The tug of war taking place over which rewritable DVD format will dominate the market appears to be finally working its way to a conclusion, at least on the PC drive side of the business.
Data from The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., has the plus format dominating the PC drive market, while the RAM format controls the CE side.
The plus and dual-drive (offering +RW/-RW burning capability) formats are the clear winner at this point on the PC side of the market. According to NPD data for April, +R/RW drives controlled 56.4 percent of the market and dual drives 38.5 percent. In comparison DVD-R/RW drives had 3.8 percent with RAM at less than 1 percent for that month. Steve Baker, IT research director for NPD, said the dual drives, first introduced last October, have performed quite well, gaining a 20 percent share of the business almost immediately.
The three rewritable DVD camps have Philips, Hewlett-Packard and a bevy of PC vendors as the primary supporters of +RW, with Panasonic and the DVD Forum backing RAM and Pioneer and Apple, among others, on the -R side. The newest wrinkle was added when Sony introduced a dual-format drive last fall that could burn to plus and dash media. Since then Pioneer and several other drive makers have added this functionality.
The advent of the dual drives gives companies that previously only supported the dash format, such as Pioneer, a way to hedge its bet in a face-saving manner. Pioneer, the developer and a leading proponent of the dash format, just introduced its first dual drive, the DVR-A06. The company said the move was made to help alleviate customer confusion over the various formats, but others see the move as an admission that +RW has won the PC category.
"Pioneer's decision to move to the dual drive means they've pretty much given up on the dash format," Baker said.
To some extent Pioneer's move was counterbalanced by Microsoft's decision earlier this year to add support for the dash format into the next version of Windows XP. Previously, that company reported it would only support plus.
Jeff Cove, Panasonic's VP for strategic alliances and new business development, said he has not given up on RAM and -R having an impact in the PC category, but admitted this is a long shot.
"I don't see one format taking both sides. We see that both are pretty entrenched where they are right now," he said.
This tale is reversed in the CE DVD recorder market where the plus format holds a distant second place to RAM. Tom Edwards, NPD's senior market analyst, gave RAM 68.8 percent of the market for the first quarter of 2003 with +RW grabbing 29.9 percent and -RW the remaining 1.3 percent. RAM did lose share to +RW compared to the same period in 2002, when it owned 78.1 percent of the market, Edward's said, adding that few DVD+RW products were available at the start of 2002.
Edwards does not see Panasonic's RAM format falling from this strong position.
Cove said RAM's time-slip feature and its ability to work like a computer hard drive make it the preferred format for the living room. Cove would not rule out -RW and +RW drives making an appearance in the CE segment by other vendors, but none would be forthcoming from Panasonic. However, Panasonic's current crops of RAM recorders have the ability to burn to dash media.
Hewlett-Packard, a steadfast plus supporter, also has no intention of adding dash to its plus RW drives, said Dean Sanderson, HP's director of product marketing for DVD writers.
Another solid indicator on how evenly the camps are split are blank media sales.
NPD's data gave +R and +RW the lead with a combined 54.2 percent of the blank media market, with +R garnering 43.9 percent and +RW 10.3 percent. Minus R and -RW blank media sales have a 41.8 percent share with RAM grabbing the remaining 4 percent due to their strength on the CE side. The plus formatted media in April was slightly less expensive that the dash variety.