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Dual-Format DVD Recorders Studied

LAS VEGAS -The 41-company RWPPI (RW Products Promotion Initiative), formed to promote adoption of the DVD-RW format, announced at CES that it will investigate the feasibility of developing dual-format DVD-RW/DVD+RW home recorders.

The announcement came as the DVD Forum closed in on developing its DVD Multi specifications, which would enable future DVD recorders to record in either of the Forum’s two sanctioned rewritable formats: DVD-RAM and DVD-RW. A separate spec would enable DVD players to play both types of rewritable discs.

The intent of the RWPPI’s announcement is “to benefit consumers and minimize any possible confusion,” said Masao Sugimoto, the group’s general secretary and a top Pioneer executive. Executives from DVD+RW supporter Hewlett-Packard, however, contended such recorders would have precisely the opposite effect.

The RWPPI also announced plans to “research the feasibility of extending the DVD-RW format to PC peripherals.” The decision means the group would more aggressively pursue members from the PC industry once the DVD Forum approves an application layer that would enable DVD-RW use for rewriting computer data, a Pioneer spokesman said. Forum approval could come in late February, he added.

Among major CE suppliers, so far only Sony has committed to developing a dual-format +RW/-RW recorder, which it wants to ship by mid-2002.

A +RW/-RW recorder would require only a “very small price premium” because the additional capability would mostly require additional firmware and “not much additional silicon,” said Masataka Ogawa, general manager of Sony’s core technology and network company.

Sony’s goals do not include a stand-alone DVD+RW recorder or a stand-alone DVD-RW recorder, Ogawa told TWICE.

In related DVD-recorder developments at CES:

  • Ricoh and Philips became more precise in their timetables for launching DVD+RW computer drives, announcing Q3 shipments at prices they declined to reveal.
  • Thomson, which previously announced plans to market a DVD+RW recorder in the third quarter, announced its membership in the -RW group and in the rival +RW promotion group, whose membership now stands at seven. The company also announced plans for third-quarter shipments of a +RW home recorder at an unannounced price.

Thomson’s Greg Bosler, VP of video product management for the Americas, said his company’s membership in the -RW group doesn’t mean Thomson plans to commit to combination recorders or to DVD-RW recorders. As a large company that also manufactures key components, Bosler explained, it is “prudent [to join] to understand the direction of -RW.”

Thomson did not have advance notice of the RWPPI’s dual-format announcement, he noted.

Sony is also a member of both groups.

In its announcement, the RWPPI said three member companies have agreed to determine the feasibility of “dual compatible” -RW/+RW recorders. Although Sugimoto declined to name the trio, senior Sony executive Masakazu Sonoda said Sony expects to deliver a dual-compatible recorder in mid-2002 “to offer the combined benefits of two formats on a single hardware platform.”

Sonoda, senior general manager of the Sony network entertainment group’s DVD division, said his company hasn’t determined the price premium of such a “bridge” product.

Only Sony, however, has gone so far as to target a ship date, apparently at the displeasure of other RWPPI members.

In fact, during an RWPPI press conference, Pioneer’s Sugimoti contended talk of introduction dates was premature. The group, he said, must “continue the feasibility study” to determine, among other things, “what performance characteristics will be in it.”

Sugimoto also stressed that the group wasn’t proposing a new recording format for adoption by the DVD Forum. In fact, he pointed out, because it “is not practical to talk of the merger of the two formats,” the “alternative is to reduce confusion” by developing compatible recorders.

A compatible recorder, Sugimoto said, would accept, and record on, either a blank CD-RW disc or blank CD+RW disc. It’s conceivable, he conceded, that multiple types of DVD-recorders could appear on the market, including DVD-RW, DVD+RW and combination models.

At a separate press event held by the +RW group, representatives of member companies Hewlett-Packard, Philips and Ricoh joined Thomson in saying they have no plans for dual-format recorders.

In fact, HP criticized the dual-format proposal. Said HP spokeswoman Maureen Weber: “We remain committed to +RW.” A dual-format product, she claimed, “will cause consumer confusion.”

HP VP John Spofford elaborated by saying that consumers would have to choose a recording format each time they make a recording. He called that step “an unnecessary complication because +RW meets all needs so well.”

The +RW group’s members also include Philips, Ricoh, Yamaha and Mitsubishi Chemical/Verbatim.

During the group’s event, HP consumer business president Pradeep Jotwani called CD+RW “the only rewritable DVD technology to give a seamless media exchange between the consumer electronics and PC environments.”

A Ricoh spokesman said his company has no dual-format plans, given that “compatibility with existing DVD-ROM drives and players is very important, and +RW is the best one for this.”

For his part, Philips A/V disc recording program manager Chris Buma said, “We made no decision on dual-compatible product.”

Thomson is endorsing DVD+RW because “compatibility and ease of use are hallmarks of the RCA brand,” said Bosler.

During the +RW event, Ricoh and Philips cited Q3 availability for their DVD+RW computer drives at unannounced prices. During Comdex, the two companies announced plans for summertime availability.

Hewlett-Packard said it continues to target summertime shipments for its Super Drive, which will also read and write CD-R/RW.

Sony and Yamaha said they still plan to offer DVD+RW drives, but they haven’t set a date.

For its home recorder, Philips plans summertime shipments.