New Applications Fuel CD Growth

Posted on December 01, 1998

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New Applications Fuel CD Growth

Despite the arrival of the competitive DVD format, recordable CD is still going strong.

By Cheryl Bianchi

Amid all the hype surrounding DVD and other emerging optical technologies, CD-Recordable (CD-R) and CD-ReWritable (CD-RW) continue to meet the demand for increased data storage capabilities. In fact, CD-RW drive demand is on a steep growth path, with shipments expected to spurt from about two million units this year to 14 million in 2002, according to Dataquest, a market research firm in San Jose.

This year, 650 million CD-R discs will be sold worldwide, with forecasts rising to 1.5 billion to 2 billion by 2000, according to the Santa Clara Consulting Group. The future of CD-RW media looks bright as well, with sales projections for 1998 at 4 million to 5 million units, rising to 7 million units in 2000. No longer limited to a few specialized applications, recordable CD is now used to store, archive, distribute, and retrieve analog, digital, audio, video, text, and graphic information. Advantages of recordable CD include media durability, portability, and compatibility.

CD-R/CD-RW growth is also being driven by a steadily growing installed base of CD-ROM drives and CD audio players; the emergence of low-cost desktop CD recorders; and compatibility specifications developed and promoted by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

CD-Rs are "write-once" discs--information cannot be erased once it has been written--a key advantage for archiving applications that require data integrity (e.g., legal or financial records). Unlike CD-ROM discs, CD-R media can be appended (e.g., data can be added to a disc in different recording sessions), making low-cost CD-R media a popular choice for a number of archiving and data distribution applications.

CD-RW discs, on the other hand, can be recorded and reused many times, making them suitable for applications where repeated recordings are required, such as software development, data backup, pre-mastering, and audio/video recordings.

Both CD-R and CD-RW discs store up to 650MB of data, or 74 minutes of high-quality digital audio recording. And CD-R media costs only about $2 per disc, or three-tenths of a cent per MB.

Despite the popularity of CD-RW, the media still has some limitations. Although competitive with magnetic media, the price is still high for some applications--about $15 per disc retail, or two cents per MB. More significant, CD-RW media can be played back in DVD-ROM readers and only in a limited number of CD-ROM drives--those that are MultiRead-compliant. In contrast, CD-R offers universal playback compatibility--once recorded, it can be played back in any CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive, or audio CD player.

Also fueling growth in the recordable CD market is increasing adoption by PC vendors. For example, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM offer CD recorders as standard or optional equipment with many of their systems. However, CD-R/CD-RW`s broad range of applications is the real impetus behind its success. CD-RW drives are now being used to backup data on network file servers, while CD-R is being used for long-term storage applications.

The telecommunications industry has adopted CD-R for invoicing large customers, reducing paper volumes, the cost of transportation, storage, and retrieval. Customers benefit by having permanent, easily accessible, and archive copies of their invoices.

Similarly, advertising agencies and desktop publishing companies are working with larger, more complex files. By using multimedia software packages to introduce high-resolution photographs, video clips, audio, and animation into full-color presentations, CD-R has become the medium of choice to store and distribute these files. Because of its durability, high capacity, and portability, final compositions can be stored on CD-R/CD-RW media and transported to multiple clients for review, and then to service bureaus for output.

Low-volume replication has become a more common application for CD-R. With the widespread availability of low-cost, high-speed CD drives, companies are able to burn multiple copies of presentations, beta software programs, and annual reports and send them by mail to their sales forces, customers, and business partners.

The medical profession has also been a strong adopter of CD-R media, using medical-grade recordable media specifically engineered for use in medical applications, such as cardiology.

Because of its compatibility, CD-R/CD-RW has become an ideal sharing medium. Large organizations use the technology to send data-rich information to clients and to transfer information between departments and branches.

OSTA Promotes Adoption

Founded in 1992, OSTA is responsible for promoting writable optical storage technologies. The international trade association is made up of member companies that account for more than 85% of all writable optical product shipments.

OSTA is working on a number of fronts, including programs to educate the industry on CD products and technologies and the development of specifications that ensure compatibility among disparate recordable CD and DVD devices. For example, OSTA recently published the MultiRead specification, which is designed to eliminate incompatibility problems by enabling all classes of CD discs (CD-Audio, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW) to be read on future CD and DVD devices.

To encourage manufacturer compliance, OSTA set up a logo program. Vendors that want to display the MultiRead logo must successfully run a drive/media test plan (published on the OSTA Web site: www.osta.org) and then submit the test report to OSTA. More than 30 optical drive manufacturers, representing 98% of all CD and DVD shipments, have sought MultiRead compliance. As of last month, 15 vendors have been approved or are nearing approval to use the MultiRead logo: Actima, Behavioral Technology Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Lite-Oen, Matsushita Kotobuki Electronics, Mitsumi, Philips Components, Pioneer, Ricoh, Samsung, Sony, TEAC, and Toshiba.

OSTA recently released the CD-R/CD-RW Usage Guide, primarily to clear up confusion over the large number of CD drive and media combinations (see chart). This chart is designed for use on packaging by optical drive and media manufacturers and by retailers for point-of-sale displays. The guide also highlights the role of MultiRead compliance and clarifies disc playback compatibility of CD-R and CD-RW media. Media and drive costs are factored into the usage recommendations, as are long-term ownership costs.

OSTA will continue to expand its efforts to promote writable optical storage and to protect users` investments as new standards and technologies emerge, including DVD.

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OSTA`s Usage Guide provides recommendations for the use of CD-R and CD-RW drives/media in a number of applications.

Here Comes DVD

With a 4.7GB capacity--seven times that of CD-R/CD-RW media--DVD is positioned to become a preferred format for a number of applications. Already a major player in service bureaus and the entertainment industry, DVD is likely to gain popularity in the banking, legal, and health care markets, especially for demanding archiving applications. Multimedia game and software developers are also likely to adopt DVD where larger storage capacities are required to support realtime video applications.

Despite these emerging applications, steep prices and a standards controversy in the rewritable DVD market indicate that mass-market acceptance of rewritable DVD is still some years away. In fact, Dataquest predicts that rewritable DVD drives will not achieve mass market shipments (approximately 6 million units) until 2002. Meanwhile, Dataquest predicts that about 14 million CD-RW drives will be shipped that year.

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Cheryl Bianchi is the worldwide marketing manager, Optical Storage business, Digital & Applied Imaging, Kodak.


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