supplemental materials during the broadcast, then return to the broadcast. This seems a little strange to me and I’m not sure how it would work in real time. Steve Krahnke doesn’t either. He talked about watching television being a "lean back" activity, as opposed to playing a multimedia game, which is a "lean in" activity. So he’s not convinced that people really want to divert their attention from the television program to consult a map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition or read a biography of Meriwether Lewis. But how will the program be sold after the broadcast? On DVD or DVD-ROM. Just as academic libraries embraced special edition laserdiscs, with their director’s commentary, outtakes, alternate endings, and sketches of the set design, I believe that we are a logical market for enhanced DTV distributed on DVD or DVD-ROM. I’m hoping HDTV will propel more distributors of educational video into the digital market. I would be happy to begin phasing out VHS.

Part 3: Audio and Video on the Internet

Next, I want to turn to consideration of the Internet as a distribution medium for audio and video. While many developments have improved access to audio and video over the Internet, it is not yet a viable distribution medium for the type of video that libraries collect. Users are hampered by inadequate infrastructure, competing standards, and the need for an expensive computers, not to mention a fairly high level of computer expertise. This situation varies drastically from the current plug and play video and audio most of our users enjoy and expect.

Since September 1997 I have been working for the Indiana University Digital Library Program, first as Chief Planner and now as Acting Director. The Digital Library Program a collaborative venture among the Libraries, University Information Services and Technology, and the School of Library and Information Science. It spans all eight campuses of Indiana University, but our principal activity to date has been on the Bloomington campus. IU has substantial experience delivery music on a campus network. We developed VARIATIONS, a digital audio system that delivers CD-quality music to workstations within the Music Library. The University recently completed a wiring project that allows us to take VARIATIONS out of the library, to other locations on campus. The Media Center in the Main Library will be the first site. However, we have had numerous requests to share these files with users outside the University. The barriers are technological and legal. Because of our experience with VARIATIONS, I believe that our first experiments with networked digital video will be on campus.

I have investigated numerous projects that deliver audio and video via the Internet. Some notable examples include The Red Hot Jazz Archive for audio and American Film Institute Web site and the Library of Congress American Memory Project for video. However, these digital library projects feature short video clips for the most part and public domain materials. This suggest both technological barriers and copyright barriers to the widespread use of the Internet for this purpose.

I have been watching the situation with regard to video on the Internet for at least five years. In the past two years, the one of the most significant developments has been streaming technology. Streaming delivers the audio and video files in real time, rather than downloading them to the client's computer. For content providers like Scott Alexander of The Red Hot Jazz Archive it means that he can include 1,000 pre-1930 jazz recordings, many of which are still protected by copyright. Rather than distribution via the Internet, I now read about broadcasting over the Internet. Streaming may allow media companies to transform the Internet into the next great broadcast medium. The number of radio stations broadcasting 24 hours a day on the Internet jumped from 351 last year to more than 1,100 in February 1998 (Internetweek, 2/23/1998, Issue 703, p.1). Walt Disney is beta testing a multicasting service for movies. NBC has introduced a new video entertainment service on Steaming makes this possible. More efficient compression also makes it easier for broadcasters to move video and audio streams through the network. However, librarians must keep in mind the goal: Video may be delivered over the Internet or an intranet. It is purposes are marketing, training, or distance learning. The technology is very much in its infancy, so the quality is relatively poor. According one author, "Bandwidth restrictions on an Internet dominated by 28.8 kbps analog modems have rendered the process of distributing a video stream akin to trying to push an elephant through a keyhole" (Al Griffin, Popular Mechanics, March 1998, p.51). But for the purposes defined above, the necessary resolution, frame rate, and relative absence of artifacts are achievable. However, these are not my purposes and the quality I need is readily available in analog formats and DVD. I have to keep reminding myself that streaming video means that we're watching video on a computer screen. This is a not a desirable situation for most viewers, even in an academic setting. And with compression, 30- frames-per-second drops to 10-frames-per-second or 15-frames-per-second, viewed on a quarter screen. It's not a very pretty sight and more importantly, it does not meet the needs of our users. Yet.


The key to selecting the proper formats for your library's collection is knowledge of your users and their information needs. For high quality audio and video, DVD and its permutations is the format to watch. It could provide the ease of use and high-capacity, high-speed storage and playback required for any VHS competitor. The Divx controversy may have slowed the adoption of DVD for the time being, but strong early consumer support, coupled with the power of the manufacturers behind its development and marketing seem to assure its eventual success. My library has begun ordering DVD. We received two DVD players in this fall’s equipment allocation and a special grant to purchase 4 multimedia computers with DVD-ROM drives. Meanwhile, I will continue to monitor developments with audio and video on the Internet. I suspect that the first high-quality networked video we delivery at Indiana University will be accomplished via the campus network, not the Internet.


"Digital TV." Microsoft.

PBS Online. Do a search for HDTV or DTV.

Back to New and Emerging Video Formats: Implications for Librarians and Distributors

Questions and Comments:
Copyright 1997, Kristine Brancolini