Sony readies double density CD offering

Sony will begin selling drives and discs to support write-once and rewritable versions of the Double Density (DD) format in North America, Europe and Japan from April, a company official said. An Australian release date has yet to be confirmed. However, a Sony spokesperson said the local office was negotiating a "better price" before the drive made its way to Australia. This is due largely to the downturn in the value of the Dollar. The first DD-R/RW drive from Sony has an ATAPI interface and supports 12x maximum write for DD-R/CD-R, 8x write for DD-RW/CD-RW and 32x maximum read speed for all types of CDs, it said in a statement.

To double the capacity, Sony made some modifications to the current CD format, of which it was one of the original developers. The changes included a smaller track pitch and minimum track length, a change in the error correction system and an expanded address format. The new format also includes a copyright control system to prevent illegal copying of data on the discs.

The new format is likely to face heavy competition from a variety of formats already battling for dominance in a fierce marketplace. The new system costs $US249 for the drive and $US1.99 and $US2.99 respectively for the DD-R and DD-RW media.

Comparable CD-RW drives are cheaper and CD-RW media currently sells in Tokyo's Akihabara electronics district for around $US0.75 per disc, although the company is hoping the extra capacity will be enough to win over users.

Not so for some other formats that are closer in data capacity to DD-CD. Drives for Iomega's Jaz format, which offers 2GB of capacity per disk, cost around the same as Sony's new DD-CD drive. The new discs are much cheaper than the average $US70 a Jaz disk currently commands. The DD-CD drive is also cheaper than drives for the 1.3GB version of MO (Magneto Optical), a rewritable optical disk format popular in Japan, and the bevy of DVD-based formats currently on the market.

CD drive makers will be watching how consumers accept the new technology with interest. Adding DD-CD support to existing CD drives can be done with minimal effort compared to switching to other unrelated technologies.

Sony first announced development of the format in mid 2000 when it said development, jointly undertaken with Koninklijke Philips Electronics, was nearing completion.

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Martyn Williams

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