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DVD-RAM Moves Forward, But Doesn’t Look Back

NEW YORK — The DVD-RAM Forum took several steps toward spreading the technology yesterday at PC Expo with the launch of 4.7GB DVD-RAM products from Toshiba, Panasonic and Hitachi and a new standard called DVD Multi, but these will invalidate the current crop of DVD players and ROM drives as the new products are not backward compatible.

DVD Multi is intended to ease consumer confusion over which DVD-RAM products and media are cross compatible. DVD-RAM PC drives and video players capable of playing the entire mix of DVD media no matter what type of device created it. The products will carry a special DVD Multi logo as a differentiating factor.

Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Philips will hold a press conference today to discuss developments with their rewritable DVD format, DVD+RW.

Multi will not help consumers who currently own DVD-ROM drives and movie players, said Alan Bell, IBM’s director of digital media standards and a member of the Forum. Bell said consumers will simply have to migrate to this second generation of product, in much the same manner they did when CDs were first introduced.

Maciek Brzeski, Toshiba’s VP 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,” Brzeski said.

The first DVD Multi-ready products are expected out in 2001.

The vendors are not waiting for Multi’s debut to roll out their products. Toshiba, Panasonic and Hitachi introduced a slew of PC and consumer electronics products including a Hitachi DVD-RAM camcorder, PC drives and recorders along with video players and recorders from all three companies.

New DVD media has been developed for these and upcoming products, Brzeski 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. Cartridgeless media is needed for applications like notebook computers and car stereos.