Fastest DVD media in short supply

Fastest DVD media in short supply

Whether you’ve just sold a new PC with a DVD burner, or a drive to add to a system, chances are you’ve run into the same roadblock which is frustrating buyers everywhere: There’s no DVD media to sell with it, and if there is, it doesn’t match the speed rating on the new drive.

This circumstance isn’t new — CD media typically lag behind drives by a couple of months — but the situation has worsened with DVD, according to senior product marketing manager for optical media at Memorex, Brad Yeager.

Memorex first shipped 4X DVD-R media in August, more than eight months after 4X DVD-R drives shipped. The company was not alone. Across the US, users still experience a dearth of 4X DVD-R and DVD+R media in stores. 4X DVD+RW media was only available in limited quantities four months after the drives were released.

Where’s the Bottleneck?

Media lags for two main reasons, according to industry experts. One is that drives support faster write speeds even before the corresponding media specification is ratified.

Drive makers have little incentive to hold back their product, since they can charge a premium for faster models, IDC research director, Wolfgang Schlichting, said.

And once the spec is ratified, media makers must submit products for approval (for DVD-R/RW, it must be submitted to the DVD Forum; for DVD+R/RW, it’s the DVD+RW Alliance). That process often requires multiple submissions, and lasts up to two months to ensure quality high enough for wide compatibility.

The issue of compatibility is a big one. Media must support not only the latest burning technology, but the slower speed drives that came before, too. And unlike drive manufacturers, media makers can’t just issue a firmware update to improve the media’s compatibility after the fact.

The second reason for delays is the time needed to ramp up qualified media production.

According to Rich D’Ambrise, director of technology at media maker, Maxell, it could take another two months before a vendor can pump out media in volume.

Vendors Scramble

“When you introduce a new media, it takes time to transition the technology,” Verbatim marketing manager, Tim Clatterbuck, said. “It’s not a matter of just changing the line, switching the dye, and making everything as it was before. It’s a complicated manufacturing process.”

Often, it starts out with manufacturers such as Verbatim, and then trickles down to higher volume producers such as Japan’s Taiyo Yuden or Taiwan’s Ritek and CMC Magnetics.

In order to support faster write speeds, “you have to either make the media dye composition more sensitive or you have to increase the laser power (on the drive),” Schlichting said.

Usually, media vendors make the dye more sensitive. Plextor’s new $US299 PX-708A dual-format drive — the first to offer 8X DVD+R — addresses the media lag with hardware changes in the drive to allow burns at 8X even with 4X DVD+R media, head of Plextor’s marketing, Howard Wing, said.

Although many vendors agree lack of media is a problem, nobody considers it an impediment to the market’s growth.

IDC expects 17 million drives will be sold this year, compared to 5 million last year.

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