• Digital and versatile, the discs are all business

The DVD version of 'Memento' contains a version of the film running backward, with the last scenes first and the first scenes last. The film's original, released version detailed a murder investigation in reverse.

It's an innovative use of DVD and makes one wonder how the medium, the next one-way communicative generation after analog videotapes, will play itself out in the business applications world.

As it is, DVDs Ñ Trivial Pursuit alert: the term stands for 'digital versatile discs' Ñ threaten to not only surpass videos as the business world's information conveyance of choice, they threaten to quickly make videotape obsolete.

A growing number of Portland companies already have noticed. Bruce Sturgill's production company, which creates training and instructional DVDs about producing the discs, said he's seen a hundredfold increase in unsolicited calls from companies seeking more information about DVDs over the past year.

'Businesses are seeing huge advantages from this,' Sturgill said. 'All industries are clearly moving quickly from the VHS to the DVD world.'

Among those making the move:

• The Portland Police Bureau uses DVDs to recruit new officers and demonstrate the department's application process.

• Thomas A. Edison High School, in Beaverton, uses DVDs as fund-raising tools. The school, which teaches high school students with learning disabilities, brought in $108,000 at a recent fund-raiser after showing a DVD touting the school's benefits.

• Electro Scientific Industries has, for the past two years, created DVDs for sales presentations and for company promotions at trade shows.

'Also, we'll use them if there's quite a bit of information we'd like to give to somebody within the company, but it's too large to send by e-mail,' such as documents or video clips, said Stacey Chase, ESI's senior marketing specialist.

The Consumer Electronics Association says about 21 million Americans have purchased DVD players since 1997. About 13 million of the devices were purchased in 2001.

For the buyers, the obvious advantage comes in the movie-watching arena. Viewers can enjoy several different versions of the same film, including uncut versions, along with features such as subtitles and the director's commentary.

Yet those in the DVD production field see the movie link as a blessing and a curse.

'Most people think DVDs are something they rent at Blockbuster,' said Wayne Paige, founder of Digital Wave Post & Graphics, a DVD production and postproduction house at 1100 N.W. Glisan St. 'That's a blessing, because it's kept the format alive.

'The thing is, people don't realize that it has much more opportunity to become a special-interest field.'

The advantages to special-interest users start with the medium's portability. For starters, since many laptop computers are now DVD compatible, displaying the information to a table of viewers is far easier than the alternative.

The alternative: a videocassette recorder that requires a monitor and several patch cords.

Greg Meenahan, Edison High School's development director, 'takes the school's fund-raising DVD with him to coffee and lunch all the time,' Paige pointed out.

DVDs are 'something that can be easily carried and shown,' ESI's Chase said. 'Plus the discs themselves are lightweight and they travel easily. They're something a salesperson isn't opposed to carrying around. VCRs, in comparison, are so clunky.'

Such maneuverability has made laptop-streaming DVDs fixtures at trade shows.

And it's why the Portland Police Bureau takes the technology to recruitment fairs. The department also distributes DVDs to prospective officers. Snuggled into a thin plastic case, the discs are much less bulky than videotapes.

What's more, the medium's flexibility allows DVDs to be tailored to individual viewers. A sales-oriented DVD, for instance, might contain a product-oriented sales pitch aimed at a company's vice president; another component might provide financial data to the same company's accounting department.

'It finally connects the video to the person who really needs it at any given time,' Paige said.

Prices fall with upped demand

Among some sets, DVDs also hold a certain cachet.

'Portland police are targeting people in their 20s, and those are the people who are very comfortable with the new technology,' Paige said.

The medium isn't perfect. Not all types of DVDs can work on the same equipment. And, like compact discs, they can have defects, annoying skips and stops.

Plus, some computer users may simply dismiss DVDs as glorified CD-ROMs. The critical difference is that DVDs provide flowing video, while CD-ROMs focus on graphics and text.

As always happens with technology, DVD burner prices have begun to fall dramatically. When the burners first came out a few years ago, they cost $17,000. The same burners now retail at consumer electronics stores for $399; more sophisticated burners run in the tens of thousands. Blank discs cost between $3 and $13.

In all, though, DVD production costs are comparable to videotapes, Sturgill said: 'The difference is the quality of the picture, combined with the ease of use and the extras that DVDs offer, will simply knock peoples' socks off.'

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