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The CD Writer - The End of CD-R?

Bob Starrett

August 2001 | There are several seminal events in the 12-year history of CD recording technology. Just looking at the last half of this period, we see several important happenings. Let's start with the introduction of the Yamaha CDR-100 4X recorder in 1995. There it was, proof that you could record faster than the 2X that other recorders were running at the time. Never mind that the CDR-100 cost $5000–it cut recording time in half, and this made it the favorite of duplicator manufacturers. Never mind that unless you tightened the screws just right, it wouldn't work. It was 4X. Amazing.

That same year, there was the release of the Hewlett-Packard 4020i, a 2X recorder at a breakthrough price of $995. That's what really got the ball rolling for the average user: A 2X recorder from a brand name company who had enormous distribution channels and retail shelf space. Never mind the fact that more than a few of these units did not work too well. Here was a 2X recorder for $995! Next came CD-RW technology, with Ricoh releasing the first RW recorder in 1997. This event is important not so much for the technology–which was what everybody had apparently been waiting for–but the lack of acceptance of RW as a storage medium. RW disc sales are miniscule in comparison with sales of CD-R discs.

Of course, then came the speed wars. Recording speed is the top concern for CD-R users, since the Constant Linear Velocity layout of the CD makes it considerably slower than magnetic media. Recording at 1X, 650MB of data took about 76 minutes total.

Things progressed slowly at first in the battle for speed, then picked up tremendously. 4X recorders became available from manufacturers other than Yamaha. Most manufacturers skipped 6X and went directly to 8X drives. Sony took a short ride at 10X, but the real next wave began with the first offering from Sanyo (via Smart and Friendly), who also shocked the market with the first 8X drive. It wasn't long before manufacturers were pushing 16X and now 20X and 24X recorders. But are the speed wars worthy of being called a seminal event in the evolution of compact disc recording? I don't think so. It is just a natural progression of things, nothing to add but speed, as Hugh Bennett astutely argued in the July CD WRITER (p. 30).

So speed adds nothing but speed, and as we all know, speed kills. At least it kills the recording process, if the host machine is not up to handling the faster data transfer rates required by the fastest recorders.

The next noteworthy event laid to rest some of the demons that had plagued the recording process for years: CD-R's predisposition to buffer underruns, particularly at high speeds and under multitask conditions. Last year saw the introduction of Sanyo's BURN-Proof technology, followed shortly by Ricoh's JustLink.

For those of you who have not used a BURN-Proof-equipped drive, it really works. You can beat a bus, a CPU, memory and any other system resources to death and the disc will still record just fine. It may take a little longer, but it sure beats the alternative–that is, trying to do a few simple tasks while your disc burns and remaining constantly on the brink of failure.

So BURN-Proof and related technologies are indeed a seminal event in the evolution of CD recording–even though on the surface, it's more of a DVD recording development. Long reserved for high-end professionals because of its high price, DVD-R technology is now as affordable to the "average" user as was HP's SureStore 4020i when it debuted at $995 in 1996.

But what does this mean for CD-R? Pioneer's new A03 DVD-Recorder, which lists for $995, not only records DVD-R and DVD-RW discs, it also writes CD-R and CD-RW at a respectable 8X. Remember that when DVD first hit the scene, many people predicted that DVD would replace CD in just a few short years. That statement was likely made by someone with a stake in DVD technology, or by an idiot, or both. Of course, those who made such predictions were either ignorant of CD-R technology as far as its popularity for recording music, or thought that, datawise, DVD-R drives would become more quickly available to consumers at a reasonable price.

Now, with street pricing for the A03 dropping as low as $750, DVD-R and RW are finally poised to replace CD-R and CD-RW, right? Absolutely wrong. DVD-R drives may replace CD-RW drives at some point, but they will need, of necessity, to be able to record CD-R and CD-RW media. Any DVD-R drive manufacturer who fails to include this capability will fail utterly in the low-end market. Since most CD-R discs are used to record music, a device without CD-R capability is useless to anyone who wants to record music. The target consumer application for DVD-R is something else entirely–making discs from the user's own source video. Of course, many users will want both, and use different media for different purposes. So why have two drives when one will do?

The bottom line is that as far as seminal events in CD recording history, the AO3 is one of them, even though its primary innovation is DVD-R/RW. Backward-compatibility with CD-R and CD-RW shows that Pioneer has its ear to the ground and, unlike some other writable DVD products without CD recording capability, this drive is going to be a success, and a big one.

Bob Starrett (bobs@cdpage.com) is a contributing editor for EMedia Magazine and co-columnist for THE CD WRITER, and an independent consultant based in Denver, Colorado. He is the co-author, with EMedia Magazine contributor Josh McDaniel, of The Little CD Audio Recording Book, published by Peachpit Press.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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