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Here Comes DVD-R...From Two Directions.

Don't toss away your CD-burners. DVD recorders aren't going to knock them out of the water for a few years yet. But just as the 650MB CDs have usurped the role of 1.4MB floppies as the preferred media for file exchange, 4.7GB recordable DVDs will take over that function from CDs, probably by 2005.

Why? Because there is now competition among manufacturers for drives built in a common format--write-once DVD-R--that is universally readable in DVD-ROM drives and DVD-Video players. And competition within a standard inevitably creates a bigger market than single-sourcing does.

The only factor inhibiting swift market dominance for DVD-RAM--and still its biggest limitation--is that ordinary DVD-ROM readers and DVD-Video players simply cannot read DVD-RAM disks. This encouraged the Sony/Philips team to develop a more reader-friendly format called DVD+RW, although (as our readers well know) the so-called "plus RW" has never yet come to market.

Meanwhile Pioneer, approaching DVD from the write-once direction, reasoned that drive price was less important to the format than making disks that were fully compatible with the installed base of readers. So Pioneer focused on making DVD-R media ubiquitously compatible.

Pioneer's newest drive (model DVR-A03) writes DVD-RW as well as DVD-R, and--a stroke of genius here--it also writes CD-R and CD-RW.

The competition, of course, has not been sleeping. The DVD-R format has long been the de facto write-once standard in the DVD Forum, so Matsushita has begun to make DVD-R recorders. Matsushita can now offer OEMs a combination drive that supports DVD-RAM and DVD-R for less than Pioneer charges for its new drive. One reseller, LaCie, already offers an external DVD-RAM/DVD-R drive with bundled software for $699 list. And when Matsushita brings out its own (Panasonic) branded drive this summer, the MSRP could be an even-more-aggressively forward-priced $599!

Plasmon is ready to offer the DVD-RAM/DVD-R drive in its D-Series jukeboxes, in configurations ranging from one-drive/120-disk capacity for $15,000, up to a six-drive/480-disk model for $55,000. Those jukebox drives will have SCSI interfaces; but SCSI is not a priority for either Pioneer or Matsushita. Their current plans are consumer-oriented. Paul Meyhoefer, of Pioneer, told me flatly: "SCSI is under discussion, but we're focusing on IDE/ATAPI." And Dana Berzin, of Panasonic, told me: "We won't offer SCSI ourselves, but a company called Alcita, in Massachussetts, is working on an ATAPI-to-SCSI converter for us."

So as of my deadline (at the end of May), here's how Pioneer and Matsushita stack up in head-to-head competition:

CAPACITY: In storage capacity, single-sided DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD-RAM disks each hold up to 4.7GB now. DVD-R and DVD-RW media are bare disks, while DVD-RAM disks have traditionally been enclosed in cartridges. But DVD-RAM has also been available as bare media, and the bare version will now be more aggressively promoted. Perhaps more important, however, DVD-RAM disks also come in a two-sided version that doubles the capacity at only a slightly higher price. That makes the Matsushita drive a bit more attractive for industrial-strength applications such as backups; and DVD-RAM has built up a solid track record in the jukebox business.

LEGACY: There is an installed base of DVD-RAM customers to whom Matsushita's drive will be more appealing than Pioneer's; but it's not a huge base, and there is an even smaller installed base of DVD-R drives whose users may be predisposed to go with Pioneer. But for first-time users the choice is wide open, so that particular playing-field is level.

FLEXIBILITY: The Pioneer drive's biggest market advantage will be its ability to write CD-R and CD-RW media. That makes it a logical replacement for the CD-only burner as standard equipment in mid- to high-priced PCs. (This development comes just as the CD-RW drive is replacing the read-only CD-ROM drive, so the window of opportunity is definitely opening). Matsushita did consider including CD-writing capability, but decided that that would make the drive too complex and expensive. Support for the familiar CD formats, therefore, may well be enough to tip the user-friendliness scale in Pioneer's favor.

So on balance, the contestants so far are ... well ... balanced. After these two offerings have hit the market later this year, however, I'll be able to give you a more nuanced analysis, and (with luck) to predict which alternative will lead us all into the DVD future.
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Title Annotation:Technology Information; DVD-RW, DVD-R
Author:Glatzer, Hal
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
Previous Article:Follow The Money: Microsoft Gambles On Gaming.
Next Article:Storage--Virtual And Otherwise.

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