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Rescuing the Golden Goose

The immediate question is, will Blu-ray Disc (BD) recorders, drives, and players read and write all types of CDs and DVDs? Will they clear the fog of application formats and content-protection measures? In last month’s column, I chastised BD device manufacturers for ducking clear answers to these questions. And surveying the broader situation, we see the same dismal failure in the industry’s current CD and DVD equipment strategies.


Rescuing the Golden Goose

Hugh Bennett
Emedialive, February 7, 2006

The immediate question is, will Blu-ray Disc (BD) recorders, drives, and players read and write all types of CDs and DVDs? Will they clear the fog of application formats and content-protection measures? In last month’s column, I chastised BD device manufacturers for ducking clear answers to these questions. And surveying the broader situation, we see the same dismal failure in the industry’s current CD and DVD equipment strategies.

A trip around the Web or a visit to any consumer electronics store shows just how frustrating optical storage has become. For example, while recent computer-based DVD recorders write and read both single-layer DVD “plus” (+) and “dash” (-), the same can’t be said for DVD-RAM, both double and dual-layer recordable formats, or all speeds of blank media. And what about the free-for-all in the set-top world? Laudably, a few units handle most everything. But most just do DVD-R/-RW or DVD+R/RW, while still others DVD-R/-RW/-RAM or even DVD-R/-RW/-RAM/+R. Throw in DVD+R DL and DVD-R DL, forthcoming DVD+RW DL and DVD-RW DL, DualDisc, CD-R, CD-RW and the profusion of application formats and compatibility issues just gets worse. Pity the poor consumer!

The inability or unwillingness of optical storage product manufacturers to grasp consumer compatibility concerns highlights a failure to acknowledge and deal with this market confusion of their own creation. There is now a vast ad hoc, multicultural, multinational, multigenerational universe of incompatible physical disc, application, and protection formats emanating from directly competing commercial interests. If there is to be any chance of consumer salvation, manufacturers must, at a minimum, offer rationally grouped format choices and then clearly communicate simple and meaningful compatibility messages.

This can only be accomplished through a full-scale multilateral agreement to identify and adopt appropriate requirements for umbrella CD and DVD compatibility specifications encompassing all computer and consumer electronics devices (PC, set-top, TV combo, camcorder, automotive, etc.). What I envision is something comprehensive and inclusive, universally recognized, and understood at a glance.

But if such an effort is to have any chance of success it must be championed by an organization with a synoptic vision and broad industry credibility devoted to optical storage so manufacturers will listen, participate, and take action. As it stands, the industry is awash in makeshift trade groups and standards bodies engaged in various technical and promotional activities either directly or peripherally dealing with optical storage. A few of these include the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA), the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the DVD Forum and its nemesis the DVD+RW Alliance, CDs21 Solutions (CDs21), the Recordable DVD Council (RDVDC), RW Products Promotion Initiative (RWPPI), the RAM Promotion Group (RAMPRG), HD DVD Promotion Group (HDDVDPRG) and the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA). But from my perspective, most of these either have narrow mandates that deal with provincial matters such as advancing specific format agendas, or they lack sufficient optical storage focus or resources to properly engage, encourage, educate, and sell both manufacturers and consumers.

For example, the CEA might be able to garner enough support for such a specification and advance a convincing promotional message for CE devices as it did with its SDTV/EDTV/HDTV television designations initiative. But does the CEA have a sufficient commitment to optical storage or the ability to influence or speak on behalf of the computer industry?

To my mind, the only group that might fill this universal role is OSTA. Formed in 1992 to promote the use of writable optical technologies, OSTA is an inclusive body consisting of software publishers, hardware, and blank media manufacturers as well as CE and PC interests. In the past, it has played a valuable role in establishing and promoting media compatibility and interchangeability and has served an important educational function as an industry spokesgroup. Given this history, a comprehensive effort along the lines of OSTA’s original MultiRead specification comes to mind. However, OSTA isn’t the accepted authority it used to be with many influential industry figures disappearing over the years as manufacturers lost interest or strayed in order to pursue their own self interest agendas.

Optical storage compatibility is now unintelligible for most consumers and is destined to only get worse. The time is long past for industry members to take charge and act together or they risk killing the goose that has been laying their golden eggs.

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).

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