25 February 2001
Revised: 26 February 2001
For those who are old enough to remember the Betamax/VHS home recording format battle, it still brings back bad memories. Sony's Betamax made it to market first in 1974. Sony asked Matsushita and JVC to license the Betamax technology from them, but was turned down (apparently unaware that JVC would soon be ready to introduce their own technology). So for awhile Sony had the VCR market to itself, selling 30,000 Betamax VCRs in the US alone. But that changed in 1976 when JVC came out with the VHS format VCR - and thus was born the "format wars". JVC had a machine that already doubled Sony's recording time of one hour, and that difference would prove crucial. By January 1977, JVC was joined by four more Japanese electronics manufacturers to build and market VHS format VCRs. It got even uglier from there with price cuts and legal manuverings galore. As we all know VHS won the battle, but a lot of people got burned in the process.
Because of that mess, people have been hesitant to adopt technologies that are in competition with other technologies. Fast forward to 2001 and we see the same type of format war all over again; this time over Recordable DVD's.
The Promise/The Reality
When the idea of recordable DVD's first surfaced, people were ecstatic. Here was a technology that would allow you to record Gigabytes (GB) of information on a disc the same size as a CD. It would replace tape as the preferred format for backups. It also could be used to replace the trusty VHS VCR as a way to tape your favorite TV show. It was going to be the start of a storage revolution - so what happened? Why don't recordable DVD's grace your new PC? It's the dreaded format wars all over again...and of course, price.
It's amazing to think that the 10 companies that united behind the DVD Video, could be so fragmented when it came to this aspect. Why? Well it simply comes down to money. For the backers of the winning format, patent royalties could last for many years.
While there is only one format for recordable CD's (CD-R) and one for re-recordable CD's (CD-RW), the same cannot be said for DVD's. Fortunately, recordable DVD is an easier race to call than re-recordable DVD.
DVD-R gained considerable ground when it was announced last month that both Apple and Compaq would be offering Pioneer's DVD-R drives in upcoming computers. DVD-R should also see greater adoption because the discs will work in most DVD players. The fundamental technology employed is similar to that used by CD-R, except that data is written at a higher rate and density. Since the DVD format supports double-sided media, up to 9.4 Gbytes can be stored on a single double-sided DVD-R disc. The Pioneer drives are expected to be available in April. [Apple has just announced the availability of the Super Drives in their new G4 computers].
In the rewritable arena, the battlefield is bloody. The combatants are DVD-RAM, DVD RW and DVD-RW.