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DVD Standards Are Here.

Now It's Time To Deliver To The Consumer

In a rush to explain the reasons why DVD-RAM (rewritable DVD) technology hasn't grown as rapidly as most industry analysts and participants originally projected, many have said that the lack of a single set of standards has confused the marketplace. They add that as a result of this confusion, sales of DVD-RAM will continue to be lackluster until those standards are clearly developed. However, the majority of the DVD standards do exist. They have been reviewed and accepted by the leading international standards organizations. The DVD Forum, consisting of more than 300 major consumer and computer-related companies has established the current 2.6GB and next-generation 4.7GB compatible DVD-RAM standards. Work on the next-generation storage solution started in 1994. It wasn't until December 1995 that the Forum (initially known as the DVD Consortium) was formed.

Clear Objectives

The Forum set forth on a formidable mission... "establish the 'single, best' DVD format for each of the DVD applications and encourage DVD acceptance across entertainment, consumer electronics and IT industries." To make certain these requirements were met, drive and media manufacturers were joined by all of the leading motion picture and computer industry manufacturers as well as major content developers. Today, more than 300 of these organizations play an active role in addressing, driving, and resolving the multitude of standards issues... not the product producers. Some may say the Forum takes too long to resolve certain standards issues. However, it is a difficult challenge because this is the first cross-industry technology that is not being guided and controlled by product manufacturers.

As a result of their coopetive (cooperative/competitive) efforts, the Forum has issued specification format books for DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD-Audio. The Forum administers format and logo licensing. Members actively administer DVD Verification Labs in each of the product categories. These labs proactively ensure that DVD products adhere to the industry-wide standards for compatibility; and when concerns are voiced about specific products, they test for conformance. Corporate Forum members have people on their staff actively participate in technical coordination groups to ensure that specifications meet their requirements. These groups include video, ROM, file format, audio, rewritable (RAM and-RW), write-once (R), copy protection, and professional use applications. None of the specifications were developed based the fiscal concerns of one or even a few companies. They were accepted by at least a majority, if not all, of the industries involved.

Protecting The Past

The DVD Forum was very concerned about providing backward technology protection, as well as a clear and specific roadmap for the future. As a result, the organization accepted the Universal Disk Format (UDF) and MicroUDF file system developed by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA). This ensured cross-platform file support at the outset. In addition, the Forum accepted the baseline functionality set for interactivity proposed by the International Multimedia Association (IMA) and the Optical VideoDisc Association (OVDA). For the good of the industry, the Forum also adopted OSTA's advanced MultiRead specification to ensure that people would be able to read the billions of different CD flavors that are in use today. The 300 Forum members wanted to make certain that the consumer's investment in software and content would be protected as the industry moved forward to DVD-based technology. Today, seven different DVD Format Verification Labs are in full operation around the globe. These labs coordinate the availability of verification tools. They test and verify product conformance before products can use the DVD logo. They conduct market spot checks to verify that products in the market are in conformance with the DVD Format. Based on third-party inquiries, they conduct a verification analysis of any product and provide the manufacturer and the inquiring party with the results.

Coopetive Infrastructure

That coopetive standards infrastructure was put in place in less than four years. It provides the performance guidelines that manufacturers, content developers, and consumers need to implement DVD technology now and in the years to come. The area that has gained the most attention has been the rewritable DVD solution. The Forum approved the first standard (DVD-RAM) in 1997 after a three-month evaluation of drive and media compatibility. More than 20 PC and storage product/media manufacturers around the globe took part in the evaluation.

For the first time, the audio, video, and data industries had a single universal recording technology called "DVD-RAM," and an agreed-upon capacity growth path. A number of manufacturers have been producing and delivering these products for more than a year. In response to the requests of many content development members, the Forum recently developed, tested, and published another rewritable standard for these users. DVD-RW is a solution designed to meet the unique "quick look" requirements of these individuals and organizations. It provides creative developers with an editable product that they can use before committing to a final product. DVD-RW gives developers a work-in-progress development solution. Because of their "non-data" requirements, the write/rewrite technology is sequential rather than random-access and eliminates the need for defective sector management (DSM) because of the streaming presentation of information to the drive. In addition, CD cycleability has been maintained (more than 1,000 overwrite cycles), which professional users felt was sufficient for their write, test, modify and rewrite AV applications. It has been argued that there are other rewritable products such as MMVF, MO-7 and ASMO. However, after more than a year-and-a-half of hearing about the new product concepts, which haven't moved out of the R&D labs, many people simply say "whatever, whenever."

The Need For Marketing

A number of reporters and industry analysts continue to say... "the DVD-RAM market has been held back by a delay in new technology and format/standard issues." However, these are the same people who fanned the flame of excitement around the new technology. While the Forum focused its attention on establishing a single set of standards for each product and application category, some have been too optimistic as to how quickly the conversion would happen. So far, there has not been a breathtaking "killer app" that will cause people to discard old CD-ROM drives simply to have the new DVD solution. But the foundation is now in place.

The newest DVD-ROM drives that are being delivered today by Panasonic read DVD-RAM media. Higher-capacity 4.7GB DVD-RAM drives based on today's user-proven 2.6GB DVD-RAM technology have firm shipment dates to system manufacturers. Media and drive production capacities and yields are being improved every day.

Lower-capacity products will not suddenly disappear from the face of the earth with the dawning of a new day. Instead, they will move down the price/value chain to $500 computers. Business and professional systems will increasingly come equipped with DVD-RAM as a standard component. DVD is now being considered for the millions of set-top and Web-TV boxes we will see in stores and homes later this year. Unlike the long gestation period of the CD-ROM market, where everyone jockeyed to get rich on the other person's investment; DVD, and especially DVD-RAM, is receiving the coopetive assistance of drive, media, board, system, and content producers. Content and media will drive these solution sales. Microsoft and video server firms have advanced the DVD development platform. Content developers are prolific in using their Apple and Silicon Graphics graphic stations to develop rich video and audio titles on DVD-RAM that will eventually find their way to DVD-ROMs. The DVD-RAM bandwagon is here today. Now it's time we, the industry participants who care about meeting the customers' need, deliver on the Forum's commitments.

Jeff Sakke is the group general manager at Panasonic Industrial Company Computer Technology Group (Milpitas, CA).
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Title Annotation:Technology Information
Author:Sakke, Jeff
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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