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Appeared on: Wednesday, January 26, 2005
New CD/DVD Technology Is A Slow Burn

There's a new way to print visible information on recordable CDs or DVDs, and it might be just the thing for you if your business stores music, videos, or data on disc.

Actually, the technology was "new" when it was first announced by Hewlett-Packard in January 2004 at that year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). At the time, HP said special "LightScribe" CD-R and DVD-R drives would ship by summer 2004. The extra coating layer required for the process was said to add only 10 cents per disc to the consumer's cost. All this was duly reported by the computer press as fact.

In reality, the cutting-edge LightScribe drives and disks are just now appearing on the market, and at substantially higher prices than claimed. They still may be well worth it for you. But the full story is an interesting and cautionary tale about the challenges of pushing a new standard out into a jaded world.

Writing On Discs Without Labels Or Ink
What is it that LightScribe drives and discs do? They allow you to "print" professional-looking fonts and images on the surface of recordable CDs and DVDs  without ink (which can run) or sticky labels (which can loosen inside a high-speed drive).

This all sounds great. But a better mousetrap doesn't sell itself. As many innovative companies have learned the hard way over the years, it's not the best technology that wins -- it's the best marketed technology that wins.

A similar disk-writing gimmick fell into obscurity after it was introduced two years ago for exactly that reason.

Yamaha developed a CD burner that used a technique called DiscT@2 (Disc Tattoo). Unfortunately, it burned images onto the data side of a disc, not the label side, which was confusing. Even worse, the printed images used up some of the storage capacity of the disc. All that could have been rationalized away -- but the disc-writing software that shipped with the device was so clunky that no one ever took the technology seriously.

Selling A Better Way To Label
As the new kid on the block, LightScribe doesn't have the failings of DiscT@2. But it's up against fairly low-tech competitors that have some serious advantages: they are cheap, simple, and the images they produce can be quite attractive:

Will LightScribe's Advantages Be Enough?
LightScribe may, in fact, come to dominate CD and DVD labeling (for small-quantity uses, not mass-market discs) because of several inherent advantages:

Getting Your Hands On LightScribe
Henscheid admits that LightScribes drives and media have taken longer to come to market than HP expected. But the products are real, and deliveries should be widely available by February or March for those items that aren't on shelves today:

If LightScribe disks could be inscribed in full color, or something approaching it, they'd be so clearly superior that they'd push ordinary recordable CDs and DVDs out of the consumer market within a year or two. At the 2005 CES, mysteriously enough, a source tantalizingly told me that color LightScribe discs would be available within six months.

Unfortunately, HP's Henscheid said LightScribe discs with a colored background (a pink disc with black printing on it, for example) might appear later this year. But not colored printing.

"Is it an insurmountable problem?" asked Henscheid rhetorically in a telephone interview. "No. Is it a challenging design task? Very much so." Among other things, the single laser beam in the typical LightScribe drive would have to accurately hit microscopic four-color granules that would somehow be placed on the coating layer in a precise grid.

Even without full color, I believe LightScribe offers advantages that can be exploited by many companies that create their own CDs and DVDs. LightScribe drives aren't for mass-media productions. (For one thing, writing the entire surface of a disc can take more than 15 minutes, although smaller images print faster). But your firm's customized productions or recordings, delivered on CDs or DVDs, might be perfect candidates.

From Brian Livingston (Earthweb)

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