Rewritable DVD Taking Two Divergent Paths

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Panasonic, Hitachi and Philips' tactics for 4.7GB rewritable DVD drives will follow distinctly different paths next year, with the former two companies pushing DVD-RAM into the PC peripheral channel and Philips first bringing out a home video player model.

All three showed drives at Comdex in Las Vegas last month, but Panasonic and Hitachi will hit the market first.

Panasonic's PC DVD-RAM plan has the company's first 4.7GB drive into the PC category in mid-2000. This will give the DVD-RAM format a six-month head start on Philips' 4.7GB DVD+RW.

Philips will take the opposite approach with its 4.7GB DVD+RW drive. The company announced at Comdex that its first product would be a movie player/ recorder, with a PC drive to follow.

Marco Truppi, Panasonic's marketing manager for multimedia products, said sample 4.7GB DVD-RAM drives for PCs are now shipping to OEMs and a retail product is expected to ship by midyear. Pricing has not been set, but it should be similar to the $899 street price now carried by Panasonic's 2.6GB DVD-RAM drive. Hitachi's plans are similar, with a PC drive becoming available at about the same time.

Philips will start shipping a DVD+RW consumer video player by the end of next year, said Robert van Eijk, Philips' optical storage division VP. The company will follow with a DVD+RW PC component at a later date. Pricing has not been determined for either product.

Panasonic's plans for a home video DVD-RAM product are not firm, Truppi said, but a player should be on the market by late next year or early 2001. Pricing has not been set.

Mary Craig, principal analyst for Dataquest, San Jose, Calif., called the opposite approaches viable, but said Panasonic will have a hard time creating a market for DVD-RAM because of the plethora of data storage already available.

"To get a product like that off the ground the home [video] market must be addressed, but the drives must be backward compatible with current DVD players. As for DVD-RAM, I don't think Panasonic can pull it off so easily," she said.

The impact of having DVD+RW's later arrival into the market cannot be determined right now, said van Eijk. Panasonic was certain that getting its drive to market first would help solidify DVD-RAM's position as the dominant rewritable DVD format, Truppi said.

Philips held a technology demonstration at Comdex that showed a DVD+RW drive creating a 4.7GB disc, which was then played in eight different commercially available DVD movie players and a DVD-ROM drive-equipped Compaq PC. Van Eijk said this was done to squelch industry rumors that 4.7GB DVD+RW was not compatible with the movie players.

One of the primary stumbling blocks facing DVD-RAM and DVD+RW is the lack of an installed base of DVD-ROM drives that can read these media types. Truppi said this problem is in the process of being solved by the three companies. All are now shipping DVD-ROM drives capable of reading 4.7GB DVD-RAM media. The three companies are responsible for the majority of DVD-ROM production in the world.

The other issue is whether consumer demand for DVD-RAM or DVD+RW computer drives will develop. Van Eijk said CD-RW with its 650MB capacity is all most consumers need for their data and audio storage needs, and Philips believes the 4.7GB market will be driven by acceptance of the drives as a video player/recorder.

However, Panasonic sees an existing market for DVD-RAM in the PC category. Truppi said, as people involved in graphic arts, video editing and other data intensive jobs will need a large-capacity removable storage device.

Panasonic is not certain whether the 4.7GB computer drives will fully replace the 2.6GB single-sided and 5.3GB double-sided drives now on the market or if the two technologies will coexist. However, Truppi estimated that the 4.7GB variants would comprise about 50% of the 1.3 million DVD-RAM drives expected to ship worldwide next year. About 120,000 drives will ship in 1999.

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