DVDoomed

I recentlybought a laptop for the family and showed it to my friend Lisa.

“You paidthe extra money for a DVD?” she asked. “I’m not going to buy a laptop with aDVD until I can have a rewritable DVD.”

That seemedreasonable so I checked my notes -- I’m an inveterate collector of notes aboutcoming technologies -- about the timing of rewritable DVD. During my search Inoticed that I had a note saying vendors were working out the differencesbetween the various rewritable DVD drives so that units could appear in thefall. Then I noticed the note was from 1998.

If shesticks to her guns, Lisa may be collecting Medicare before she buys a newlaptop.

DVD-RAM,the first recording format of the DVD family of products, features randomaccess and guarantees more than 100,000 rewrites. These are designed mainly tomeet the requirements of the computer storage industry. For certain applicationsthe technical complexities of DVD-RAM make it an expensive choice.

Inresponse, a new format was proposed -- DVD-RW -- that can be rewritten 1,000times. Several vendors liked DVD-RW, reasoning that there were plenty ofapplications where rewriting a disk 1,000 times was satisfactory. Panasonic isone of the leaders behind DVD-RW: It sees a large market for consumer videorecording. The company was a leader in the development of the format that usessensitive materials to achieve high capacities with simpler technology.

Not to beoutdone, Sony introduced a separate format called DVD+RW. Using grooverecording strategies similar to DVD-RW, Sony attempted to remain close to themainstream DVD-Video format and Panasonic’s DVD-RW.

Add to thisthe existing formats for audio and video -- named DVD-Audio and DVD-Video --and you almost have enough specifications for every starting player on yourfavorite World Series team.

Thishodgepodge of proposed standards will lead to incompatibilities and confusionin the marketplace -- and a slower acceptance for rewritable DVD technology.You’d think the industry trade association for the technology might step in andsettle on a single standard useful to consumers and storage managementarchitects alike.

You’d bewrong: The DVD Forum, in fact, announced a completely new specification and alogo that is supposed to help us figure out which rewritable DVD drives willread and write which disks for the various DVD consumer and computerapplications. As it stands today, each drive manufacturer decides for itselfwhich types of disks its systems will read and write, and by extension whichdisks its products will not be able to use.

The Forum'sspecification, called DVD Multi, adds to the already confusing array of DVDspecifications. A first DVD Multi specification for computer applications maybe completed -- does this sound hauntingly familiar -- in the fall of 2000.DVD-ROM drives with the DVD Multi logo must be able to read the DVD-Videoformat, DVD-Audio, DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD-R disks. In addition toworking with disks in all those older formats, recorders sporting a DVD Multilogo are also required to compatibly write on DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, and DVD-R disks.

DVDMulti-compliant consumer DVD-Video players will be required to read DVD-Videoand all recordable disks, including ones written using DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, orDVD-R systems. To get the DVD Multi logo on DVD-Audio players, they must beable to read DVD-Audio and all disks in the recordable audio recording formats.DVD-Video/Audio players will read DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, and, once again, allrecordable disks in video and audio recording formats.

Researchfirm IDC says more than 60 million DVD-ROMs will be sold in 2001. Thatprediction is hopelessly optimistic. After all, second-generation rewritableDVD drives are just starting to appear. They are more than twice the cost oftheir CD-RW cousins. And that’s without the rewritable media -- just go to yourlocal technology store and try to find blank DVD rewritable disks. In fact, if60 million rewritable DVD drives are bought next year, I’ll buy Lisa thatlaptop.

It’s notthat I’m not excited about the promise of rewritable DVD technology -- I am.It’s not that I don’t believe that some version of DVD technology will eventuallybecome as popular and common as CD-RW -- it undoubtedly will. But the path tothat future will be painful and confusing with many of us investing real moneyand time in technologies that eventually will go the way of eight-track tape,the Beta video format, and cars you could service yourself. --Mark McFadden is a consultant and iscommunications director for the Commercial Internet eXchange (Washington).Contact him at mcfadden@cix.org.