Why not DVD-R?

When the GCN Lab set out to review storage drives, we planned to include both CD-recordable and DVD-recordable types.

Writing to DVD would seem to have many advantages over CD, especially in capacity. In practice, however, burning data to DVD-R and then finding another drive that could properly read the data turned out to be a crapshoot.

DVD capacity is impressive: One disk holds a minimum 4.7G. Some double-sided, double-layer DVDs can store 17G. That's almost enough to replace a PC hard drive.

Unfortunately, DVD vendors can't seem to agree on a standard. A disk burned by one DVD-R drive often can't be read by others. Although video burning is fairly painless, data burning too often produces an unusable disk.

Only one company'Sony'even submitted a combo drive for both CD-R and DVD-R. The drive could burn data to a CD, but getting it even to work as a DVD-R drive took us two days.

We tried everything we could think of, including changing media, updating drivers and even altering the contents of our test file. Finally we reached a Sony engineer who told us that the third-party software bundled with the drive was out of date, and that a newer version would fix the problem.

The upgrade was equally painful. The instructions incorrectly said to delete the old software first. Only later did the new software inform us that it needed the older version present to prove we were valid users.

We tried downloading other software but found that it was incompatible with the drive or could burn only video and not other data.

Finally, we got the original software upgraded and managed to test the drive. Even then, the resulting disk was not readable on every DVD drive in the GCN Lab. A few of them did not recognize the format.

These problems aren't entirely Sony's fault. The whole DVD industry is to blame for failure to cooperate. DVD vendors have invented a technology that works well for limited data types but otherwise seems doomed for lack of a clear standard.

Oh, yes'you can have a great experience burning data to a DVD-R or DVD-RW disk. But you must first put together the right drive, the right formats, the right software and the right media. Then, if you want to share your success, you still have to be lucky enough to find another drive that can read your disk.

Kudos to Sony for pushing ahead with a combo drive. But until the technology becomes more reliable, government users are unlikely to take a chance on it.

Although CD-RW disks can store only 640M or slightly more, they do so reliably, following a standard that has been established for years.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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