Sony, Philips poop the party on rewritable DVD format

A consortium made up of most of the industry leaders in consumer electronics agreed last month to a compromise standard format for read-writable digital video disc (DVD) drives - by a vote of 8 to 2. This means that DVD-RAM drives, the industry name for the rewritable format, may be on the shelves before the end of the year.

A consortium made up of most of the industry leaders in consumer electronics agreed last month to a compromise standard format for read-writable digital video disc (DVD) drives - by a vote of 8 to 2.

This means that DVD-RAM drives, the industry name for the rewritable format, may be on the shelves before the end of the year.

Toshiba America will have DVD-RAM drives by the end of 1997, according to John Hoy, director of DVD marketing for Toshiba, in San Jose, California. The OEM cost for the drive could be as little as US$350.

The drives will be backward-compatible with DVD-ROM and CD-ROM media, will hold 5.16G bytes of data in a dual-sided format, and will include the copy protection required by the motion picture industry, Hoy said.

When DVD-RAM comes to market, media will cost about $10 per disc once it's in volume production, Hoy says, and it will find many uses in a corporate environment.

"DVD-ROM plus overwrite capability [DVD-RAM] is a good combination for desktop backup and for downloading massive files from the Internet," Hoy says. "For the workstation marketplace, [single-sided] 2.6G-byte of online rewritable is attractive at those price points and it's a decent reference library all in a single device."

However, a number of issues remain unresolved. It is not certain whether Sony and Philips will accede to the compromise format or go their own way, which could mean two competing formats. Both companies abstained from the final vote.

Carl Yankowski, president and chief operating officer of Sony Electronics, in Park Ridge, New Jersey, iss unwilling to say whether Sony will accept the compromise.

"It's unclear," Yankowski says. "It is one of the issues that have to be worked out."

"It's a Beta vs. VHS thing again," says Mary Bourdon, senior industry analyst at Dataquest, in San Jose.

However, other analysts see a more Machiavellian reason for Sony to keep the DVD debate going.

Sony and Philips are the patent holders for CD technology and receive royalties from other consumer electronics companies for its use.

Another unresolved issue is audio copy protection.

"It's clear to me the audio issues are real ones, and the issue hasn't been engaged at this stage," says Allen Bell, the chairman of the DVD-RAM technical working committee, in Almaden, California. "We are at the beginning of that phase rather than the middle of it. It's a complex one, protecting pure audio."

"The signal-to-noise ratio in high-quality audio is greater than that in high-quality video, so there is less noise to put the control data in," Bell explained. "The control data needs to be obscured in the noise."

Other members of the consortium include Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric, Pioneer Electronics, Matsushita Electric, Philips Electronics NV, and Time Warner.

Toshiba America is at http://www.toshiba.com. Sony Electronics Inc., is at http://www.sony.com.

DVD-RAM Features

- Holds 2.6Gb on a single-sided disc

- Holds 5.2Gb on a dual-sided disc

- Next generation will hold 4.7Gb on a dual-density disc

- Reads CD-ROM and DVD-ROM discs

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