Apple, DVD and Bare-Naked Storage

Not all readers agreed with Supersite Editor David Morgenstern's recent assertion that Apple's DVD-R favoritism is well-placed. And speaking of DVDs, why c

With storage, as with many other computer products, theres sometimes a gap between our perceived need for a particular feature and our actual need for it. At the same time, a beneficial feature—one that may prove critical to the long-term reliability of your data—may be completely unavailable. In the realm of DVD, thats been the outcome of past rounds in a running battle over formats.

In my previous column, I pointed to a recent call for Apple to support the DVD+R/RW format in its current models. From my vantage point, there seemed to be no urgency for the company to make such a move.

Some readers disagreed. Go figure.

"Your article doesnt seem to consider whether users want support for both standards, or whether there are any technical reasons why a person might want DVD+RW," wrote Graeme Bennett, the editor of the Video Buyers Guide. "I, for one, would like to have both. Have you seen the chart provided by the DVD+RW Alliance detailing the key differences between the competing -R/RW and +R/RW standards?"

Certainly, I would never suggest that its wrong to want more functionality. After all, I bet most readers are early adopters of technology and would be interested to try out the products. But is there a compelling need for Apple, or any system vendor to provide support for both formats at this time? Perhaps, instead, its an opportunity for an after-market storage vendor.

Still, there can be a considerable gap between a checklist of features and your actual use of a drive.

The DVD+R/RW standard supports two different recording modes: Constant Angular Velocity (CAV), which boosts data-access speed; and Constant Linear Velocity (CLV), better suited for streaming applications. CLV spins the media more slowly when reading the outside tracks where theres more surface area to cover, while CAV keeps a constant rotation speed and uses a memory buffer to mitigate any difference with read speeds. As far as Im aware, the CAV mode isnt supported in any shipping product.

One feature missing from all the lists is a requirement for a DVD cartridge instead of the current bare media. Back in the mid-1990s, a number of manufacturers lobbied for a protective covering for discs, similar to that of 3.5-inch floppies.

At Comdex meetings, I witnessed representatives from Hitachi, Matsushita Electric and Toshiba pitch this reliability feature. And it made a lot of sense, especially for double-sided discs. As data capacity climbed, more of your valuable data could be at risk for damage from casual handling, scratches, dust and other environmental factors.

The engineers argued that since the DVD format was new, it presented the market an opportunity to fix a design flaw from the CD specification. Drives would be designed to accommodate both types of media, bare CDs and DVD cartridges. Later on, these companies implemented this design in the DVD-RAM format.

However, representatives of the Philips and Sony alliance (before they broke away with the DVD+R/RW format) argued against the protective covering. The cartridge could limit the use of DVD technology in laptops or small players, and it would require a retooling of the carriage assembly. Besides, they said, users were familiar with bare discs; why rock the boat?

Now on the horizon are formats that will make burning data discs easier than ever, as well as next-generation blue-laser optical drives that offer capacities between 20GB and 27GB.

All that data and no protection for the media. Sigh.

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.