With the DVD format war continuing on several fronts, the -R contingency chose this year's combined PC Expo/DV Expo East show in New York to go on the offensive with a press conference where members of the Recordable DVD Council attacked the +R/RW format on compatibility issues and made a big push for the DVD Multi format.
The council—which also had its own pavilion at the show with exhibitors including Primera, Sonic Solutions, and Pinnacle Systems—is a year-old consortium of 94 hardware and software manufacturers, all of whom have rallied around the DVD Forum-approved -R, -RW, -RAM, and -ROM formats. For the most part, the Recordable DVD Council (RDVDC) and its individual members have kept quiet about claims from the +R/RW camp that its formats would ultimately be more compatible. But at a press conference on the first day of PC Expo, Andy Parsons, senior vice president of product development and technical support for Pioneer (which is a member of the Forum but not of the RDVDC) attacked those assertions.
"Claims that +R/+RW is technically superior are exaggerated at the very least," Parsons said. "There are no inherent advantages to the +R/RW format." In fact, Parsons said, the +R/RW format won't be compatible at all with Mt. Rainier technology, which will allow native operating system support for CD-RW and DVD-RW without third-party recording software. He then pointed to recent testing by DV Magazine in which DVD-R fared best of all formats in terms of compatibility.
The bottom line, Parsons said, is that consumers and, to a lesser extent, professionals ultimately don't want to be bothered with format issues. "Users are application-driven, not technology-driven," he said. "They just want it to work."
It's still too early to tell which formats will eventually win out, but cross-format compatibility issues have been dogging the +RW camp almost since the format's inception. Three of the biggest +RW drive sellers—Hewlett-Packard, Philips, and Sony—found themselves in trouble earlier this year after promising that their first-generation +RW drives would be +R-compatible with a firmware update, only to admit later on that no such updates were forthcoming. All three were forced to offer owners of first-generation drives buyback options that included new second-generation drives, which are +R-compatible.
That's not to say that all DVD drive manufacturers are choosing one format over another quite yet. In the grand tradition of playing both sides of the fence, some companies like Sony and even newer players in the OEM market—like Japan's Ikebana—are playing it safe, producing drives in both the +R/RW and -R/RW formats.
Then there's the new DVD Multi drives unveiled at PC Expo by Panasonic, Samsung, Hitachi, and Toshiba, all of which promise compatibility with DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM media (as well as CD-R and CD-RW recording, features not available in the drives' DVDburner antecedent). This means that users of those drives have recording media flexibility while still allowing for nearly universal playback. "Playback compatibility with existing DVD players is the most important characteristic to PC mass-market users, because we believe the vast majority of them want to use writable DVD for archiving personal video content," Parsons concluded.
Not everyone is convinced that DVD-R will win out, however. "From everything we've seen, we believe +R/RW will ultimately be the best choice," said a representative from one company that makes both +R/RW and -R/RW drives. "But we're making sure that we're in a good position no matter what way the market goes."