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MultiRead – The DVD Sequel

The Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA) has undertaken a renewed effort to surpass its previous accomplishments in the hope of bringing some clarity to the DVD storage marketplace. I’m of course referring to the existing MultiRead specification for CD and OSTA’s desire to create a new MultiRead 2 specification designed to promote and facilitate compatibility between the various rewritable DVD formats.


MultiRead – The DVD Sequel

Hugh Bennett
Tape/Disc Business, April 1999

The Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA) has undertaken a renewed effort to surpass its previous accomplishments in the hope of bringing some clarity to the DVD storage marketplace. I’m of course referring to the existing MultiRead specification for CD and OSTA’s desire to create a new MultiRead 2 specification designed to promote and facilitate compatibility between the various rewritable DVD formats.

MultiRead Classic
To understand the thinking behind MultiRead 2 it is necessary to appreciate the logic behind the original MultiRead. An OSTA sponsored hardware device specification, MultiRead defines the parameters necessary for optical drives to be able to read various CD formats including pressed CD Audio, CD-ROM, CD-R and CD-RW discs. This specification means, for example, that when compliant CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives are marketed as MultiRead, they can be taken to be capable of reading pressed, recordable and rewritable CDs in both audio and computer logical formats. A compatibility test plan has been used to establish MultiRead drive compliance and verified by Hewlett-Packard which administers a logo program designed to help manufacturers visually identify their products so consumers can rely on conformity with the MultiRead specification.

MultiRead – The DVD Sequel
As things are now, many industry participants express the belief that the existence and promotion of multiple competing rewritable DVD formats has created consumer confusion inhibiting the growth of the DVD market – a situation which will continue for the foreseeable future. Consistent with OSTA’s mission to “grow market demand for writable optical storage products” by “defining and enabling advances that will meet market needs,” a concerted effort is now underway at OSTA to replicate MultiRead and do for DVD what MultiRead has done for CD.

What is involved is creating a new MultiRead 2 device specification that delineates what is necessary for optical drives to read the wide range of DVD formats. Currently under discussion are DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-Audio. It is hoped that MultiRead 2 compliant DVD-ROM drives, for example, would be capable of reading all manner of pressed, recordable and rewritable DVDs.

Trouble In Paradise
Few things in the computer trade press evoke as much passion as discussions about DVD compatibility, so it’s not surprising that MultiRead 2 has been met with a degree of irrational exuberance. But the reality is that MultiRead 2 is already off to a rocky start and, like MultiRead before it, probably won’t end up meaning much to the end user.

It’s not a good sign in any specification process when the parties involved can’t even agree upon a name. Since the original MultiRead logo and qualification process are associated with Hewlett-Packard, several participants oppose calling it MultiRead 2. So until a name acceptable to all parties can be decided upon, the working title is (would you believe) the DVD Read Compatibility Specification (DVD-RCS). Hopefully, something a little more catchy can be found but, whatever it is, it will be at the loss of any name recognition achieved by MultiRead.

Pretty Pictures And Good Intentions
More fundamentally, if history has proven anything in the computer and consumer electronics worlds, it’s that logos and specifications don’t idiot-proof technologies. In truth, a logo doesn’t seem to mean much to the average user. Consumers will do what they want with a product whether or not there’s a little picture on the box telling them what they can and cannot do. Back in 1993, the Photo CD logo didn’t keep computer users from calling Kodak technical support asking why their CD-ROM drives couldn’t read multisession discs. Even fewer people understood the intricacies implied by the Multimedia PC (MPC) logo and even bold emblems haven’t stopped some people from trying to play CD-ReWritable discs in their car stereos. It’s the same with the MultiRead logo and MultiRead 2 (no matter what it’s called). All that matters in the final analysis is the broad availability of drives that read the different DVD formats.

It’s important to remember that, like the compact disc standards before them, the various books that govern DVD technology are only disc and file specifications, not drive specifications. This means that manufacturers are free to offer drives that read whatever discs they choose. A DVD-ROM drive doesn’t have to read DVD-Video or DVD-Audio discs and there is no requirement that a DVD-Video player needs to read DVD-RAM or DVD+RW.

The level of compatibility offered in a drive is whatever a manufacturer decides based upon its understanding of the market as well as the need to differentiate its products from those of its competitors.

Trying to sell a DVD-ROM drive that didn’t read pressed CDs would have been suicide and it would be equally suicidal to sell DVD-ROM drives that won’t read CD-R discs. Sony started working on their dual laser optical pickup needed to read CD-R discs in DVD-ROM drives long before MultiRead was ever discussed because Sony saw it as a key feature necessary to sell their next generation products. Similarly, whether or not there is a MultiRead 2 specification, DVD-ROM drive manufacturers will be wise enough to make products that read DVD-RAM, DVD+RW or both types of discs. And it’s highly unlikely that if a major computer company requires that the DVD-ROM drives it integrates read all types of recordable and rewritable DVD discs that their suppliers will not do whatever is necessary to meet the requirement.

No Magic Solution
Regardless of efforts by OSTA, there is little chance the optical industry can clean up the messy DVD compatibility situation within the foreseeable future. To meet the challenge, drives will need to be compatible with first generation 2.5 GB, 3.0 GB and 3.95 GB formats, and 4.7 GB formats not yet released. Only time and evolutionary market forces will operate to create stability and identify the products that customers truly want. Until rewritable DVD pays its dues, most people will continue to use more traditional technologies like CD-R, which have come up the hard way. Being born with a silver spoon in its mouth won’t make life any easier for DVD.

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 © 1999 Knowledge Industry Publications / Hugh Bennett

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