Skip to content

CD-Erasable: It’s a Wipe Out

Don’t mess with success. That’s a lesson Coca Cola had to learn the hard way. Maybe it’s just me, but I think CD-Recordable (CD-R) is a proven success that should not risk being undermined by CD-Erasable, which is, in my opinion, of questionable advantage and may confuse the established market.

CD-Erasable: It’s a Wipe Out

Hugh Bennett
EMedia Professional, February 1997

Don’t mess with success. That’s a lesson Coca Cola had to learn the hard way. Maybe it’s just me, but I think CD-Recordable (CD-R) is a proven success that should not risk being undermined by CD-Erasable, which is, in my opinion, of questionable advantage and may confuse the established market.

CD-R has been with us for at least five years and has matured into a solid and viable product. With its roots in commercial prototyping, premastering, and archiving, CD-R has moved into the realm of personal audio, backup, data interchange, and microform. It has become an archival and paper replacement in small and large businesses alike. With the introduction of packet writing, ease of use has improved immensely. Now available IDE interfaces ease installation. Plentiful and inexpensive media can now be had from 20 different manufacturers. Strong adherence to standards currently guarantees disc interchange with at least 120 million CD-ROM drives and 600 million audio and other devices. Pathways to DVD are also available and computer manufacturers have begun marketing CD recorders built into their computer systems.

Contrast this with CD-E technology, which has been promised for the past three years but has yet to enter the market. In order to be rewritable, CD-E requires a modified CD recorder with additional capabilities as well as a new type of phase change disc. This comes at the cost of not being able to be read this new disc in any existing CD-ROM or CD-R drive or other device adhering to long-established Red, Yellow, and Orange Book compact disc standards. And compatibility is only a promise on the part of some of the promoting companies by way of proposed new “MultiRead” CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives.

When pressed about the demand for CD-E, the pat answer given by its promoters is that it is needed to move writable CD technology into the mainstream market since the buying public has a psychological need for something reusable. Lack of rewritability, they say, is the biggest limiting factor working against the ongoing success of CD-R. People just won’t buy something that isn’t rewritable, regardless of price considerations.

Sure, we’d all love a reusable CD–something as cheap, quick, easy to use, and universally readable as a floppy diskette. But CD-E isn’t anything like any floppy or CD we’ve ever seen. Depending upon how a CD-E disc is written, users must first go through a half-hour high-level initialization process to prepare it to accept data, or face up to five hours of defragmenting after having used the disc for some time.

Other things to keep in mind are that due to technology limitations, CD-E is currently locked into writing at 2X, and CD-ROM drive manufacturers are reporting difficulties reading CD-E discs reliably at speeds above 4X. In addition, CD-E media will be considerably more costly than CD-R discs. To date, only two companies have agreed to manufacture CD-E media and even these have only allocated marginal manufacturing capacity to do so, suggesting, in my opinion, that CD-E will never be a high volume product. And so a sustained price tag of about $25 per disc could be expected–even higher if pre-loaded in caddies. On the other hand, CD-R disc prices will drop to below $5 this year.

And then there is the question of standards. CD-E may look like part of the CD family, but CD-E media can’t be read by the established technology and sends a strong message that manufacturers will discard standards when it suits them. Odd, considering that standards are largely responsible for the success already achieved by the compact disc industry.

Adhering to established standards for CD and CD-R discs guarantees compatibility and ensures that hundreds of millions of current devices read the discs. Standards also guarantee a clear and understandable migration path, so what is purchased today can be used tomorrow. Adherence to standards builds confidence; discarding standards breeds buyer cynicism.

Perhaps the most disturbing claim for CD-E, as put by the CD-E proponents, is that it is “the best bridge to DVD” and “the most logical media for DVD-ROM compatibility.” But promoting the backward-incompatible CD-E as a bridge to DVD makes no sense to me.

In its favor, CD-E media, unlike CD-R discs, are relatively wavelength independent. Consequently, CD-E discs will not be greatly affected by the shift from current 780nm infrared lasers for reading and writing to the 650nm/635nm red wavelengths required by DVD. However, this provides no guarantee of compatibility with DVD devices. Due to the reduced reflectivity of the media and file system differences, manufacturers must still build in CD-E support (i.e., MultiRead) to their DVD devices to ensure they can read the CD-E format.

MultiRead is not a standard but an agreement in principle, among companies involved in CD-E, that devices bearing the MultiRead badge will read CD-E discs. As proposed, MultiRead CD-ROM drives will read CD-ROM, CD-R, and CD-E discs and MultiRead DVD-ROM drives will read CD-ROM, CD-E, and DVD discs. It should be understood, however, that the DVD version of MultiRead does not specify reading CD-R. In concrete terms this means that current satisfied CD-R users will be compelled to write CD-E instead of CD-R discs to obtain compatibility with MultiRead DVD-ROM drives (which so far are only promised by a few manufacturers).

Perhaps I’m missing something, but why would anyone buy into the prospect of being forced to use CD-E discs for current and future work — when CD-E’s use may be inappropriate or inadequate for their type of application — or convert their CD-R library to a more expensive, less durable, less secure, and unproven CD-E alternative to achieve compatibility with DVD-ROM — especially when compatibility isn’t guaranteed? DVD-ROM drive manufacturers should quit trying to avoid this issue and keep their promise that the drives will be completely backward compatible as can be accomplished by using a twin laser optical pickup (which ensures compatibility with CD-R) such as that already announced by Sony. This is a hardware issue and not a media issue, and any other solution simply won’t wash.

CD-E proponents say that rewritability is key to market growth, but I don’t buy the notion that lack of reusability is limiting the growth of CD-R. What’s really been holding back CD-R, in my opinion, isn’t reusability, but a combination of a hardware price that remains too high, media shortages that are periodic, ease of use that continues to be a problem, IDE interfaces that are too rare, DVD that is shrouded in uncertainty, and CD-ROM drive companies that engage in a foolish race for greater speed to provide product differentiation. But now, CD-R packet writing has solved the ease of use dilemma and there are a number of manufacturers introducing recorders with IDE interfaces. Hardware prices are plunging and tons of cheap media will soon be available. Viable DVD-R and DVD-RAM are still years away and should not now be deciding the issue. And at a time when CD recorder pricing is finally approaching popular acceptance, adding another feature like CD-E will only drive prices back up.

I say the market should be going the other way. Like CD-ROM drives before them, massive CD recorder growth will not come from aftermarket devices but from manufacturers integrating recorders en masse into their PCs. To do that, CD recorder pricing to PC companies should drop to the $100 range, comparable to a 12X CD-ROM drive. This can be accomplished by resolve on the part of CD recorder manufacturers, who, I say, will not profit from confusing the market with yet another rogue format.

From my perspective, rather than the runaway success its promoters trumpet, CD-E looks like a real loser.

I find it interesting that what has from the start been known as CD-Erasable has recently experienced a name change to CD-ReWritable (CD-RW). Maybe there is fear that future generations might look back and remember CD-E as CD-Edsel.

Hugh Bennett, editor-in-chief of Hugh’s News, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems, a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on Hugh’s News, as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

Copyright © Online Inc. / Hugh Bennett