The video compact disc (VCD) player was a spectacular breakthrough in the history of China's electronics industry.
The device, first invented by the Chinese firm Wanyan Electronics Systems Co Ltd in 1993, aimed to meet people's needs of watching video with high quality and ease-of-use, while DVD players were still too expensive to afford.
Shipments of VCD players reached 10 million units in 1997, and their sales amounted to 30 billion yuan (US$3.6 billion) a year in 2000 and 2001.
Although DVD players began to replace the VCD format from 1999, they have become a legend - forming a huge industry and endorsed by international giants such as Philips.
Now, some Chinese firms are trying to create another miracle in the video disc player market with the Enhanced Versatile Disc (EVD).
EVD evolved from audio and video coding and decoding technologies invented by a group of companies led by Beijing-based DAVWorld Co Ltd in 2000.
The format is said to have five times higher image quality than DVD and can be connected to computer networks, a basis for digital homes in the future.
EVD is based on the currently dominant red-ray technology, so compared with other international projects in blue-ray disc formats, EVD does not need disc makers to build new production lines. It also saves the costs of upgrading, although blue-ray technology has bigger capacity in theory.
After four years of research and development with gradually increasing numbers of participants, the EDV Standard Working Group has become an organization with 25 members.
In July, the draft of the EVD standard was put forward by the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) for opinions from the public.
The usual practice in standardization is that a proposal will become an industrial standard after three months of public review, if there is no objection.
However, the EVD proposal aroused fierce challenges from two competitive domestic technologies: high-definition versatile disc (HVD) and high-definition digital video (HDV).
MII was said to be holding a contest among the three competitors in September, but there has not been a result so far.
Hao Jie, president of DAVWorld, said he was at ease about the competition and would let the market decide about it.
However, the EVD proposal may be the most favoured in the market.
Hao says four of the top five DVD makers in China - Shinco, Amoi, Malata and BBK have all joined the EVD camp.
Hao estimates that about 200,000 EVD players will be sold this year.
On the content side, four of the top five movie companies in Hong Kong and six of the top eight movie makers have authorized the production of discs in the EVD format.
The EVD group released 14 titles of movies in July and is expected to release another 50 this month.
Major retailing outlets including the country's biggest home appliance chain store, Gome Electronic Appliances have also joined the camp. Gome has begun to sell EVD players, as well as discs at just 8 yuan (97 US cents) per disc.
Besides the 25 members, further organizations are applying to join the EVD group, including three foreign firms.
Hao said the standard working group will release an upgraded version of the EVD disc soon, which will have a storage capacity of 16 gigabytes, more than three times than that of DVD discs.
He said that the EVD group would ultimately migrate to a blue-ray platform, but at the current stage, the red-ray technology would still be the basis for technology upgrading because of its low cost and smooth migration.
Although the EVD proposal may become a Chinese industrial standard, Hao said the standard working group does not intend to make it a compulsory national standard.
Many foreign companies and organizations are worried that China's efforts in developing its own next-generation laser disc standard may exclude foreign players from the market.
On the other hand, the EVD group will strengthen co-operation with international communities.
The EVD proposal, which has been submitted to the International Standardization Organization and the International Electrotechnical Commission, may be put forward as an international standard or part of one.
Hao said the EVD group is also talking about co-operation with its major international competitors the high-definition DVD (HD-DVD) led by NEC and Toshiba and the Blue-ray Disc (BD).
"We will give you a surprise soon," he said.
The Dutch giant Philips said it understood China could make up its own standard because of its huge market, but its chief executive officer Gerard Kleisterlee says that whatever standards China is setting up, they should be based on market demand and acceptance.
(China Daily September 29, 2004)