Magazine article Information Today

The DVD+RW Drive Has Arrived but Not without Lots of Squabbling among Industry Competitors

Magazine article Information Today

The DVD+RW Drive Has Arrived but Not without Lots of Squabbling among Industry Competitors

Article excerpt

Peter Jacso is associate professor of library and information science at the Department of information and Computer Sciences at the University of Hawaii. He won the 1998 Louis Shores--Oryx Press Award from ALA's Reference and User Services Association for his discerning database reviews. His e-mail address is jacso@hawaii.edu.

The latest episode of the DVD soap opera played out in early June when Hewlett-Packard and Sony announced that they had started shipping their version of a rewritable DVD device: the DVD+RW drive. You may recall that the DVD Forum agreed upon the DVD-RAM format in 1997.

As I previously reported in this column (Information Today, October 1998), I always felt that, among the alphabet soup of CD and DVD products, "RAM" was a particularly ill-chosen moniker that confused many. RAM has always been used to describe the volatile main memory that loses its content when you turn off your computer. And, until recently, it has never referred to the devices that can store data and programs permanently (like CD-ROM and DVD-ROM devices) or until you overwrite them, as with floppy and hard disks or the CD-ReWritable drive. Indeed, the much better name DVD-RW has been in existence for a few years, but I saw it only in print and on digital brochures, not as a label on existing drives.

The Honeymoon Period

Given the bickering about the DVD-Video and DVD-ROM standards--including the choice of its name--a few years ago between the Sony/Philips and Toshiba/Matsushita/Pioneer sides of the DVD Forum, it is not surprising that the DVD-RAM honeymoon was short-lived.

Panasonic, Hitachi, and third parties under their own labels--such as Creative Labs--came out with the 2.6-GB DVD-RAM drives last fall at a reasonable average street price of just below $500. Then they unveiled drives that handled the double-sided 5.2-GB capacity discs. Both the 2.6-GB and 5.2-GB models wrote DVD discs by the book that standardized the format.

The consumer market, for whom purchasing a rewritable drive is not an impulse buy, still held its collective breath--and its checkbook--after Sony/Philip's cliffhanger announcement late last year that they intended to develop their own DVD+RW format capable of storing 3 GB per side. Of course, the companies would also manufacture drives on which to play the new format. This announcement ended the honeymoon period and triggered the creation of the DVD+RW splinter group. Other members of the DVD Forum--Hewlett-Packard, Ricoh, Verbatim, and Yamaha--joined the DVD+RW group.

As in any good soap opera, this straying from the relationship was not watched passively by the jilted partner. DVD-RAM advocates tried to prevent the DVD+RW members from using "DVD" in naming their products; the carping started soon thereafter. Panasonic spread the word that RW technology has the tendency to accidentally erase data due to track jumping while writing. Meanwhile, DVD+RW proponents emphasized the higher capacity of their drives and the fact that, unlike other rewritable drives, DVD+RW drives don't require protective cartridges. The DVD-RAM group had the big advantage of being the first out of the gate, but the market was still somewhat timid. According to the Freeman Reports, less than 150,000 DVD-RAM units were sold in 1998, instead of the half million predicted earlier. Of course, this low sales volume also had a lot to do with the family feud that delayed every step in the process of bringing DVD-RAM to the market.

Meet the New Bride, er, Drive

Hewlett-Packard was the first to release a DVD+RW drive: the HP DYD Writer 3l00i internal drive. …

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