DVD's cousin makes way onto store shelves

After months of prerelease controversy scorn and industry speculation Divx, the pay-per-view cousin of DVD, has quietly made its way onto store shelves.

Amid little fanfare, Divx today officially releases its first 150 film titles in several electronics stores nationwide — mainly Circuit City, the Good Guys, Future Shop and Ultimate Electronics. About 40 more titles are planned for release per month as the rollout continues. Of the major studios, only Warner Bros. and Sony’s Columbia/TriStar have opted not to join the Divx bandwagon.

The first Divx players, by Zenith and RCA, are expected to hit stores in about 700 retail locations in early October. Panasonic will release its own player in November. Priced at around $500, the players are $100 more than the typical DVD machine and twice the cost of a VCR. But while DVD discs can play on Divx players, Divx titles cannot be played on DVD players.

Divx is a product of Digital Video Express LP, a partnership between Richmond, Va., electronics retailer Circuit City and the Los Angeles-based law firm of Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca & Fischer. Circuit City owns 75% of the venture.

Despite industry worries, Divx spokesman Josh Dare said the new technology doesn’t aim to compete with DVD, but is targeting the home video rental market — with hopes of controlling 15% to 20% of the market in five years.

Divx titles are priced at $4.49 for a two-day viewing period starting from the time the disk is inserted into a player and the player is turned on. To view the film for another two days, at any time, consumers are charged another $3.25. The disk can also be converted to unlimited play for a fee between $15 and $20, depending on the studio. A standard DVD costs $20 to $30.

Unlike DVD, Divx discs only play in pan-and-scan and do not include features such as language subtitles, the film’s trailers or other special features found on DVDs.

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