Videodisc Format Focus Of CES Talk

The hardware wars on the 5-inch digital videodisc front haven’t been fought on the floor at the Consumer Electronics Show, but there’s probably a lot of backroom lobbying taking place.

As one of the largest electronics shows in the country got under way – about 100,000 people converged on Las Vegas Jan. 6 – one of Hollywood’s upcoming format battles was quietly gathering steam.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of negotiations ongoing at CES,” said Richard Cohen, president of MGM/UA’s Home Entertainment Group.

Cohen sits on an ad-hoc committee comprising executives from most of the major studios, who are in format discussions with hardware manufacturers to decide which is best for the much-ballyhooed digital videodisc.

While Sony Corp. and Philips Electronics – who are partnered in one venture on the videodisc front – offer sneak peeks at their new machine at CES, Cohen and others believe it’s still too early in the game for an all-out format battle.

There are a number of competing formats being built – with prototypes coming out of Toshiba, partnered with Time Warner, as well as Pioneer and Thomson. Yet industry watchers are waiting to see which format, if any, consumer electronics giant Matsushita will endorse.

“If Matsushita goes in favor of one of these primary formats, that will go a long way toward increasing the dominance of that format,” said one industry observer. “But this CES won’t be where this battle is fought.”

The 52nd annual CES instead focused on traditional home and office electronics, including video, audio and cellular products, with a stepped-up presentation of home multimedia consumer products. Most of the studios planned to have representatives here to hawk new CD-ROM titles, while Lucasfilm’s THX division discussed its new move into the laserdisc hardware market.

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