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Rewritable DVD Format Rivalry Heats Up

A decidedly more vociferous Ricoh took its DVD+RW road show here during Comdex/Fall, while Panasonic countered with a forceful demonstration of its DVD-RAM format.

The three-way battle between DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RAM and DVD-R/-RW has intensified during the past few months now that all formats have products in retail. The arguments put forth by each camp were similar, each saying its format has better backward compatibility with the existing base of DVD players and has features that consumers require.

“Our position is people are interested in the features, not the format. It must be compatible and able to contain video and still images on the same disc and have good defect management,” said Paul Liao, Panasonic’s chief technology officer. He added that DVD-RAM’s best feature is its random access ability that allows data to be swapped around on the disc just like a hard drive.

Panasonic also pointed to the hardened nature of DVD-RAM media — it comes encased in a plastic caddy — and the fact that several home players are already on the market. On the downside DVD-RAM is not compatible with many older DVD players or PC drives, although this is somewhat offset by the adding DVD-R functionality to drives because it can be played by most of the installed base of players and drives.

Yasushi Okutsu, Ricoh’s general manager, personal multimedia products, reinforced the DVD+RW Alliance’s stance that its media has a higher rate of backward compatibility and that it has gained support from industry software giant Microsoft. Microsoft will include support for DVD+RW in an upcoming version of Windows XP, enabling drag-and-drop capability. Currently a software application must be used to transfer data from a PC to the DVD media. Okutsu also pointed to the fact that Dell and Hewlett-Packard support the format, giving it a huge edge in the PC market.

Ricoh’s vocal support for its format was a surprise since the company has sat on the sidelines for most of the debate, preferring to let industry heavyweights Philips, HP and Sony handle the public relations aspect of the battle.

“Although Ricoh is only an OEM we thought we needed to get out and support the format,” Okutsu said.

Up to this point Ricoh is the only company making DVD+RW drives, although he said Philips and Sony have started their own production.