"I know it seems like a big departure, but it's really just a reflection of what the market is doing now," says Pioneer Senior VP Andy Parsons. Like Sony's DRU-500A "Dual RW" drive released last fall, the Pioneer A06 will support 4X recording to both -R and +R, 2X to -RW, and 2.4X to +RW. It will also write CD-R at 16X and CD-RW at 10X (the Sony drive does 24X CD-R). The A06 will replace the popular A05—also an internal ATAPI, 4X DVD-R recorder—once all the A05s in the channel are sold, according to Parsons. The A06 will debut in mid-June with an MSRP of $329, $30 higher than the A05, which lists for $299.
"The A05 was a turning point," Parsons says, "as the price came down to $300. We're now outside of the relatively comfy professional/prosumer environment where users are well-informed about format issues and the various intricacies of how it all works. Now we've got consumers that have absolutely no clue that there is a format war. Some people pick up a given drive—perhaps based on the brand—grab some blank media (whatever is cheapest and closest), and run home with it all. Then they try to get it working, find out the disc is rejected by the drive, and return the whole thing back to the store as defective. Not a good scenario for the user or the retailer."
It's just this scenario that drove Pioneer to incorporate support for the "plus" family of formats in the A06. "Our move is really a way to reduce confusion more than anything else," says Parsons. "We are not converts to the +RW side, we are not joining the +RW Alliance; we are just doing what the market is demanding in order to help grow the business."
Look for numerous manufacturers and VARs to follow suit by introducing multi-family drives into the retail and OEM/PC markets in the coming months, possibly making "plus" or "dash"-only drives the exception rather than the rule. The most significant impetus for this tectonic shift may have come from major PC integrators like Dell, Compaq, and Gateway who sell PCs with DVD writers on board, and are loath to deal with the tech support complaints of customers who bought the wrong kind of media. HP, Philips, and Ricoh are expected to be holdouts with "plus"-only drives, unless that becomes an untenable position for them as the market evolves.
Meanwhile at the WinHEC conference, just a week before the Pioneer announcement, Microsoft promised to support "all major writable DVD formats" in future editions of Windows, expanding on its earlier declaration of support for the "plus" formats only.
Parsons adds that while Pioneer has adopted a "multiple-format" approach for their desktop DVD recording line, their "dash"-only strategy for set-top video recorders has not changed. The reason? "Too many application layers on top of four physical layers. DVD+R and +RW use ‘+VR,' which is a spinoff from DVD-Video, but with its own capabilities. DVD-R uses DVD-Video, and DVD-RW can use DVD-Video or -VR. How do we make a video recorder that makes all of this work in a predictable, consistent way for the end user? We think it's too much to handle in a single box."