DVD wars: Hardware makers hatch a feud

DVD wars: Hardware makers hatch a feud

LAS VEGAS'Competing camps of DVD hardware manufacturers used the Comdex show this week to stage competing news conferences and product demonstrations.

As if there aren't enough standards'DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM'a group led by Philips Electronics NV and Sony Corp. is working to establish a competing suite of standards characterized by a + in the terms, such as DVD+R and DVD+RW.

Both Dell Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. executives said their companies would use DVD+ drives in their computers. One issue facing buyers of DVD-writing equipment is whether the disks will work in a variety of players, both current and future.

DVD+ proponents contend their format makes it easier to do on-disk editing in the RW, or rewrite, mode, as opposed to editing on a hard disk then transferring back to the RW optical medium.

'Demand is booming, but the industry needs seamless usage between the PC and consumer electronics worlds,' said Frank Simonis, a Philips product development manager. He said the new DVD+ standard is the answer because it requires only one type of disk for all applications and environments.

'It lets audio-visual [equipment] and PCs converge,' Simonis said.

Nonsense, countered Tony Jasionowski, group manager for R&D planning at Panasonic Technologies Co. of Secaucus, N.J. He is active in the DVD Forum, a standards-setting group of DVD manufacturers from which the Philips-led group broke out.

Most existing DVD recording drives are referred to as minus products, stemming from the hyphen used in their terminology, as in DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM.

But, Jasionowski said, because the existing standards already are accepted worldwide, they have a leg up on the new plus standards proposed by the splinter group.

'Government likes the fact that DVD is an international standard,' he said.

Jasionowski pointed to the DVD-RAM standard. The format, which lets data be saved on DVD, incorporates functions such as error detection and write verification that let the disks behave like hard drives.

Proof of the robustness of the existing DVD standards is that no jukebox manufacturer uses the DVD+ technology, said Stewart Vane-Tempest, product director for jukebox maker Plasmon Data Ltd. of Hertfordshire, England. At Comdex, Plasmon rolled out a 20T DVD-RAM jukebox with one robot, 12 drives and 2,175 disks. The price: $50,000.

Panasonic showed a new internal, full-height drive that can burn DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, CD-R and CD-RW.

The DVD+ crowd rolled out gear, too. For example, Ricoh Company Ltd. of Tokyo showed an internal 4x DVD+R/+RW drive the company said can write an entire 4.7G disk in 15 minutes.

Is the DVD debate a rerun of the Beta versus VHS battles of 20 years ago? And which side will ultimately be the Betamax camp?

It's too early to tell, but some vendors are hedging their bets. For instance, Sony showed a dual-standard drive and continues to put DVD drives in some of its Viao desktop computers.

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