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DVD Camps Battle During PC Expo

New York – The DVD Forum and the camp supporting the competing DVD+RW format swapped punches at PC Expo with each side unveiling a new plan it believes will help it dominate the nascent rewritable DVD market.

Both sides took great pains to put their best face forward, but despite the positive spin, each announcement had a downside. The DVD-RAM vendors took several steps forward on the product front with the launch of 4.7GB DVD-RAM products from Toshiba, Panasonic and Hitachi, and the group introduced a new specification called DVD Multi. However, none of the new products or the DVD Multi standard is compatible with the installed base of DVD-ROM drives and home video players.

The DVD Multi specification is intended to ease consumer confusion over which DVD-RAM products and media will be cross-compatible. DVD-RAM PC drives and video player/recorders capable of playing or burning the entire mix of DVD media will carry a special DVD Multi logo as a signal to consumers that the devices will work together.

DVD Multi will be of no help to consumers who own DVD-ROM drives and movie players, said Alan Bell, IBM’s director of digital media standards and a member of the DVD Forum. Bell said consumers will simply have to migrate to this second generation of product in much the same manner they did when CD players were first introduced.

Maciek Brezski, Toshiba’s vice president for storage devices, called the situation with the installed base of products a “growing pain” that must be suffered through. “Multi is the way to go for the long run, but in the short-term we have to go through these technology stages,” Brezski said.

Allen and Brezski do not expect that this news will hurt DVD sales or keep consumers away from the first generation DVD-RAM products. People anxious for DVD will buy it regardless of what is coming down the road, and the early DVD-RAM products, while not carrying the Multi label, are cross compatible, they said.

The DVD+RW group went to great pains to hype the fact that their products will work with all DVD products, not including DVD-RAM, now on the market. Robert Van Eijk, Philips’ general manager for optical storage, quoted research group IDC, Framingham, Mass., saying backward compatibility is a must for any rewritable DVD product, considering the installed base of DVD-ROM drives and home players will hit the 140 million mark by the end of 2001. The group demonstrated this ability at PC Expo by playing a DVD+RW disc in a Sony Vaio PC and a Panasonic DVD video player.

DVD+RW sponsors Hewlett-Packard, Philips, Sony, Mitsubishi Chemical/Verbatim and Yamaha countered by offering DVD+RW verification tools and media to the industry and by hyping the backward compatibility of DVD+RW, but only Philips promised to deliver a DVD+RW product this year. Ricoh will have a PC drive out by next summer, but the other DVD+RW vendors refused to discuss their product plans.

The animosity between the two sides boiled to the surface during their respective meetings, while each side mocked the other.

“We do not need any logos to be put on our products to show that it is compatible,” said Van Eijk.

The DVD-RAM vendors countered this jab by alluding to the DVD+RW road map as nothing more than vaporware and pointing to the DVD-RAM drives, home player/recorders, mini stereo systems and a camcorder that are slated to ship, for the most part, before the end of the year. Products sporting the DVD Multi logo will arrive in 2001.

New DVD-RAM media was also introduced for these products, Brezski said, including 4.7GB and 9.4GB 12-centimeter discs and 1.4GB and 2.8GB 8-centimeter discs. The latter two are for use in products like the Hitachi camcorder and can be played in 12-centimeter players. In addition, DVD-RAM discs that can be removed from their cartridges and used like a CD have been developed. Cartridge-less media is needed for applications like notebook computers and car stereos.