While by no means the last word in CD-Recordable, Hewlett-Packard’s CD-Writer 4020i is none the less a significant step forward in the evolution of CD recorders from specialized tools to everyday peripherals.
Hewlett-Packard SureStore CD-Writer 4020i: CD-R for the Mainstream Buyer?
CD-ROM Professional, January 1996
The Holy Grail for the CD-R industry is a product so attractive, so inexpensive, and so easy to use that it will be universally adopted as a necessary peripheral for the desktop computer. And just as the legendary King Arthur and Sir Lancelot show, those who have the “right stuff” are not dissuaded in their quest and lead others along by their very entrance in the search. Hewlett-Packard may be just such a player, committing to this modern day Holy Grail challenge with its SureStore CD-Writer 4020i.
The CD-Writer 4020i, which incorporates Philips Electronics’ new tray-loading SCSI-2 CDD2000 mechanism, advertises single and double speed recording capabilities, quadruple speed CD-ROM drive performance, and a 1MB buffer. From early looks, this new entry should have sufficient capabilities to satisfy the needs of the growing market of small- and medium-sized business users wanting a better method for distributing and retaining their information requirements.
A NICE NEAT PACKAGE
As a half-height internal CD recorder, the $1049 CD-Writer 4020i installs easily into any standard PC compatible’s 5.25″ drive bay. Intended as a complete solution, the package also includes a dedicated SCSI-2 AdvanSCSI ISA Bus Master interface card from Advanced System Products, Inc. (AdvanSys), an internal SCSI cable, two blank 74-minute CD-R discs (OEM Eastman Kodak or MTC/ Mitsui Toatsu), and installation and user manuals. The installation program is friendly and well-suited to making the setup process as painless as possible for novice users.
However, given the natural complexity of IRQ, DMA, SCSI ID, and I/O conflicts inherent in all MS-DOS/Windows add-on PC products, users must still deal with normal inconveniences if the interface’s default settings are not workable. Since HP specifically recommends that their recorder only be used with the included AdvanSys card, and that the recorder be the only device connected to it, further headaches can arise if your system already has an existing SCSI host adapter.
Hewlett-Packard recommends that the CD-Writer 4020i be installed in a minimum system consisting of at least a 486/25MHz PC-compatible with 8MB RAM, MS-DOS 6.0, a hard drive that postpones thermal recalibration with less than a 20ms access time and a sustained data transfer rate of 800KB/sec or greater, 9MB of free hard drive space for its software, and access to a temporary directory located on an uncompressed hard drive partition. Be warned though, that to realistically make use of the system at full 2X recording speed, a fast host configuration is required.
Among CD-Recording packages, HP’s is unique in including a wide selection of application software. Normally systems come with single-purpose CD-Recording applications, but the 4020i features four useful programs spanning file transfer, personal audio recording, photograph viewing, and custom database creation functions: Incat Systems Software USA, Inc.’s Easy-CD for HP, Easy-CD Audio for HP, and Magic Lantern, as well as Information Management Research, Inc.’s (IMR) Alchemy Personal for HP.
Easy-CD for HP
In their efforts to make recording data files to CD-R as simple as possible, Hewlett-Packard includes a special Easy-CD application for Windows 3.x written specifically for them by Incat Systems. Instead of operating as a standalone program, Easy-CD for HP employs the unique approach of working as a pull-down menu option within the File Manager.
Users navigate through their disk drives as usual within the File Manager, selecting desired directories and files and adding them to a central recording list through the Easy-CD for HP menu. Once the list is completed, a volume name can be given to the CD, and one button starts the recording process. Additional files can also be added later through “Kodak-style” multisession support.
Through a Preferences dialog box, the software can be tuned to work within the performance parameters of the host system. A handy speed test examines the size and types of selected files and makes a recommendation based upon its results for the maximum safe recording speed, such as when slower system configurations or instances of numerous small files may demand that speed be reduced to 1X. And in the case of writing from very slow, heavily fragmented or network drives, Easy-CD for HP can also be instructed to first write all the files to a hard disk temporary physical image before recording, and since the physical image is an exact contiguous copy of the final CD-ROM sent to the recorder in a continuous stream, this helps greatly in marginal recording conditions. Considering that such an image requires as much free hard disk space as the total amount of data to be written to CD and takes a long time to generate, it can pay to have a fast system.
Easy-CD for HP is intended for applications like personal file distribution, quick backup, and storing presentations, not for premastering discs for mass replication, so users should not expect sophisticated features like control over valid ISO 9660 filename detection and translation, Disc-At-Once (DAO) support, and the like. Similarly, Easy-CD for HP does not offer a byte-for-byte verification between the original information and recorded disc, so this CD-Recordable software is not the best choice for sensitive archiving. Other weaknesses include no quick and easy way to duplicate a CD-ROM, relatively slow file processing before recording, and error messages that are inappropriately cryptic for the intended entry-level audience.
Similar to Eastman Kodak’s Photo CD Access Plus software, Magic Lantern is a straightforward and easy-to-use utility for reading, viewing, manipulating, and exporting images from Photo CDs. Magic Lantern works with pictures up to 16-base in size (2,048 x 3,072) in 4-, 8- and 24-bit depths. The software offers image rotation, flipping, and cropping functions and saves photos in different industry standard file formats, including BMP, EPS, PCX, RIFF, and TIFF. Additional capabilities include the ability to create slide shows from any or all images on a disc as well as to play multimedia Photo CD Portfolio discs, Kodak’s cross-platform format merging Photo CD images with text, graphics, and sound.
Easy-CD Audio for HP
Much to the chagrin of record companies and their lawyers, an undeniably probable and popular use of the 4020i will be recording audio compact discs. Included in the bundle is a new Easy-CD Audio for HP application written specifically for Hewlett-Packard by Incat Systems which takes PC sound files or tracks from music CDs and records them to disc in accordance with Red Book specifications. CDs can then be played in any home, car, or professional compact disc player. Purely a consumer-level audio application, Easy-CD Audio for HP does not offer control over features such as emphasis, copy prohibit, or index points, and offers no CD Plus or mixed-mode support.
Hewlett-Packard hopes that the possibility of recording audio compact discs will capture the public’s imagination and be a key reason for purchasing a 4020i. It is not difficult to think of the possibilities-such as creating compilation discs of your favorite music. However, with the addition of a good quality 16-bit sound card for capturing analog sound, the prospects become even more compelling: converting personal vinyl record collections to CD, archiving magnetic audiotape, recording music performances and recitals, garage bands making demo or low-run CDs, and more. Early product brochures even suggested “whipping-up audio compact discs featuring 74 minutes of your family singing Christmas carols and wishing the recipients a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” Mercifully, perhaps, that suggestion was omitted from final brochures.
The process to create an audio disc is straightforward, though a little clumsy. Easy-CD Audio for HP’s interface consists of two main elements, a CD Deck for listening to and selecting compact disc tracks and a central compilation window for assembling those tracks with any WAVE files a user might want to include on a disc for final recording.
The CD Deck has a feel familiar to anyone who uses a CD-ROM drive to play their favorite music discs, with controls such as play, pause, scan, and skip, and the prerequisite high-tech digital counter. Audio tracks are previewed from either playing discs in the recorder or, if available, from an existing CD-ROM drive through Microsoft’s Media Control Interface (MCI) driver supplied with Windows. Using an existing CD-ROM drive may be more convenient if it is already attached to a sound card and speakers, rather than having connected everything to the recorder.
Within the CD Deck, users can name discs and individual tracks and either copy them to hard disk as WAVE files or add them to the list of tracks to be recorded in the compilation window. Users are not confined to working with one CD. Tracks from any number of different CDs can be labeled and included. Once all tracks are specified for recording (up to the Red Book limit of 99), users return to the compilation window where track order can be reorganized, WAVE files can be dragged in from the file management window for inclusion on the disc, and the track list can be saved for future reference. It should be remembered that though Red Book allows 99 tracks per disc, many consumer audio players have been deliberately de-tuned and will only play a fraction of that number.
The actual process of recording a disc in Easy-CD Audio for HP is unique to the software. Most CD-Recordable software requires users to copy all the audio tracks for recording to hard drive ahead of time, which, of course, requires large amounts of free disk space, with one minute of 44.1KHz/16-bit CD-quality audio demanding approximately 10MB. The usual method leaves the hardware-challenged unable to write full music discs, but Easy-CD gets around this limitation by reading and writing tracks individually.
After selecting the record option, a dialog box opens listing the names of the CDs needed to make the recording, and the user is prompted to insert the source CD into the recorder. The first track is copied at double speed to a temporary hard disk file using the 4020i’s built-in Digital Audio Extraction capabilities. The user is then prompted to insert the destination CD-R disc, and the track is written in Track-At-Once mode (TAO). The process of swapping discs continues until the final track is recorded and the system writes the session lead-in and lead-out and closes it as CD-DA. Through a clever and reliable scheme, Easy-CD Audio for HP is even smart enough to tell if the user inserts the wrong source CD and prompts to insert the correct one.
If you do have enough hard disk space for all the audio files, you can avoid the slow process of tending the system and exchanging discs by copying the all desired tracks to disk in the CD Deck component and adding them to the compilation window for group recording.
Easy-CD Audio for HP is not without its faults and omissions. One of these is not supporting the Digital Audio Extraction capabilities of devices other than the 4020i. Though many of the newer CD-ROM mechanisms (from companies such as Sony, Matsushita, Chinon, Hitachi, NEC, Plextor, and Toshiba) are capable of copying audio tracks, users cannot perform direct disc-to-disc copying from a suitable drive to the recorder, a procedure that is now technically possible.
Other complaints include a not particularly intuitive or streamlined interface and an overall rough feel brought on by awkwardly worded or cryptic error messages and bizarre design choices such as identifying the free space on a disc in megabytes instead of minutes. It would also be nice if the system copied audio at quadruple speed instead of the current double speed, but it’s hard to complain too much since almost nobody else’s hardware provides reliable 4X extraction today.
Rounding out the HP package is a special version of Information Management Research Inc.’s (IMR) Alchemy Personal software. Useful for creating databases of files for backup and distribution, Alchemy gathers together PC files from your hard drive, indexes them by text, keywords, and filenames, and writes them in compressed format along with a runtime retrieval program to CD-ROM.
Alchemy consists of two separate and relatively easy-to-use Build and Search applications. An “Alchemist” help wizard guides users through a straightforward building process of dragging files and folders destined for inclusion in the database from the File Manager into the main contents window and visually organizing material by placing them into existing or new folder divisions. Once arranged and instructed to generate the database, Alchemy creates the necessary indexes, compresses the data, and writes it to either CD-ROM or hard disk.
After completion, information is located in the database by either manually browsing or through a Query dialog box located within the included Search application. Users can retrieve data by conducting searches based on a document’s full text, its title, or filename, as well as from a keyword index constructed by Alchemy during the database building procedure. More refined searches are possible by using the Boolean operators AND/OR/NOT and making use of single and multiple wildcards in search statements. After locating your text or graphic documents, you can browse through them onscreen through Alchemy’s text and image file viewers, and copy them to the Windows Clipboard, save them to hard disk, or print hardcopy.
THIRD PARTY SOFTWARE SUPPORT
Despite the good mix of software included in the HP bundle, there may be situations when users need more capabilities, like doing occasional premastering, more serious archiving, writing CD Plus or Video CD formatted discs, or using the recorder under the different operating systems of Microsoft Windows 95, NT, or IBM OS/2 Warp.
To that end, most of the major CD-Recordable software companies express policies of supporting every major recorder available on the market. Since the HP 4020i and Philips CDD2000 are very close to each other in terms of firmware, users should have little difficulty locating the software most appropriate to their changing needs.
Software Supporting the HP CD-Writer 4020i
|DOS||Windows 3.x||Windows 95||Windows NT||OS/2||Novel|
|Optical Media International||X||X||X|
SUBCODE CAPABILITIES AND WRITING MODES
Even though the software that comes bundled with the 4020i does not offer control over many specialized features, the HP recorder itself includes many capabilities like CD-ROM modes 1 and 2, CD-ROM XA mode 2 forms 1 and 2, CD-DA, mixed-mode, CD-i and CD Bridge writing, and partial PQ subchannel encoding. Current firmware offers read and write of index points (mode 1 Q data), Uniform Product Code/European Article Number (UPC/EAN mode 2 Q data), and International Standard Recording Code (ISRC mode 3 Q data) media catalog numbers, as well as pre-emphasis and copy prohibit flags (Q control). As is the case with a lot of recorders currently available, the 4020i does not read or write R through W subcodes, making it incapable of writing CD+G/M (Graphics/MIDI) discs, and currently offers no support for the Serial Copy Management System (SCMS).
Like all Philips-based recorders, the 4020i’s primary recording method is Track-At-Once (TAO). This gives the system the ability to write audio or data to CD-Recordable discs such that they can be played back or accessed in everyday compact disc players or CD-ROM drives. TAO also provides the flexibility to record to a disc a number of times at different sittings, and with the included Easy-CD software, to have all the sessions appear as one continuous volume.
For users doing multisession writing, an especially important selling feature of the 4020i that probably will not receive a lot of press is its mechanism’s employment of Running OPC (Optimum Power Calibration) while writing discs. Generally speaking, a Running OPC system monitors the formation signature of marks (pits) while recording and adjusts the laser’s write power to compensate if it encounters anomalies such as changes in optics, power sensitivity fluctuations in the disc’s photosensitive dye, and dust or fingerprints (common on discs that have been recorded, used, and recorded to again) that affect light’s path to the dye recording layer of the disc. If, in the process of trying to record through an obstacle, the laser’s power exceeds a set safety threshold, an “absorption control error” is reported and the user is alerted to check the recorded discs and ensure that there are no errors. This helps decrease users’ nasty surprises and creates confidence that something actually made it onto the disc.
While not nearly as robust as the DRDW (Direct Read During Write) system employed on the professional-level Eastman Kodak six speed PCD Writer 600, [see "Kodak's PCD Writer 600 and Disc Transporter: Recording in Record Time" by Hugh Bennett in the July 1995 issue of CD-ROM Professional], Running OPC is recommended in Orange Book Part II and acknowledged as an important verification scheme and safety feature for desktop recording. Eastman Kodak and Philips have long recognized its value and included the ability on their CDD521 and 522 and PCD Writer 200 and 225 recorders; more recently, Sony has adopted it with their new CDU-920S. And as packet writing takes hold in the market, the importance of Running OPC will become even more obvious.
Indeed, for those interested in doing packet writing, the 4020i firmware also offers fixed packet writing abilities, although it’s not supported by HP’s Easy-CD software. More like saving information to a hard disk, packet writing allows users to record as little as a file at a time to a disc instead of large data sessions. Although no standards yet exist for packet writing, it is still seen as an important feature for the future, critical for applications like networked and personal data storage.
One surprise with the HP package is the initial lack of Disc-At-Once (DAO) recording capabilities. Although not critically important for HP’s target users, the inclusion of DAO is desirable for someone wanting to upgrade their software and do some premastering. Unlike TAO, which creates linkages between tracks that cause problems for mastering systems (sometimes audible “pops” on audio discs can be heard), DAO writes an entire disc without turning off the laser and does not create the problem run-in, run-out, and link blocks. Consequently, the end result is a disc more appropriate as a source for replication and for higher-quality audio work. HP says that while the initial releases of the 4020i’s firmware do not support DAO, the function is slated to be added as an undetermined future firmware update.
With prices eroding quickly and competition increasing steadily, the possibility increases that new CD recorders entering the market might cut corners on the quality of discs they write. To help test that HP’s entrance into CD-Recordable is honest, Enterprise Corporation International (ECI), a leading company providing technical support and testing products and services to the compact disc industry, analyzed a number of 74-minute Verbatim 4X (multispeed), TDK (4X), Eastman Kodak (6X), MTC America/Mitsui Toatsu (high speed), Ricoh (2X), and Sony (4X Taiyo Yuden A-type) discs written with the 4020i at double speed.
Inspection of the discs by ECI was performed on an Audio Development CD CATS SA3 Advanced for the full scope of relevant parameters like BLER (Block Error Rate), E32 uncorrectable errors, symmetry, reflectivity, push pull, jitter, and effect length deviation. The inspections indicate that the HP-written discs suffer from no obvious problems and that the 4020i performs well on an assortment of media types.
ECI also conducted a full range of interchange and logical integrity tests employing their PC-based Disc Detective 2.9.2 software. Using Plextor PX-43H (4X SCSI), Sony CSD-760S (4X SCSI), Toshiba XM-3601B (4X SCSI), Sanyo CRD-254SH (4X SCSI), and Mitsumi FX-400 (4X IDE) CD-ROM drives, each disc was tested to make sure that every sector was easily readable and contained no uncorrectable errors, measured skew, and post-gap, by executing bit-for-bit comparisons between the original data and the final discs. As with the physical test results, ECI’s logical analysis findings suggest no problems with discs recorded by the 4020i.
POOR CD-ROM DRIVE PERFORMANCE
Without a doubt, the most disappointing aspect of the CD-Writer 4020i is its performance as a regular CD-ROM drive. For months, Hewlett-Packard has been boasting true quadruple speed read capabilities with Mode 1 transfer rates of 600KB/sec and third-stroke access times of less than 390ms. But simply saying something does not make it true.
When the CD-Writer 4020i started shipping at the end of September 1995, Hewlett-Packard failed to catch a number of serious flaws resulting in abysmal read performance that ranged from no better than single and double speed (with applications that depended upon one or two sector data transfers), to rates sometimes approaching triple speed (with applications relying upon larger sector transfers).
After identifying the problem, HP issued a firmware upgrade, expressed their commitment to modify the read performance claims on their packaging, and issued an inadequate official announcement stating that “a free upgrade will soon be available from HP, allowing customers to optimize read-speed performance and to meet minimum performance requirements in most multimedia applications.”
Regrettably, performance tests conducted with Disc Detective 2.9.2 and the enhanced firmware show a sustained data transfer approaching only 430KB/sec, with third-stroke access closer to 465ms, and a continuing performance sensitivity to different host systems and diverse applications. Unofficially, sources inside HP and Philips acknowledge that it may be some time before the 4020i can achieve proper 4X speeds under all application conditions. Given the 4020i’s mixed read capabilities, users will certainly want to keep any existing fast CD-ROM drives if read performance is critical.
One positive feature, however, of the 4020i is its ability to be theoretically recognized by Windows 95 as a CD-ROM drive and to work with the CD-ROM device drivers supplied by Microsoft. This is due to the fact that the system sees the 4020i as a CD-ROM drive (type 05H), instead of a WORM (type 04H) like other CD recorders. Though other CD recorder manufacturers are adding this modification, HP is the first company to ship new drives with this change.
FIRMWARE FIXES IN A FLASH
The world has yet to see a piece of computer hardware that has no bugs or need for tweaks and modifications. Given that reality, and the fact that most hardware companies push CD recorders out the door and tell their engineers to fix any hardware irregularities in firmware, it is valuable for the user to know that such changes can be accomplished quickly, inexpensively, and in-house.
To that end, the 4020i makes use of software-upgradable or flash firmware, which means that the basic intelligence of the recorder can be changed on demand. For example, if a modification to the firmware is needed to correct an issue with Windows 95 or improve read performance, the user would simply speak with Hewlett-Packard technical support and receive the update on floppy diskette or download the appropriate file from a BBS. After running the program, the recorder would be updated with the latest changes and the user could get back to work quickly and with a minimum of fuss.
THE BOTTOM LINE: NOT THE LAST WORD FOR CD-RECORDABLE, BUT WELL-SPOKEN
While by no means the last word in CD-Recordable, Hewlett-Packard’s CD-Writer 4020i is none the less a significant step forward in the evolution of CD recorders from specialized tools to everyday peripherals. With its improved ease of use, well-rounded collection of software, aggressive price, and Hewlett-Packard name, the 4020i both addresses and expands the needs and desires of individuals, small- and medium-sized business PC users, and hobbyists for an appropriate method for file distribution, inexpensive archiving, personal audio compact disc creation, and multimedia storage, not to mention as a way of retaining all of the junk mined from the intellectual landfill of the Internet. Those requiring a wider range of capabilities, however, should investigate other possible solutions from companies like Philips, Yamaha, and Sony.
The 4020i should also serve to remind the industry how much further CD recorders must progress for there to be any possibility of mass market CD-R adoption. And with the performance shortcomings, the otherwise impressive 4020i should also remind us of the dangers inherent in rushing products out the door before their performance matches their promotional hype.
[Author's note: I wish to thank the following companies for providing the various products and services used during my review of Hewlett-Packard's SureStore CD-Writer 4020i: Verbatim Corporation, TDK Electronics Corporation, Enterprise Corporation International, MTC America/Mitsui Toatsu Chemicals, Inc., Eastman Kodak Company, Sony Electronics, Audio Development USA, Inc., and Incat Systems Software USA.]
Hewlett-Packard ended six months of heated industry speculation in September 1995 when it announced its entry into the CD-Recordable marketplace with its SureStore CD-Writer 4020i. Heretofore, CD-Recordables were seen by the computer industry as a specialized product for CD mastering and as an expensive, hard to use fringe data storage technology, but CD-Recordable’s market growth has been steady. Still, the market growth has not been spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. Why then would Hewlett-Packard enter a relatively saturated, slow-growing market?
As Bill Tolson, CD-Recordable Product Manager for the Colorado Memory Systems (CMS) division of HP, explains, first and foremost, his company sees enormous potential for CD-Recordable and a real and emerging user need which can be best filled by CD-Recordable technology. “We identified a real demand for information distribution,” says Tolson, “not just mastering CDs, but moving large files around-things like CAD files, graphics, and large database distribution.” For these applications, “1.44MB floppy disks are anemic, and Bernoulli, MO, and Zip just don’t have the universal acceptance of being able to create something and take it to 35 million players that will utilize it. That’s the underlying value proposition for all CD-R as the market grows-it writes to a medium that has a very big distribution population. It’s also tough to deny that a lot of people will be attracted by the ability to inexpensively record their own audio compact discs.”
CD-R, The Natural
Beyond basic user needs, HP sees CD-R, quite simply, as a natural. “The idea we got from focus groups is that consumers, even novice consumers, are comfortable with CD in general, both in terms of the technology and the media, mostly because of their exposure with audio and CD-ROM players,” says Tolson. “People can look at a CD and feel comfortable with it, probably not knowing anything about the technology, but there’s an ingrained acceptance.” HP’s CD-Writer 4020i and CD-Recordable in general, he comments, “utilize that good feeling.”
CD-R, Multimedia Printer
There is also a growing sense that as society emphasizes electronic documents and communications, Hewlett-Packard is looking to adapt and repeat the phenomenal success it has with business and personal laser printers. Tolson is only too happy to affirm the connection. “You can’t print a multimedia presentation to paper and retain the video, audio, and animation. So for dynamic multimedia presentations, interactive catalogues, and the like, this is the perfect media and tool to distribute this kind of information. Our CD-Writer 4020i is definitely a ‘multimedia printer’.” And just as laser printers helped small companies present themselves professionally, so Tolson feels a good value proposition is “taking this product and using it to present yourself like a Fortune 500 company.”
On the Road
While it is easy to be skeptical of such wonderful visions of CD-Recordable, Hewlett-Packard is not alone in thinking that the future of compact disc derivatives and HP’s part in it is bright. Ray Freeman, President of computer storage industry analysts Freeman Associates Inc., and Chair of the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA), feels that given the “agreements of the SD Alliance and MMCD organization for a single high-density disc and their adoption of OSTA’s universal disc file system, CD will become the dominant computer format for optical storage. HP is entering onto the freeway [with their CD-Writer] and starting down the path towards this dominant technology. Current CD-R is really just a starting point for them.”
No Pain, No Gain
Hewlett-Packard’s Tolson emphasizes, however, that significant market growth is not going to happen by itself. According to Tolson, “a year or so ago, HP decided to go after more of a consumer, retail type of customer with multiple uses in mind for a product instead of just CD mastering, and we decided, along with our partners, that we could bring technological advances in both ease of use and price. Both of those are required, we think, to grow the size of the pie at any decent rate.” Unlike the companies already selling CD-Recording systems, HP had, Tolson claims, “the ability to get in and change the product to make it much more usable and much more inexpensive for a much larger group of people.” Beyond ease of use and low price-point, Hewlett-Packard’s positioning of its CD-Writer as something most businesses can use, brings CD-Recording closer to the mainstream.
Akyra Pagoulatos, Director and Principal Analyst of Computer Storage Products at Dataquest, agrees that it takes someone like Hewlett-Packard to set direction and sees HP’s entry into CD-Recordable as significant since “the name brings value and the price point brings new opportunities.” Another analyst who tracks the optical disc industry, John Freeman, President of Strategic Marketing Decisions, also talks about the importance of the HP name helping build awareness and launching the technology. John Freeman sees HP’s “retail vision, distribution and channel presence,” and similar factors as crucial for “making real market growth happen.” He also notes that “only companies like Hewlett-Packard can help CD-Recordable rapidly enter into a consumer orientation.”
Is SureStore a Sure Thing?
Depending upon who you speak with, the projected size of the worldwide market for CD recorders for the next few years varies from the ridiculously small to the sublimely large, as might the degree of Hewlett-Packard’s potential success and impact upon the market. Interestingly enough, even though competing companies like Pinnacle Micro, operating in the price-sensitive portion of the market, are shuddering at the prospect of HP’s competing, others like Yamaha, who have greater product differentiation, welcome the addition. HP has its eyes set on dominant marketshare, but as Dan Baca, CD-R Product Manager for Yamaha Systems Technology, puts it, HP’s presence “will just increase the size of the market and generate greater sales opportunities for us.”
Bob Katzive, Vice President of Disk/Trend, a market research firm for the disk drive industry, is more conservative in his appraisal of the potential success for CD-Recordable systems, describing the market for CD-R as “more of a modest cottage than a palatial mansion.” Katzive cautions that there are a lot of competing technologies seeking what is proving to be an elusive dominance and warns that “erasability is still necessary for large-scale acceptance.” By no means is there general agreement on this question, while some feel the need for rewritability, others envisage CD-R discs as a type of quick, cheap, and disposable storage-a kind of ‘Digital Kleenex’ – that does not need re-writable properties to be very successful.
Questions, Questions, Questions
There is still a lot of ambiguity surrounding HP’s CD recorder ambitions that only time will resolve. One question deals with some of the challenges inevitably faced by a small division like Hewlett-Packard’s CMS marketing a product within the confines of its promotional budget and within the constraints imposed upon it by its organizational parent, Information Storage Group (ISG), within HP. How many marketing dollars per unit can CMS put behind its CD-Writer and how many are required to stimulate sales and create awareness? Similarly, how much of an internal sales job must the CMS division first perform with corporate Hewlett-Packard to gain its attention and convince it of the strategic nature of CD-R projects?
There is also a question of Hewlett-Packard’s long-term competitiveness depending upon the ultimate direction taken by the market. If CD-R’s adoption is massive, and the bulk of the business eventually comes in the form of CD recorders installed as basic or optional equipment in desktop computers (as happened with CD-ROM drives), how will HP, which sources an OEM drive like the Philips, compete with every major CD-ROM drive manufacturer entering the field? Hewlett-Packard will not comment on its future plans, but it is likely that over time they will bring as much production in-house as possible, sourcing critical components from Philips Key Modules much as they do in obtaining only core marking engines from Canon for their laser printers. The challenge increases, however, if the market becomes so big that huge-volume manufacturers like Mitsumi Electronics Corp., LG Electronics (GoldStar Technologies Inc.), and Matsushita Electric Industries (Panasonic) arrive at the CD-R scene to exploit their existing CD-ROM drive production capabilities.
More fundamentally, although CD-R has evolved rapidly in relatively short order and HP’s contribution is significant, few deny that CD-R still has a long way to go before it is ready for a truly mass market. There is the obvious necessity for price reductions, but there is also the increasing need for greater product stability, durability, performance, and polish. Still needed improvements include logical drive letter access, packet writing, innovative software caching schemes, larger buffers, read performance equal to standard 4X, 6X, and 8X CD-ROM drives, Running OPC, and Enhanced IDE interfaces, to name a few. Given Hewlett-Packard’s reputation for long-term commitment and constant improvement, there is a significantly greater chance that many of the necessary developments will take place than might have been had HP not entered the market.
At the heart of Hewlett-Packard’s CD-Writer 4020i is the new CDD2000 mechanism from Philips Electronics. The third-generation CD recorder from Philips, the CDD2000 is their first unit to use a 5.25″ half-height form factor and offer substantially improved (though by no means perfect) read performance over the original CDD521 design.
While Philips has always acted as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and provided systems to other vendors for re-branding (Eastman Kodak and Meridian Data ), their new relationship with Hewlett-Packard puts them at a distinct competitive disadvantage in the open marketplace. As a result, Philips strategy is one of concentrating on specialty professional markets through their existing VAR (value added reseller) distribution scheme, as opposed to Hewlett-Packard’s emphasis on horizontal markets better served through traditional reseller channels.
Philips’ offerings reflect this difference in focus. An internal $1395 PC-compatible version of the CDD2000 and external $1595 PC and Macintosh configuration are available and come bundled with CD-Recording software from long-time ally CeQuadrat GmbH. CeQuadrat’s WinOnCD ToGo! is designed for significantly different applications than the Easy-CD software included with Hewlett-Packard’s recorder, with its more sophisticated ISO 9660, CD-DA and mixed-mode support. CeQuadrat’s Vulkan for Macintosh supplies HFS, ISO 9660, hybrid, CD-DA, mixed-mode, CD-ROM XA, and CD Plus disc creation capabilities. As with Hewlett-Packard, Philips has plans to add Windows 95 compatibility sometime in the first quarter of 1996.
Companies Mentioned in this Article
Advanced System Products, Inc.
1150 Ringwood Court
San Jose, CA 95131
Audio Development USA, Inc.
5335 Merle Hay Road, Suite 9
Johnston, IA 50131
5 Thomas Melon Circle, Suite 105
San Francisco, CA 94134
1600 Carling Avenue
Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1Z 8R7
1290 Ridder Park Drive
San Jose, CA 95131
Dataware Technologies, Inc.
222 Third Street, Suite 3300
Cambridge, MA 02142
1925 Landings Drive
Mountain View, CA 94043
Eastman Kodak Company
343 State Street
Rochester, NY 14650
10 Presidential Boulevard, Suite 125
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
Enterprise Corporation International
1200 Valley West Drive, Suite 120
West Des Moines, IA 50266
Freeman Associates Inc.
311 E. Carrillo Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Incat Systems Software USA, Inc.
1684 Dell Avenue
Campbell, CA 95008
Information Management Research, Inc.
5660 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard, Suite 210
Englewood, CO 80111
108 Whispering Pines Drive, Suite 110
Scotts Valley, CA 95066
MTC America, Inc./
Mitsui Toatsu Chemicals, Inc.
2500 Westchester Avenue, Suite 110
Purchase, NY 10577
Optical Media International
180 Knowles Drive
Los Gatos, CA 95030
Philips Key Modules
2099 Gateway Place #100
San Jose, CA 95110
100 Burtt Road
Andover, MA 01810
Strategic Marketing Decisions
61 E. Main Street, Suite C
Los Gatos, CA 95032
TDK Electronics Corporation
12 Harbor Park Drive
Port Washington, NY 11050
1200 W.T. Harris Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28262
Product in Brief
Product: SureStore CD-Writer 4020i
Price: $1049 MSRP
For More Information Contact:
Colorado Memory Systems Division
800 South Taft Avenue
Loveland, CO 80537
About the Author
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