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The Time is Right for MultiWrite

Isn’t it odd that with all the talk about the importance of DVD drives being able to read CD-Recordable and CD-ReWritable discs, no one has stopped to consider the desirability of DVD devices also being able to write these formats?

The Time is Right for MultiWrite

Hugh Bennett
EMedia Professional, March 1998

Isn’t it odd that with all the talk about the importance of DVD drives being able to read CD-Recordable and CD-ReWritable discs, no one has stopped to consider the desirability of DVD devices also being able to write these formats?

The Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA) created a drive specification, called MultiRead, that defines the logical and physical requirements of a drive that can read – but not write – CD-ROM, CD-DA, CD-R, and CD-RW discs. No one would deny the logic, and few the necessity, of MultiRead; but where is MultiWrite?

When you stop to think about it, writing CD-R and CD-RW discs with DVD drives makes so much sense that it’s a mystery why potential purchasers aren’t demanding it and why manufacturers aren’t rushing to make it happen. Simply put, MultiWrite protects customer technology investments, addresses needs not filled by recordable or rewritable DVD formats, solves interchange problems not only between DVD and CD devices, but also between different DVD devices, and provides the continuity of standards and commitment that ensures consumer confidence, which guarantees product sales.

One of the more untidy aspects of DVD is the fracturing of rewritable DVD into competing and complementary formats such as DVD-RAM (the DVD Forum’s entry), DVD+RW (the brainchild of Sony, Philips, HP, Yamaha, Mitsubishi, and Ricoh), and Pioneer’s DVD-R/W. It’s hard to predict what acceptance each of the respective formats will attain or if any will achieve market dominance, but incompatibility among these device classes is inevitable. Since each format comes from a different camp of manufacturers, each type of drive won’t be able to read and write discs from the other types of drives.

As users face the prospect of such compatibility constraints, CD-R and CD-RW have grown increasingly attractive by comparison. All new DVD-ROM and DVD-RAM drives can read CD-R and CD-RW discs, and the proposed DVD+RW drives are expected to do the same. This makes CD-R and CD-RW the lowest common denominator writable formats, as they give consumers a guaranteed way to exchange discs freely and inexpensively.

Strategically speaking, the companies involved in any rewritable DVD format such as DVD+RW could achieve a compatibility coup, and create a powerful incentive to buy their drives by embracing MultiWrite as a way of bridging the format gap. Without having planned it, Sony, Philips, and the rest of the DVD+RW camp could achieve quick market supremacy. Just think of CD-R as the digital bedrock upon which everything else is built.

Nothing is more important to the market acceptance of DVD than compatibility with compact discs. The CD family itself owes its success to a strong adherence to standards that respects consumers and protects their investments. Unfortunately, continuity is lost when communication with a new technology such as DVD is only a one-way street, and there is no way to exchange discs with the installed base of CD-ROM drives. To protect consumer investments in CD technology, compatibility must be seen as a two-way bridge.

One company that has taken full compatibility seriously in its DVD products is Matsushita Electric. Introduced by Matsushita in early 1996, Phase Change Dual (PD) can read and write proprietary 650MB cartridged PD optical media, as well as read CD-ROM. PD hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but still has enjoyed modest success.

What sets PD apart from the crowd is that, from the start, Matsushita promised that any next-generation rewritable optical product developed by the company would read and write PD cartridges. Matsushita’s first generation DVD-RAM drive indeed delivers on that promise, which sends a powerful signal of commitment to its customers.

In contrast, what have the major CD-R and CD-RW manufacturers promised and delivered? CD-R read compatibility with DVD emerged only after a tooth-and-nail fight, and the drives’ manufacturers have made only a few throwaway comments about the possibility of DVD-ROM drives writing CD-R and CD-RW.

If DVD+RW is to be, as Philips describes it, the “logical successor to the CD-ReWritable format, designed to preserve a customer’s present and future investments in drive and media products,” it would indeed be a major embarrassment and a costly marketing blunder if Matsushita’s DVD-RAM drive could read and write PD media, but Philips, Sony, and HP’s DVD+RW drive couldn’t write CD-R and CD-RW discs.

One area where high-density optical formats won’t have much of an impact is in the world of consumer audio. Formats such as DVD Super Audio (DVD Forum) and Super Audio CD (Sony and Philips) promise higher quality sound than current compact discs, as well as the lure of additional multimedia content.

The proposed high-density audio formats will no doubt appeal to audiophiles who never thought CDs sonically sufficient. However, the majority of consumers-who lack the high-end audio equipment necessary to hear the difference-won’t be interested. Undeniably, one of the most popular uses of CD recorders is for audio use, with consumers making compilation discs and converting tapes and records to CD for enhanced listening. Rather than disappearing, the market for audio CD recording will only grow with time and greater awareness of the technology, so having DVD products capable of writing recordable CDs would be a smart move and fill consumer demand.

Best of all, the ability to write CD-R and CD-RW is the last piece DVD-ROM drives lack to complete the CD/DVD compatibility puzzle. OSTA and manufacturers have, with much urging, brought us MultiRead, and thereby greatly enhanced the attractiveness of DVD. To complete the assimilation of DVD with the CD family and avoid market cynicism, MultiWrite must be brought to market without further delay.

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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