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March 20th, 2000

[11:30 AM] VCD Movies On Your Mac: What They Are, And How They Got Here
by Bryan Chaffin

With DVD support having gained only marginal acceptance in the Mac market, many Mac users have looked for alternatives for playing movies on their Macs. A competing technology has emerged from Asia that could provide the answer. It's called VCD and allows users to play movies from a CD-ROM in conjunction with the proper software. Koay Al Vin operates, an online retailer of VCDs that is currently pursuing the Mac market.

Mr. Koay was first turned onto the Mac market by, a site that opened his eyes to the VCD possibilities. In Asia, Mr. Koay says that VCD has largely supplanted VHS as the preferred standard for movies. This is due to the inherently low costs of pirating CD-ROMs in comparison to duping VHS tapes. "Because of piracy, VCD has taken over VHS," says Mr. Koay. "Authorities are cracking down on pirates, but we are licensing from Maylasia copyright holders."

This leads to a gray area in the law which allows to export to the US. There are many tight laws regarding the selling of movies in different markets. In addition, there are many agreements between the different movie power houses that prevent them from competing in each other's markets. Call it a gentleman's agreement. This is the source of the recent flap with the Sony PlayStation 2 that has made news during the last week. An unintended feature of the game console allows users to play DVD movies purchased in markets other than their intended one, something that violates the gentlemen's agreement between DVD manufacturers.

In the VCD market, no one has actually purchased VCD rights in the western world. According to Mr. Koay, "In the western market, no company has bothered to get the rights to produce VCDs. is an online store, but the transaction actually takes place in Maylasia, and this allows us to sell to the United Stated without violating distribution rights. I think the movie studios will not clamp down on us because we are selling originals [as opposed to pirated copies]. This is a gray area that has not been addressed yet."

While having a Mac and the VCD software allows Mac users to watch movies with their CD drives, some titles simply don't have the quality that DVD titles do. Mr. Koay says that many VCDs are nearly indistinguishable from their more expensive counterparts. Others can be downright bad, and this is especially true with pirated titles. Much depends on the distributor, and tries to work with only the best of the distributors in Maylasia.

Another downside is that some movies are edited in order to adhere to strict Malaysian laws. Malaysia is an Islamic country governed by laws with a strong Islamic basis. However, not all movies are edited. According to Mr. Koay, some Maylasian distributors have been testing the boundaries of the law and releasing increasingly racy and/or violent movies as is.

The upside is the price. VCD movies are comparatively inexpensive when compared to their DVD counterparts. The Matrix for instance, a title that some Mac users have had difficulty playing on their DVD equipped PowerMacs, is priced at US$11.88 as of this writing.

VCDs should also play in DVD drives that also support CDs (almost all of which do).

The Mac Observer Spin: VCDs seem to be a great way to enjoy movies on your Mac. It is too bad that piracy is so rampant, but that seems to be the way of the world today. We applaud for only dealing with legitimate distributors. On the other hand, it is interesting that lower costs of pirating CDs is what has led to the popularity of the format in the first place.

VHS has remained entrenched in the US market, despite the infinitely superior playback offered by DVD formats. Of course, we are talking about a market that still largely prefers movies that have been modified to fit standard TV screens rather than the wide screen aspect ratio, ironically because they feel they are being cheated by the wide screen format. Obviously, there is no accounting for taste.

With the iMac DV and PowerMac G4s shipping with DVDs as standard options, DVDs could become more popular with Macs. With that said, the synching problems experienced by early adopters have no doubt left a bad taste in many people's mouths. VCDs will play in older Macs, and for that reason alone, this technology may find a fervent fan base in the Mac market.

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