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Questioning DVD Duplication

Thanks to inexpensive media, advances in high speed writing, broad based compatibility and the continuing move to just-in-time delivery, CD-R and CD-R duplication have ignited a revolution in the world of CD manufacturing and are poised to bring about the elimination of low run CD replication. However, is it fair to assume that DVD will progress in a fashion similar to CD? And will DVD duplication grab all low run work before cost effective replication infrastructure comes on stream? Then again, is large scale DVD duplication even feasible?


Questioning DVD Duplication

Hugh Bennett
Tape/Disc Business, July 1999

Thanks to inexpensive media, advances in high speed writing, broad based compatibility and the continuing move to just-in-time delivery, CD-R and CD-R duplication have ignited a revolution in the world of CD manufacturing and are poised to bring about the elimination of low run CD replication. However, is it fair to assume that DVD will progress in a fashion similar to CD? And will DVD duplication grab all low run work before cost effective replication infrastructure comes on stream? Then again, is large scale DVD duplication even feasible?

If early expressions of interest count for anything, the prospects for DVD duplication are not all that encouraging. For example, even though several companies have announced DVD duplicators, none is expected to ship systems until later this year when Sony PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Dolphin game console developers come on stream. Admittedly, some of the short term disinterest can be attributed to the lack of robust, full capacity and inexpensive DVD-R hardware and media but, regardless, DVD duplication may have trouble staying aloft even if and when it gets off the ground.

Compatibility Issues
As was the case with CD duplication, the feasibility of DVD duplication depends primarily upon using media that is compatible with all desktop and set-top DVD devices. It stands to reason then that when evaluating the potential for DVD duplication, it becomes necessary to discuss the ongoing conflict between the various recordable and rewritable DVD formats.

Although there has been ongoing efforts by the DVD Forum and OSTA to encourage broad compatibility, the reality is that the current crop of rewritable DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD+RW formats are incompatible with almost all DVD-Video players and DVD-ROM drives. Even viewing the situation optimistically, overall compatibility will be but a faint hope for a number of years to come regarding the confusion of the numerous formats and multiple capacities. Without a complete guarantee of compatibility it is unlikely that rewritable DVD will find a home in DVD duplication because, as it stands, only DVD-R is naturally compatible with all DVD devices.

No Dual-Layer
Since none of the recordable or rewritable DVD formats support dual-layer technology, an obvious limitation of DVD duplication will be its inability to accommodate DVD-9 (single-sided, dual-layer) and DVD-18 (double-sided, dual-layer) discs. As it is, DVD-9 represents only a small portion of titles being produced today and commercially viable DVD-18 discs have yet to be manufactured. However, it is likely that, in the long run, more and more products will use these two formats. Consequently, DVD duplication may run up against a wall in attempting to duplicate commercial DVD-Video products and instead may be forced to find a home in the world of DVD-ROM and corporate video copying.

Slow Writing And Reading Speed
A serious technical challenge facing DVD duplication is the limited recording speed supported by recordable and rewritable DVD systems. DVD recording currently is in real time (single speed) so it takes roughly an hour to write a full 4.7 GB disc – an unacceptable amount of time from a production perspective.

As witnessed with CD-R, larger scale duplication was made truly feasible only with the introduction of four-speed recording. DVD duplication will probably require a similar ability to write a full disc in roughly 20 minutes or less for general adoption. Technologies which include writing speed, need time to evolve, but the prospects for improving DVD recording performance are not all that clear cut. For example, DVD-RAM and DVD+RW are viewed philosophically as removable data storage formats whereas DVD-R and DVD-RW are seen as prototyping systems, all of which is working to reduce the incentive for pushing significant performance improvements.

Similarly, none of the DVD specifications easily accommodates higher speed writing so achieving performance greater than 2x seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. Granted, it is possible that greater speeds may come about through new multi-beam or multi-head technologies, but the additional costs will be difficult to justify in an environment driven by cost reduction in pursuit of the mass market.

Another technical challenge facing the use of any rewritable DVD format as a duplicated distribution medium is the issue of high speed reading. Even though DVD-ROM drives have been available for only a few short years, their performance has rapidly escalated to 8x CAV (maximum 10 MB/sec transfer rate). Unfortunately, all rewritable formats are currently only readable at 1x speed and with expectations not to go beyond 2x speed in the future. This is due to the cost of dealing with factors such as low media reflectivity and signal-to-noise ratio, and land/groove switching in the case of DVD-RAM. Contrast this with DVD-R, the characteristics of which closely mimic pressed discs and can therefore theoretically be read at high speed.

As was witnessed with CD-R, high speed reading is not a luxury but a necessity in many situations when recordable media is used in place of a pressed CD-ROM disc.

DVD – May It Rest In Peace
Technological issues aside, the most fundamental concern hanging over DVD is its potential for a short market life. In contrast with compact discs that have been with us for almost 20 years, it seems a real possibility that DVD may prove to be only a transitional format in the race to the next level in optical storage. For example, even though DVD is still only in its infancy, manufacturers are talking about moving from red lasers to shorter wavelength blue and purple lasers within the next three or four years to produce significantly greater capacity products. Given this accelerated timetable, it seems unlikely that DVD will be around long enough for the technology and the market to mature to the point where media and hardware prices decline sufficiently to make wide scale DVD duplication a viable reality.

Only time will tell if DVD duplication has the same manifest destiny as is being achieved by CD duplication. For now, however, it seems to me that the prospects don’t look much better than making handfuls of discs for Hollywood studios and DVD-ROM title developers.

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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