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DVD-RW Set Straight at Pioneer Press Event

Stephen F. Nathans

October 4, 2020 | High above New York's Columbus Circle, Pioneer Corporation vowed to "Set the Record Straight On DVD Recording" with a 12-on-1 press event hosted by Pioneer top brass from two continents. Described as a "status report on the progress of the DVD-R and DVD-RW recordable DVD formats," the event offered an inside look at several new professional and consumer devices for writing DVD, along with business plans and market strategies for each.

Since 1997, Pioneer has offered DVD-R, a write-once DVD format that is largely comparable to CD-R in its broad compatibility with consumer and desktop playback devices. It has been particularly analogous to early CD-R, in its initial high pricing and primary utilization in professional authoring applications.

In the last year Pioneer has diversified the format, dividing it into Authoring and General Use categories. With the release of the DVR-S201, the capacity has expanded to 4.7GB (equivalent to DVD-5), the price has dropped from $17,000 to $5,400, and at the New York event Pioneer promised further significant price reductions. Pioneer also laid out a product and market roadmap for DVD-RW, a rewritable companion technology to DVD-R that will also appear in various guises for different applications, such as consumer and desktop video and data storage. DVD-RW, according to Pioneer senior vice president for product development and technical support Andy Parsons, will provide the same widespread (but not universal) playback compatibility as DVD-R, requiring "no modifications to existing playback devices."

Parsons outlined the reasons and implications for dividing the formats by application class. The Authoring format will continue to be used for DVD-R's traditional applications in prototyping and disc-checking DVD titles. It will also be used, increasingly, he said, in title distribution, as the proliferation of desktop DVD-R duplication and production devices enable software and custom applications to be delivered on DVD-R. General-use DVD-R will be sold specifically for home video applications. These discs will be recordable in TV-attachable recording devices, which will be attuned to copy protection restrictions on commercial DVD discs. The discs will be read- but not write-compatible; i.e., professional recorders will write "authoring" but not "general use" discs, and vice versa. Since there will be "no interchange on the recording side," the potential for confusion inevitably arises, as will "consumer audio" CD-Rs and 10X CD-RWs, which certain CD-R and CD-RW devices write to the exclusion of other disc types. Since "authoring" discs will be high-end products, sold in entirely different distribution (decidedly non-retail) channels, Parsons said he doesn't see confusion arising. "I've analyzed this from top to bottom," he said. "Consumers will never see [the authoring] media."

One of the primary applications of the "general use" discs in the set-top products will be "time-shift" viewing of television programs, which was a deciding factor in both the popularity and the legal protection of the VCR. The consumer recording devices will offer both DVD-R and DVD-RW recording, and will be designed, Parsons said, "to have better functionality than VCRs." What this means, primarily, is higher-resolution picture and searchability, although of course when DVD-R discs are used the devices will not offer rewritability. Current predictions have consumer DVD-R/RW recorders selling for less than $1,000 by Christmas, 2001, with DVD-RW media selling for $20-25 each and DVD-R media listed at $10. Demonstration of the consumer product showed several features, including its two bit-rate recording options (5.2mbps and 10.8mbps), incremental writing ability (which allows discs to be written session-by-session, but, thanks to "lossless linking," without the 15MB overhead incurred by closing CD-R/RW sessions), and "content creation" mode, in which users can name discs and chapters using the unit's remote control.

Parsons also said he expects a key consumer application for both PC-attached and set-top DVD-R/RW to be personal photo and video storage. With digital cameras and camcorders increasingly popular and the emergence of IEEE 1394 (FireWire) as a common interface, he says, DVD-R/RW media will become "the point of convergence."

Joining in this convergence will be a forthcoming incarnation of the "general use" DVD-R/RW product, a half-height, internal drive that will enable PC users to write DVD-R, DVD-RW, CD-R, and CD-RW with a single unit. Pioneer expects this product to ship in the first quarter of 2001.

Bob Niimi, Pioneer North America's vice president for group business development, described where DVD-R/RW technologies fit into Pioneer's broader future business plans. The three linked components of their strategy include two sources, "Residential Gateway" (digital cable set-tops) and DVD-R/RW products; and for presentation, plasma displays. At the core is a "Passport," a unified interface for media navigation and access. He said he expects to see the majority of Pioneer's revenue growth in North America coming from "multimedia, network, and projection products."

Niimi also presented information on the RW Products Promotion Initiative (RWPPI), a cross-industry consortium dedicated to promoting the benefits and opportunities for the DVD-RW format among retailers and consumers. The 33-member list includes companies from various segments of the CD and DVD industries, including media manufacturers such as Eastman Kodak, TDK, Ritek, and Mitsubishi; read-only and writable drive manufacturers such as Sony, Hitachi, Sanyo, Yamaha, and LG; and authoring system providers such as Sonic Solutions.

(Pioneer New Media Technologies, Inc., Optical Division, 2265 E. 220th Street, Long Beach, CA 90810; 800/444-6784, 310/952-2111; Fax 310/952-2990; http://www.pioneerusa.com)

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