China's attempt to replace the popular DVD standard with home-grown technology is a misguided effort to reinvent the wheel for the sake of national pride. The Ministry of the Information Industries last week announced that the new Enhanced Versatile Disc, or EVD, which it claims will offer higher-quality video than DVD, will be free of the high royalty payments demanded by foreign patent owners. According to the People's Daily, 'The move aims to reduce the drain of what domestic DVD makers consider exorbitant patent royalties they must pay to Japanese electronics conglomerates and also to avoid over-reliance on foreign technology.' But the young format faces an insurmountable barrier - the world already has a digital video standard that is both well-established and offers everything that the average user wants. Beijing E-World Technology, the state-backed company charged with developing EVD, claims 1.8 million EVD players will be manufactured next year and nine million in 2006. But so far, only five of China's 100 DVD manufacturers have agreed to produce EVD systems. Even more bizarre, the new EVD players will be even more expensive than DVDs, with the first units expected to cost 1,900 yuan (about $1,780) - four times the price of a cheap DVD. So why bother with a new standard? The prime incentive has been Beijing's irritation over foreign licensing fees. China has never been fond of intellectual property rights, and the battle between mainland DVD manufacturers and the overseas firms who own the technology cost domestic firms dearly. The result was egg on the national face, and a price rise of around US$10 per player. But there is more to DVD licensing than a simple royalty cheque for each drive sold. That price rise came just as the world's DVD manufacturers were moving to a new digital video standard. Over the next couple of years, we will see DVD upgraded from the comparatively low-quality MPEG-2, which we all now use, to the high-end MPEG-4. The consortium of 16 foreign firms behind MPEG-4 may as well have drawn up their licensing rules expressly to irritate China's open standard inclinations because their new royalty rates will be just as galling as they were with MPEG-2. But you can't go developing new technology standards just because you got caught dodging the fare - that just looks churlish. The practice of buying national pride by dressing foreign technology in patriotic colours is becoming a habit. China recruited Siemens to develop its TDSCDMA mobile phone standard, its top supercomputers are now clones running Intel chips, its high-speed train is German, the Shenzhou 5 space mission used Russian technology, and this new EVD standard is built around proprietary codes owned by a United States company called On2 Technologies. DVD is far from perfect, but it is available everywhere, and despite Hollywood's attempts to hobble it with regional restrictions, it has become a global, accessible and affordable standard. Oscar Au, director of the multimedia research centre at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, agrees that the standard faces an uphill battle. 'I'm not sure it will work. EVD is not really a standard because it is not an open standard. This will be a problem. Because for such a thing to fly, you have to have content. 'I tend to think the current DVD standard is doing fine. People like the quality. Everyone has a DVD at home.' And as even the China Daily has pointed out, if manufacturers are to make their EVD players backward-compatible with their users' DVD collections, they will still have to pay the hefty DVD royalty fees. Even if EVD does offer higher-quality video and better compression, that will mean little to the average consumer. As the videotape format war proved, there is more to launching a new consumer standard than a quality picture. What you need when taking on an established consumer market is the support of the leading brands and content producers - neither of whom have any reason to support EVD. China now produces 70 per cent of the world's DVD players. But most of those are produced for foreign markets, which will have no interest in EVD. Ironically, one of the biggest threats to EVD will be piracy - something EVD backers hope to stamp out. Pirate movies may do untold damage to the film industry, but they are a boon for electronics firms. And in this case, they could be a curse. As the authorities will know precisely who owns an EVD encoder, pirating EVD movies could prove difficult, said Dr Au. 'For something to fly I'm afraid, the pirates will need to buy that equipment. Whatever the pirates make, those things will be popular.' So if the equipment is unavailable, there won't be the pirated content to drive the new standard. And with no cheap content in the street markets, consumers will avoid EVD like a bad rash.