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China Declares War On DVDs

Looking to compete on its own terms in the lucrative entertainment industry, China announced a government-funded project Tuesday to promote an alternative to DVDs and "attack the market share" of the increasingly global video format.

The rollout of the long-planned project — known as EVD, or enhanced versatile disk — was timed to coincide with the beginning of what China calls the "golden sales" period. It is known elsewhere as the Christmas shopping season.

"By developing and promoting EVD, Chinese companies (have) gained much experience in competing with their global counterparts," Wang Jingchuan, commissioner of China's State Intellectual Property Office, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The new format would also relieve DVD producers in China from paying licensing fees to the companies that hold patents to the DVD format.

It was not immediately clear if any elements of EVD would help China battle the intellectual-property theft it has been promising to eradicate since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. Pirated Hollywood movies on DVD are still everyday sights on the streets of Chinese cities.

Nor did the Chinese government say whether it had contacted major film producers about eventually releasing their films and other productions on EVD. That would be a pivotal factor in any new format's success.

Development of the new, high-definition compression format has been sponsored by China's State Trade and Economic Commission and its Ministry of Information Industry, two powerhouses in the country's efforts toward high-speed economic and technological growth.

Research on EVD began in 1999. It was developed by Beijing E-World Technology Co. Ltd. using video-compression technologies licensed by On2 Technologies, an American company.

The government has said it wants EVD to be a homegrown alternative that would give Chinese manufacturers and technology consortiums their own platform on which to build software and entertainment alternatives.

Xinhua said organizers hoped EVD "would attack the market share of DVD," the acronym for digital video disk.

Because large parts of China's economy are still controlled by the state, it is in a better position than most countries to ensure such a new technology would take hold in its domestic market. More uncertain is the international market, which has moved toward DVDs as its standard.

The government has said that EVD players would cost about 2,000 yuan ($240). In comparison, a domestically produced DVD player costs about 700 yuan ($85).

China produced over 30 million DVD players in 2002 — almost double its 2001 figure, according to state media. E-World has said it will produce at least 800,000 EVD players next year, and double that number in 2005, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The consortium has applied for 25 patents for the EVD technologies. Seven have been granted and 40 more are still to come, Xinhua said.

By Ted Anthony

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