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Thursday, January 10, 2002
Microsoft brings DVD into the picture


DVD recording got a big endorsement Wednesday from Microsoft, which is licensing technology from Sonic Solutions, presumably for use in Windows XP...

The two companies signed a multiyear deal focused on Sonic's AuthorScript technology, used to create DVD movies. The move comes as computer manufacturers increasingly view the ability of PCs to record home movies to DVDs as a big selling point. Consumers can then run the discs in standard DVD players.

An A-list of computer makers sell systems with DVD recording drives: Apple Computer, Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and Sony. Apple and Compaq were the early leaders, both having shipped DVD-recording PCs early last year.

This week alone, at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Apple, Gateway and HP introduced new DVD recording systems.

The high end of Apple's new iMac line, already notable for its design and flat-panel display, packs a PowerPC G4 processor, 256MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and a Pioneer DVD-R drive for $1,799. HP has served up a Pavilion 780n with a 1.8GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of memory, a 120GB hard drive and a DVD+RW drive for $1,599.

Most PC makers already bundle some version of Sonic's DVD-authoring software with their DVD-recording PCs. Apple offers its home-grown iDVD 2 software. But Microsoft's licensing of Sonic's technology could eventually mean DVD recording integrated right into the Windows XP operating system.

With Windows XP, which debuted last fall, Microsoft introduced CD recording from the file menu, using technology licensed from Roxio. But Apple's Mac OS X 10.1.2 has better DVD recording integration: Consumers can record data to DVDs from the file menu, or Finder.

"It's a way for Microsoft to acquire the capability and to move once again into one of Apple's markets," said IDC analyst Roger Kay. Still, he said, "more integration is always better, so in some ways it's a standardization of software that has been adopted de facto by PC makers."

Dell spokesman Tom Kehoe said that adding DVD recording capabilities to Windows XP would be a good thing.

"If it makes it easier for users, we're all in favor of that," Kehoe said.

Microsoft was not immediately available to comment on whether or when it would integrate DVD recording into the operating system.

Dell, which started offering PCs with DVD recording drives last month, sees a huge market ahead for the technology. "If it follows the popularity of rewritable CDs, it will be very popular," Kehoe said.

Gartner Dataquest estimates that manufacturers shipped nearly 600,000 DVD recording drives last year. Projections for this year are 1.5 million, reaching 14.2 million in 2005.

Two main DVD recording technologies are vying for dominance on PCs: Pioneer's DVD-R, and DVD+RW from HP. Although the formats are incompatible with each other, compatibility with consumer DVD players is the more important issue, say analysts.

Pioneer estimates that DVD-R discs are compatible with 90 percent to 95 percent of consumer players on the market. HP puts DVD+RW disc compatibility at between 65 percent and 70 percent.

Currently, Apple, Compaq, Gateway and Sony ship computers with DVD-R or DVD-R/RW drives. Dell and HP offer DVD+RW, and Sony is expected to add the DVD recording format to its PC lineup soon.

Microsoft's licensing agreement with Sonic follows another deal with four consumer electronics companies, which agreed to integrate Windows Media into their DVD players.

Panasonic's DVD-RV32 recorder and player, which is expected to ship next month, will play back DVD-R and CD-R discs with Windows Media and MP3 formats burned into them.


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