Magazine article Information Today

CD-ROM and Competing Technology: Competitors Such as CD-R, CD-E, MD, PD, and HD Are Ready to Slug It Out

Magazine article Information Today

CD-ROM and Competing Technology: Competitors Such as CD-R, CD-E, MD, PD, and HD Are Ready to Slug It Out

Article excerpt

It took a couple of years for CD-ROM to become a household term and a taken-for-granted component of practically every computer that ships. There are about 70 million CD-ROM drives in use today, according to industry watchers. However, other technologies and media, being developed to compete with CD-ROM, are hoping to become the preferred alternative for the storage and/or distribution of large volumes of information.

The two functions--recording data for storage by the end user and distributing stored and unerasable data--are so distinct that it would not be appropriate to gauge CD-ROM's competitors without looking first at the new incarnation of CD technology, the CD-Recordable drives and media. After all, most of the potentially competing solutions have data recording capabilities. CD-ROM has been criticized from day one because the discs cannot be used for storing your own data. This is like criticizing books because you can't use them as scrapbooks. Nevertheless, using the capacity of a CD-ROM for storing data by the end user is attractive.

CD-Recordable (CD-R) Technology

CD-Recordable drives have been available since 1991, but at a prohibitive price of about $20,000. While the price has been going down slowly over the past five years, the real breakthrough comes this year, when the hardware and software for compact disc recording becomes widely available for less than $1,000. Hewlett-Packard broke the record with its internal SureStore CD-Writer drive, available last November from some computer stores and mail-order companies for $999, lock, stock, and barrel, including software, controller card, cable, and two blank recordable CDs. On the heels of HP comes Pinnacle Micro with a competitive offer. By the end of the first quarter of 1996, Ricoh is to ship its RS 1060C. Yamaha entered the field with a powerful 4x recorder in 1995, but the price was steep for the advantage of the reduction in recording time. TEAC's CD-R50S, at $1,300, with quad-speed recording and writing capabilities, may be the price/performance winner when it delivers, and it will drive down the prices of the competition such as the quad-speed Pioneer DW-S114X that sells (or rather is supposed to sell) for $3,300.

These recordable drives differ not only in price and performance but also in the scope of software bundled with them. (The differences in recording software will be discussed in a later column.) The transfer rate (300-600 KB/sec) and the access time (200-350 ms) of these drives are an order of magnitude behind some of the optical alternatives discussed below, but they have two significant advantages. One is that the per-megabyte cost of the typical blank medium ($10) is less than 2 cents. The other is that there are tens of millions of users who have CD-ROM drives that can read such discs. No other alternatives come close to the distribution potential of CD-ROM. For storage and backup purposes, the CD-R drives and media may seem to be underdogs to other magnetic and optical alternatives, but with the plummeting price of the CD-R drives and the 650-MB capacity of the discs, this is less and less true. The lack of erasability may be advantageous in applications where non-erasability is crucial (banking, archival files), and erasable compact discs may come by late 1996.

Compact Disc Erasable (CD-E)

CD-Erasable technology may be imminent, but at this time it is hard to predict its role in the competition without knowing the price of the drive. The erasable media is guesstimated to be around $22 to $25. Ricoh is likely to be the first to ship a CD-E drive. Its recent press release claims that "it has become possible to use the current CD-Recordable drive circuit for CD-E with a minimum of modification." That may be so, but the company did nothing more at COMDEX than show a CD-R drive with a CD-E label on it. This suggests to me that not even the prototype stage has been reached. Ricoh claims that CD-E discs can also be read by CD-ROM players with minor modifications. …

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