More than once I've been accused of advancing a write-once agenda
at the expense of a host of electronic technologies that are proudly
and legitimately rewritable. And I'd no more deny that than being
a card-carrying ACLU member if I'd been in town the day they passed
out the cards.
Of course, I have got a bit of a soft spot in my heart for the
DVD-RAM jukebox that's setting byte-for-buck records worldwide.
And I just know DVD+RW will be the cat's meow if we ever
get to hear it roar. The oft-knocked CD-RW has also done its share
to get CD-R off the shelf and played a laudable role in supplying
CD-R to people who took the writable CD plunge for all the wrong
From where I stand, all that rewritable stuff is just storage.
It's just a container, now with increasingly invisible boundaries.
It stays and plays where you put it. And when you're talking about
something as capacious as DVD-RAM, stacked and juked (check out
Cygnet's RAID-configured, striped InfiniRAIL when it debuts in
November if you think a RAM box can't make your head spin), that
level of storage is nothing to sneeze at. CD-RW isn't quite so
compelling in that sphere. It's neither big enough nor fast enough
to play with the big boys, and the trend in most CD-RW-inclusive
storage devices has been to throw the spotlight on the hard drive
Plus, what's always made CD-R so cool is its universal interchange,
and its compatibility with consumer read devices, two features
shared (almost) by its heir-apparent, Pioneer's DVD-R, but not
with its younger sibling, CD-RW. And not with DVD-RAM, which bears
no organic relationship to the three aforementioned technologies
at all. What CD-R boasts that none of the other three do is cheap
media. In this day and age, 650MB for $1 is not much for not much.
So burn it once and let it go.
In three weeks' time, I will have been to the mountaintop-or
more accurately, the valley, and beheld about the only thing that
could potentially turn me around on all this. I'll have spent
an afternoon in the cloistered confines of Sony Electronics' San
Jose headquarters, enjoying a briefing on the most fundamental
innovation in CD-R since the technology's inception. On that glorious
day I'll receive my official introduction to a new Sony-Philips
format known as "double-density CD-R."
Double-density CD-R is just what it sounds like for those with
the inclination to imagine how such things might be achieved.
It's a CD-thick 120mm disc, available in write-once and rewritable
versions, that shares all the logical properties of CD-ROM/R/RW
but happens to have twice the capacity of CD-ROM/R/W (1.3GB),
and happens to be written with grooves twice as narrow. Picture
two waterlogged camels trying to squeeze through the eye of a
needle, instead of, say, DVD-ROM, and it sounds pretty epochal
and technologically impressive, doesn't it?
I must admit I was a little lukewarm on the idea when they first
broke it to me. No miracle cure to be sure, consider the obstacles
this format will face when it starts making the rounds at COMDEX
time. No drives will read it except the drives that will write
it. No standard CD-R or CD-RW media, of course, will be writable
at double-density or double-capacity with the drives, although
they will write 650MB discs with all the facility of their forbears.
And that's, I think, what I like best about it. It gives you
everything you get from perennial all-star standard CD-R, and
also delivers, when you're ready for it, something significantly
better for certain applications. We've seen 1GB-plus CD-R/RW discs
before, but these were all written with proprietary compression
schemes-which always demand a little blind faith-and of course
could only be read back with the software that wrote them, in
the drives in which they were written. And if some new variation
on MultiRead takes hold in the CD-ROM/DVD-ROM production scene
as fast as the 1997 version brought widespread CD-RW-read capability
to CD-ROM drives, pretty soon it'll become one of those nice invisible
advantages that most folks will never have to know about but will
guarantee others many a good night's sleep.
I think this format will make me like CD-RW a little better
now. When it starts offering 1.3GB of rewritable storage, CD-RW
will make a stronger claim for that ailing personal storage market-where
simplicity is king-a market in which it's never quite measured
up, even to the middling likes of Zip and Jaz. Watch Iomega go
ZipCD crazy when the double-stuff version starts to dig in.
Best of all, I like its backwards compatibility. I didn't get
into this game as early as some, but just call me a new traditionalist.
I never bought that "bridge technology" malarkey people used to
say about CD-RW when they waxed wooly-headed about the DVD era
to come; what were we supposed to do after we crossed the bridge,
all fired up to recount our adventures, when we realized we had
nothing to write on? CD-RW is here to stay, thanks to CD-R; CD-R,
like DVD-R, will be with us as long as their read-only counterparts
exist, since they remain the only formats that really make sense
to the people who make CDs and DVDs for anyone's pleasure besides
their own. But that's just what CD-R is best at, and it wouldn't
be what it is without its versatility. Storage has always fallen
somewhere in its secondary skills set, which is the one in which
CD-RW has always done its best work, for what it's worth.
The word from Sony (speaking for Philips) is that they both
just got better at it-100 percent better, in fact, in this storage
world where capacity counts for everything. And if that means
the electronic media world goes a few more years before squandering
what it has in CD-R-and RW finally contributes to the format's
survival in a concrete way-I say, write-once, write many, whatever.
Just write on.