The DVD Cometh

The DVD Cometh

Recent market research surveys suggest that DVD recording technology is ready to take off among consumers. Businesses are also eyeing the technology as a possible solution to growing storage problems.

Home media content is the primary driver of recordable DVD adoption, says Wolfgang Schlichting, research manager for removable storage at IDC.

Consumers right now are primarily interested in DVD technology as a replacement for their VCRs, preferring standalone DVD recorders to new PCs with DVD recording technology, or to external or internal PC-attached storage drives, Schlichting says.

"For the most part, people don't realise what they can do on their PC [to record DVDs]," he says. "But everybody has used a VCR, and many people have used a DVD player."

Between 30 and 40 per cent of US households have DVD players, according to Michelle Abraham, senior analyst at Instat/MDR. Meanwhile, research company Investec predicts DVD player sales to grow 61 per cent from 31 million units sold last year in the US to 50 million units sold by the end of this year.

Higher education

Hardware and software vendors, however, need to educate consumers about the benefits of using PCs for recording DVDs over standalone recorders, Schlichting says. They provide much more flexibility in terms of recording options, and are much cheaper if the user already owns a PC that can handle the demands of DVD drives, he says.

Standalone DVD recorders cost about $US1,000 now, while PC-attached drives sell for between $300 and $500, he says.

It's easy to install PC-attached drives that link up via USB (universal serial bus) or IEEE 1394 (FireWire) interconnects, or directly into a PC's motherboard, Abraham says. Most of these drives also come with prepackaged software.

Users should check the compatibility of their existing PCs with new DVD recordable drives before purchasing a PC-attached drive, Abraham says. If an older PC can't provide the fast processing speeds and large memory capacity needed for DVD recording, a user will require a whole new PC for DVD recording technologies.

"Most older computers don't have the horsepower to process the video images from a DVD," says Stephen Baker, director of research at NPD Techworld, a market research company. "We're not talking about moving little bits of data here, this is one app that requires some serious megahertz."

Prices vary for new computers with DVD recording technology. Hewlett-Packard announced two new PCs at TECHXNY in New York in June featuring DVD recordable drives and editing software at prices of $US1,499 and $1,799 for an entire system. The company also added DVD recording drives to Compaq Presario machines in June. Sony unveiled four new Vaio desktop PCs in June designed for DVD recording technology at prices ranging from $US1,500 to $2,500.

Recordable DVD technology is one of the few developing technologies in the PC that has the potential to capture the average consumer's interest, analysts say.

"There hasn't been a whole lot in the evolution of the PC lately other than 3D gaming chips," Abraham says.

CD rewritable technology has grown into a must-have feature for midrange PCs, but DVD recording technology has some way to go before it reaches that stage, Abraham says.

As interest in DVD grows, so too will interest in PCs to run DVD recording and editing software, with fast processors and graphics chips, as well as slick monitors and advanced hard drives.

"DVD recordable technology in the home desktop PC is a very attractive feature," Schlichting says. High-end PCs sold today contain more processing power and memory than the average PC user needs for surfing the Internet or creating documents. But DVD recordable technology takes advantage of the extra power in components such as 2GHz-plus Pentium 4 processors from Intel, he says.

In addition, for users who want to edit videos and add effects, PCs are a must. "PCs tend to be more flexible in terms of what you can do - different software products allow more options than standalone DVD recorders," Baker says.

Standard deviations

Part of the problem with the current DVD situation is the race among competing standards. There are competing standards for DVD recording technology. DVD-R for General, DVD-R for Authoring and DVD+R are only able to record data once. DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM allow users to record over and over again, much like VCRs or cassette tapes. However, unlike their tape-driven predecessors, the sound and picture quality of DVDs does not decrease with each additional rewriting.

"There will be winners and losers [in the standards war] but it won't be like VHS and Beta," Schlichting says. The competing VCR technologies eventually collapsed into just VHS, leaving users who had invested in Beta technology high and dry, and unable to find blank videotapes or Beta versions of their favourite movies. This won't happen with DVD technologies, because there is interoperability between the recordable standards, he says.

The storage factor

But not everyone uses DVDs for video; they are ideal for storage as well. DVDs can store up to 16GB of data, depending on the format of the disc and how many sides are used. Single-layer, single-side DVDs are the cheapest and most common, and can hold up to 4.7GB of data. By comparison, CDs offer a paltry 650MB of storage, or about 10 minutes of video.

But both consumers and businesses haven't realised the potential of DVD as a storage technology quite yet, Schlichting says. Enterprises are still using CD-R technology for data storage, but adoption of DVD technology should increase over time, especially as the cost of media comes down, he says.

Paradoxically, this could make the standards war over rewritable drives a moot point, according to Baker. Once the blank discs are cheap enough, "people will just record once and keep using new discs to record data", he says.

Single-write recordable technology is more efficient, and as DVD hardware and software become more sophisticated, less and less rewritable media will be used, Schlichting says. But DVD rewritable technology still holds promise for users who want to add or remove small pieces of data from a DVD disc, he says.

Two standards will probably evolve over time, one for single-write recordable technology and one for rewritable technology. The write-once drives will be used for video, while the rewritable ones will create storage media.

Recordable DVD technology is coming into its own but it has a few hurdles to clear before it reaches mainstream adoption, Abraham says. "I think it's a bigger step forward than some of what we've seen over the past years, such as faster processors or graphics. This will convince some people to buy [immediately], but not a lot," she says.

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