February 14, 2021 | DVD devices of every description
must read CD-R discs. It's been more than five years since I first
delivered that simple message. The consumer electronics industry,
however, has yet to take it to heart. Not a week goes by that
I don't get email from some poor soul or other who purchased a
set-top DVD Video player only to discover that the unit can't
read CD-R discs. Better late than never, the Optical Storage Technology
Association (OSTA) has at last championed the set-top and mobile
CD-R compatibility cause with a MultiPlay specification raising
the prospect that the problem might be overcome before another
five years goes by.
As it stands today, consumer DVD player compatibility with CD-R
and CD-RW discs is nothing short of a disaster. While almost all
units read prerecorded (molded) CDs, only a fraction have the
correct dual laser (650nm/780nm) optical pickups necessary to
play CD-R media. Even more maddening from a consumer perspective
is the utter failure of manufacturers to communicate the deficiency.
Nor is there any rhyme or reason as to which units do and which
do not read recordable CDs. It's infuriating that consumers must
unwittingly play roulette when buying something as straightforward
as a piece of home electronics.
In stark contrast to set-top DVD devices, all DVD-ROM and DVD-RAM
drives currently anks to the rapid transition that saw CD-R compatibility
appear years ago in all second-generation DVD-ROM and first-generation
DVD-RAM drives. While OSTA takes credit for establishing this
universal level of compatibility through their MultiRead specification,
hardware manufacturers adhered to it because it would be suicidal
to sell products that didn't read CD-R discs. The consumer electronics
industry, however, is another story altogether. This is where
OSTA's MultiPlay comes in.
Although MultiPlay in addition encapsulates consumer CD products
reading CD-R (a given) and CD-RW (inconsequential) discs, the
specification's main attraction lies in the parts that relate
to DVD. Specifically, MultiPlay requires compliant consumer DVD
devices that play CD-DA, CD-Text, and VideoCD formats contained
on prerecorded media to do the same when embodied in CD-R and
CD-RW discs. In addition, MultiPlay introduces a new logo intended
to help consumers identify products compatible with CD-R and CD-RW
media. Realistically, however, the logo will probably prove insufficient
in assisting identification in much the same way that the MultiRead
badge has been ignored. MultiPlay will only succeed if OSTA sufficiently
evangelizes the feature and promotes compliance among equipment
We know that a popular use for CD-R discs is to store compressed
audio files (MP3, WMA, etc.) and that an ever-increasing number
of set-top and mobile CD and DVD devices now play these formats.
In an attempt to standardize how compressed audio files reside
on CD-R and CD-RW discs, OSTA now plans to incorporate into MultiPlay
a new logical file format called Compressed Digital Audio (CDA).
An excellent idea! CDA will finally provide users with a viable
and consistent method for navigating among audio files, determining
play order, and even reducing hardware initialization time so
that discs are ready to go quickly after being inserted into players.
The MultiPlay specification is not yet perfect, however. There
are a number of omissions that OSTA should address. The most obvious
deficiency is in dealing with digital pictures in a realistic
fashion. Although MultiPlay supports still-picture display in
devices that work with the VideoCD format, it seems odd that consumers
are required to reformat digital pictures which they have already
created themselves or have received from photofinishers as industry-standard
JPEG files. As MultiPlay defines the CDA logical format for compressed
audio files, so also should it delineate a "Compressed Digital
Picture (CDP)" format for dealing with compressed images.
Another important oversight in MultiPlay is its lack of support
for playing DVD-Video content (MPEG-2) written onto CD-R discs.
Although capacity may be nothing to write home about, CD-R is
still sufficient for many kiosk, sales presentation, and educational
tools and for the ever-expanding hobbyist and enthusiast markets.
CD-R provides an economically attractive way for just about anyone
to create short-length video discs. And support for video on CD-R
discs need not stop there. MultiPlay, by establishing a "Compressed
Digital Video (CDV)" format, could lead the way in anticipating
market opportunities for new streaming video technologies (MPEG-4,
DivX, etc.) which are already capable of fitting a full-length
movie onto a single CD-R (the video equivalent of MP3 audio on
Although there should be little doubt that promoting consumer
DVD device compatibility with CD-R discs (and to an extremely
lesser extent CD-RW) is important to consumers today there is
also no reason to limit the scope of MultiPlay to just these disc
formats in the future. For example, now that DVD-R is pushing
into a broader market (thanks to new sub-$1000 recorders and $10
blank discs) its likely that consumers will want to store more
than two days of compressed music on a single DVD-R disc for playing
on a car or set-top DVD device. The same should apply to rewritable
DVD products. Looking forward then, it's important that any logical
file formats defined in MultiPlay, be they compressed audio, picture
or video, be made media-independent so as to not limit potential
OSTA should be congratulated for this first step and for striving
to improve set-top and mobile DVD device compatibility with CD-R
and CD-RW discs. Hopefully it won't be long before consumers start
benefiting from this initial effort to tame the unruly aspects
of the DVD frontier.