Rewritable DVDs in Works

Panasonic, Philips show technologies at CeBIT, but lack of uniform standard could slow adoption

The popularity of rewritable CDs has grown rapidly over the last two years, with more than 60 percent of all PCs sold at retail now featuring CD-RW drives. But hot on their heels is new DVD technology that promises more than 13 times greater storage capacity.

At the CeBIT technology show here last week, Panasonic and Philips Electronics promoted existing and upcoming rewritable DVD technologies. While the products have yet to gain much traction in the market, Panasonic, Philips and other manufacturers are confident that DVD rewritable drives will surge past CD-RW drives as the digital recorders of choice within three years.

However, one major obstacle will likely prevent rapid adoption of DVD systems: the lack of a uniform standard. Currently, there are several DVD rewritable formats, including DVD-R, which lets users write only one time to a disk, and DVD-RW, which is not fully compatible with existing DVD players.

Panasonic, a division of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., of Osaka, Japan, and Philips, a division of Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V., of Amsterdam, Netherlands, are promoting two other formats that appear to be gaining momentum within the computer industry: DVD-RAM, the first rewritable DVD format on the market, and DVD+RW, which will finally make its market debut next month after numerous delays. Major industry players are divided in their support of the noncompatible DVD formats.

Philips-backed DVD+RW has the support of Hewlett-Packard Co., Sony Corp. and Yamaha Corp., among others. Meanwhile, Panasonics DVD-RAM is backed by Apple Computer Inc., Hitachi Ltd. and Toshiba Inc., as well as other companies.

The lack of a uniform standard and the high cost of rewritable DVD devices will slow their adoption, said Ben Thompson, an analyst with Gartner Group Inc., in San Jose, Calif.

"I think it will be very gradual and not nearly as fast as regular DVD video players have accelerated in sales over the last two years," Thompson said.

Philips first DVD+RW drive for use with computers will cost $1,000 when it arrives on the market next month. Panasonic already has DVD-RAM drives on the market that start at about $500. Both Panasonic and Philips will introduce stand-alone consumer players late this year that will cost about $2,500.

A major difference between the DVD recording formats is that DVD+RW is fully compatible with existing DVD players; DVD-RAM is not.

Panasonic officials said the DVD-RAM solution, which uses disks encased in a floppylike cartridge, is ideally suited for the corporate environment because it allows users to rewrite to a disk at least 100,000 times, while DVD+RW disks can be written to about 1,000 times. The cartridge surrounding the DVD disk, Panasonic claims, also protects data by preventing damage to the disks.

By contrast, Philips argues the cartridge is cumbersome and unnecessary, noting that current video DVDs dont use such packaging.