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HP, Sony Halt 3GB DVD+RW Drive Release

The DVD+RW format took two severe blows last week when Hewlett-Packard and Sony gave notice that they would not begin shipping product this year due to unfavorable market conditions.

HP and Sony said they shelved plans to roll out a 3GB DVD+RW drive and instead will focus on a 4.7GB version. HP expects to reenter the market with the larger format drive in 12 to 18 months, but a Sony spokeswoman said its plans were still not locked down. Philips, the third major developer of DVD+RW, could not be reached for comment.

This is a major flip-flop for Sony and HP, which had announced with much fanfare at PC Expo in June that they would have DVD+RW products on the market. The decision may cause a major rift between HP and its DVD+RW allies Philips, Ricoh, Sony and Yamaha — which are fighting for supremacy in the rewritable DVD market against Matsushita, Toshiba and other companies that are supporting the competing DVD-RAM format.

Kevin Saldanha, HP’s DVD+RW product manager, said HP will not follow through on its plan to ship a 3GB drive this fall. HP initially announced the 3GB DVD Writer 3100i in May.

Calling the 3GB drive simply an “interim” product not fully suitable for the current rewritable DVD market, Saldanha said HP would rather wait until the 4.7GB format is ready and there is a greater installed base of DVD readers. DVD+RW’s maximum capacity is 4.7GB, he said, so it would make little sense to try to sell a lower-capacity product that would soon be surpassed.

“The market conditions are just not there for an interim product like 3GB DVD+RW,” Saldanha said, adding that the market should be ripe for the picking when monthly DVD-ROM sales outstrip CD-ROM/CD-RW drive sales.

Sony called the current consumer market for a 3GB rewritable DVD drive limited, but thought it may still find a place in a business environment.

Saldanha said HP has ironed most of the bugs out of a 4.7GB version, but wouldn’t release it because the current crop of DVD-ROM drives is unable to read 4.7GB or 3GB media. A fix for the DVD-ROM drives has been developed, and models will soon ship that can read the DVD+RW media, but millions of units need to be sold before a 4.7GB DVD+RW can be put on the market, he said.

HP estimates between 15 million and 20 million DVD-ROM drives have been sold in the past couple of years, while CD-RW-only drives are selling at 1 million units per month.