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Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Multi-format DVD writers launch in the UK


Sony and NEC are promising to end the DVD format wars with new recordable drives, potentially ushering in a new era for video recording and storage. The first multi-format DVD recorders are set to arrive on retailers' shelves, potentially bridging a gap that has kept DVD recording from becoming a reality for most computer users.

Sony has released an internal multi-format drive in the US and will be releasing both internal and external drives globally at the beginning of November. NEC, Sony's closest rival in this market, has announced its own drive, which will arrive globally in December, and will offer faster writing and reading speeds than Sony's.

On Wednesday Sony announced that its DRU500A internal and DRX500UL external drives will be hitting the UK at the beginning of November, priced respectively at £249 and £379 inc. VAT. The DRU500A has been on sale in the US since earlier this month, but the external model has not yet gone on sale there.

The drives offer 4x DVD-R writing speed, 2.4x DVD+R/+RW and 2x DVD-RW. The drives can read DVDs at 8x.

"Sony's multi-format drives mark an exceptional turning-point in the DVD industry and bring the DVD format debates to a close," said Sharon Garner, Sony's product manager for drives, in a statement.

NEC, for its part, said on Wednesday that it has delayed its planned MultiSpin ND-1100A drive from November to December as it continues tests to ensure compatibility with all DVD-R/-RW discs on the market. Tests of DVD+R/+RW discs have been completed, but there are more DVD-R/-RW media available, and these tests are taking longer, a spokesman said.

The internal multi-format MultiSpin will cost about £249 inc. VAT and will be the first to take advantage of the 4x DVD+R specification, released in early August by the DVD+RW Alliance. It will read DVDs at 12x, faster than Sony's model, will write DVD-R at 4x, DVD-RW at 2x and DVD+RW at 2.4x.

The drives are the latest to attempt to bridge a yawning gap in the DVD authoring industry by supporting both DVD+R/+RW and DVD-R/-RW. The existence of the two incompatible formats has caused consumer confusion, since users cannot be sure that others will be able to play the discs they have authored; they may also be reluctant to spend hundreds of pounds on a drive that could become obsolete if one standard or the other wins out.

DVD-R/-RW is supported by the DVD Forum, which created the original DVD specification and includes members such as Hitachi, Intel, IBM, Microsoft, JVC and Sony. DVD+R/+RW, on the other hand, counts many PC, storage and electronics manufacturers as members, including Dell, HP, Sony and Philips. "R" discs are recordable, while "RW" discs are rewritable.

In general, DVD-R/-RW is compatible with more consumer DVD players, and uses less expensive media, while DVD+R/+RW is found in more PCs. However, those in the industry stress that the balance of power between the two formats could change at any time.

"I think it will ultimately be (DVD+R/+RW) that will win, unless (DVD-R/-RW) comes up with significant benefits, so having 4x DVD+R is important to us," said Andrew Wyllie, head of NEC's UK data storage division. "But at the beginning of this year, it looked like DVD-R/-RW would win."

Sony still has to pay royalties to the DVD Forum and the DVD+RW Alliance, but through the integration of several chips in the drives and bringing manufacturing in-house, the company has been able to lower costs. Sony previously bought DVD+RW drives from Ricoh because the volumes for the drives were not high enough to justify making their own.

NEC has also brought prices down by engineering its drive to use two chips instead of three. It is also using its own pickup head, which it says is half the weight and less vibration-prone than the commonly used pickup from Ricoh, allowing the drive to reach higher speeds more easily.

NEC will be selling the drive in the UK under its own brand, and says it is in talks with several major manufacturers for building the drive into their PCs.


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