DVD specs far from compatible

Posted on August 01, 1999

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DVD specs far from compatible

Zachary Shess

Recent announcements from the DVD Forum and a collection of DVD+RW vendors indicate that compatibility between the two leading rewritable DVD formats is as divergent as ever.

In late June, the DVD Forum`s Steering Committee approved the physical format for 4.7GB-per-side DVD-RAM discs. The group says this is an important step toward speeding up development of the next generation of DVD-RAM products. Ultimately, DVD Forum members say the 4.7GB capacity point is required to gain acceptance by PC OEMs for applications such as desktop video editing and data backup.

During PC Expo, DVD+RW vendors declared once again that they plan to ship their re-writable version of DVD in the near future. Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and Philips announced that volume shipments of 3GB DVD+RW drives should start in the next few months. Media vendor MCC/Verbatim expects its 3GB DVD+RW discs to ship in the same time frame. Yamaha and Ricoh plan to support the format, but did not divulge any specific product plans. A specification for next-generation 4.7GB DVD+RW drives and media is expected by the end of the year. Vendor comments following the announcements clearly depicted two rewritable DVD camps bent more on competing than compatibility.

"At this point, we don`t have any plans to be compatible with DVD+RW, but we will be compatible with CD formats because of the huge installed base," says Tony Jasionowski, manager of Matsushita Electric Corp.`s Technology Center in Secaucus, NJ. Matsushita`s Panasonic subsidiary is a leading manufacturer of DVD-RAM drives and media. "We don`t recognize DVD+RW now because it`s a maverick format, nor do we have any intention of even having our DVD-ROM drives read their media," Jasionowski adds.

Conversely, Dave Pitney, HP`s director of business development, in Loveland, CO, says the compatibility interests of DVD+RW vendors are being able to read DVD-ROM media with their rewritable drives. As CD-ROM remains the dominant optical format, and CD-R and CD+RW usage continues to surge, the natural progression will be toward DVD-ROM and then DVD+RW, he contends.

The slow transition to DVD formats has contributed to increased CD-ROM drive shipments. Gartner Group reports that 1998 CD-ROM drive shipments jumped 25.7% over 1997 totals to 109.2 million units.

Some responsibility for the stalled DVD markets may fall on the shoulders of the DVD+RW vendors, who Jasionowski says are dragging their feet until their CD+RW business cools off. "Their tactics are to stall the market and create confusion. We need to fight that and get out our message that DVD is out there today. It`s not about tomorrow," Jasionowski adds.

HP`s Pitney contends that you can`t stall a market that doesn`t exist, noting that CD+RW drives are outselling rewritable DVD by a 1,000:1 ratio. However, Pitney admits that HP and other DVD+RW vendors are thankful to have a surging CD+RW market to fund DVD development and evangelism.

Despite the tough talk, hope for DVD format compatibility may arrive in the form of MultiRead 2000, a specification sponsored by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA). MultiRead 2000 is a successor to the MultiRead specification finalized in 1997, which enables compliant optical drives to read a variety of CD formatted media, such as audio CD, CD-ROM, CD-R, and CD-RW discs. The MultiRead 2000 spec, expected to be finalized in December, will allow DVD-RAM and DVD+RW media--and eventually DVD-R and DVD-RW (Pioneer`s rewritable format) discs--to be read by compliant drives. For more information, visit www.osta.org.


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