Combo DVD drives aim to bridge compatibility gap

One of the companies, Ricoh, demonstrated a working prototype of its DVD+RW drive at the Comdex show. Still images and video taken with a consumer video camera were burned onto a disc, which was then played back on both a Pioneer stand-alone video player, and a Hitachi DVD-ROM drive.

Takeshi "Ted" Matsui, corporate councilor for Ricoh, said his company and the others in the consortium -- Hewlett-Packard, Philips, Mitsubishi Chemical, Sony, and Yamaha -- are testing discs written with their devices on consumer video players, and cooperating with other manufacturers to ensure compatibility.

The Ricoh machine will ship worldwide in the third quarter of 2001, said Matsui. "We don't have any definite price," he said, but Ricoh is aiming at both the consumer and professional markets. "At the first stage, our customers will be high-end business and professional [users]," he said, adding that consortium partner Philips will focus more on consumer entertainment users.

Companies backing competing DVD formats were also on hand at Comdex, where several demonstrated home video editing applications for their machines.

Pioneer previewed its new DVD-R/RW writer. The company touted the device, which records discs that can be played back on most consumer DVD-video players, as a way to link PCs and home entertainment systems.

"Most people, we believe, will want to use this kind of drive for archiving and preserving home movies," said Andy Parsons, Pioneer's senior vice president for product development and technical support. The machine, to be priced at less than $US2000, is targeted at the consumer market. "It's going to be priced correctly," Parsons said.

Pioneer's existing DVD-R drive, also on display at Comdex, retails for $US5400.

Matsushita Electric Industrial, better known by its Panasonic brand name, is planning to launch a combination DVD-R/RAM drive, said spokesman Andy Merkin. "It will be announced at Macworld (9-12 January, in San Francisco) and shipping in February," he said, adding that "one key customer is going to take all of that product for the first few months."

Merkin said his "educated guess" is that the device will retail for between $US600 and $US650. Asked if Panasonic is hoping to position the product against Pioneer's new consumer DVD-R/RW machine, he said, "You'd have to say, 'yes.' We were both on the same development cycle. The roadmaps on both products were very similar."

Merkin said other players in the market, including AOpen and Samsung Electronics, plan to launch combination DVD-R/RAM devices in the first quarter of 2001. "Toshiba is still behind the curve a bit. They're focusing most of their RAM production on consumer recorders and players; they're less of a player in the computer arena," he said.

Panasonic is also targeting the entertainment market with its 4.7GB DVD-RAM machine, which retails at less than $US600. Over the past year the company shipped about 3.5 million of the devices, said Merkin.

"That's kind of a drop in the bucket," he said, adding that production of the unit was slowed by the limited supply of an analog chip, much in demand by mobile phone and HDTV makers. "The shortage eased in the mid-third quarter, so we are now getting all the components we need ... I would say we'll probably do about 7 million units" next year.

Several makers of DVD-RAM machines, including Hitachi and Panasonic, were demonstrating home video editing applications, hooking their drives to camcorders which record on 8-centimetre discs.

Panasonic spokesman Rudy Vitti said the DVD-RAM format, which allows more than 100,000 rewrites on the same disc, is especially suitable for home video. "It allows you to record in real time, taking advantage of all the free space on the disc. You have the ability to edit these recordings, and you can do a temporary or permanent partial deletion" of material.

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Rick Perera

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