MIA: Top-speed DVD media

SAN FRANCISCO (09/22/2003) - Whether you just got a new PC with a DVD burner or you bought a drive to add to your system, chances are you've run into the same roadblock that buyers everywhere have: Either there's no DVD media in stores, or if it is available, it doesn't match the speed rating on your new drive.

This isn't new--faster CD drives typically lacked matching media for a couple of months--but the situation has worsened with DVD, admits Brad Yeager, senior product marketing manager for optical media at Memorex Corp.

For example, Memorex first shipped 4X DVD-R media in August--more than nine months after 4X DVD-R drives came out. Other companies have also introduced 4X media, but a national shortage of 4X DVD media of all types still lingers months after the drives for them shipped.

Bottleneck?

Media lags for two main reasons, say industry experts. One is that drives with faster write speeds can come out even before the corresponding media specification is ratified. Drive makers have little incentive to hold back their drives since they can get a premium for faster models, says Wolfgang Schlichting, IDC research director. And even after the spec is ratified, media makers must submit their discs for approval--a process lasting up to two months to ensure quality high enough for wide compatibility with existing DVD drives.

The second reason for delay is the time needed to ramp up qualified media production. That can take another two months, says Rich D'Ambrise, director of technology at media maker Maxell.

To support faster write speeds, "you have to either make the media dye composition more sensitive or you have to increase the laser power [on the drive]," explains IDC's Schlichting.

In the past, media vendors have been the ones to act, making the dye more sensitive. Now, Plextor Corp. has tackled the media scarcity problem from the hardware side with its new US$299 PX-708A dual-format drive, the first to offer 8X DVD+R. The modified drive allows burns at 8X even with 4X DVD+R media, says Howard Wing, head of Plextor's marketing. (The model we received was not fully functional and could not be tested.)

Faster media will be available, too--eventually.

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