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Streaming Media
The IDEs of March: Sony, HP, Pioneer Debut Next-Generation Writable DVD Drives
Posted Apr 1, 2002 Print Version     Page 1of 1

April 2002|Attendees at the mid-March CeBit show—in past years, the biggest crowd ever gathered for anything but war or Woodstock—saw the tectonics of DVD recording shift yet again with two long-anticipated DVD+R/RW drive announcements from HP and Sony. More or less simultaneously, Pioneer's latest, the DVR-A04 quietly slipped into the same retail and OEM channels where its predecessor, the A03, had made its big splash last year.

Where the third-generation A03 proved the real breakthrough drive for Pioneer's DVD-R technology—introducing sub-$1000 pricing, rewritable DVD-RW capability, CD-R/RW writing, half-height IDE configuration, and integration into elegant professional desktop computers from Apple and Compaq— these second-generation offerings from HP and Sony should likewise launch DVD+RW technology into the consumer computing consciousness. For one thing, these drives offer write-once DVD+R recording, a feature promised well in advance of the first-generation drives' release, but unavailable until now. They also offer multiple interface options, external configurations, and reconfigured software bundles. According to a recent IDC report, DVD writer shipments (encompassing DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, and DVD-RAM sales) are expected to grow from 3.9 million units this year to 35 million in 2005.

Hewlett-Packard announced two drives, the DVD Writer dvd200i, an internal drive, and the HP DVD Writer dvd200e, HP's first external DVD writer, which targets notebook PC owners. While Pioneer has positioned DVD-R for a variety of applications (offering both "authoring" and "general" drives and media, which are write-exclusive), HP's aim for its DVD+R/RW drives is "simplifying the transfer and editing of home video." In a recent HP consumer survey, 66 percent of respondents indicated video applications were the primary appeal of DVD writers. Included with the drive is the latest version of Sonic Solutions' MyDVD, which offers Edit-on-DVD technology, facilitating the changing of content already on a DVD+RW disc without going through the process of rewriting an entire disc. These new drives can write to several different media formats, including DVD+R/RW and CD-R/RW. The drives offer speeds of 2.4X (write), 2.4X (rewrite) and 8X (read). In addition, the drives feature 12X CD-R (write), 10X CD-RW (rewrite) and 32X CD (read) speeds. The HP DVD Writer dvd200e drive also offers two connection options, IEEE1394 (FireWire) or USB 2.0. The HP DVD Writer dvd200i drive will ship to major retail outlets in the United States in mid-April at an estimated U.S. street price of $499; the external dvd200e drives will follow in May with anticipated street pricing of $599.

HP DVD+RW discs are currently available throughout the U.S. at an estimated street price of $10.99. As of April, according to HP, three-packs of DVD+RW discs will be available for $25.99 and five-pack of DVD+R discs will go for $27.99. Verbatim has indicated availability of its own DVD+R media on a slightly earlier timetable.

Sony has also introduced a pair of new DVD+R/RW models. Both the DRU-120A IDE internal model and the DRX-120L i.LINK external burner combine DVD+R/RW and CD-R/RW recording with DVD-ROM and CD-ROM playback—all in one device that delivers compelling features for burning DVDs and CDs. Both models support up to 2.4X maximum writing speed for DVD+R/+RW discs, 12X maximum recording speed for CD-R discs, and 10X maximum recording speed for CD-RW discs. For users of i.LINK (IEEE 1394)-equipped PCs, the DRX-120L provides the convenience of plug-and-play connectivity and the ability to daisy-chain other i.LINK devices (such as DV camcorders) to the drive. Bundled software with the Sony drives includes B's CLiP packet writing software for drag-and-drop data recording to DVD+RW and CD-RW discs; B's Recorder GOLD for all-purpose CD recording and DVD backup and data recording; Retrospect Express for back-up and disaster recovery; CyberLink's PowerDVD for DVD-Video and VideoCD playback; MusicMatch Jukebox for personalized music programming and playback; and MedioStream's neoDVDstandard for creation of custom DVD-Video and Video CDs with set-top playback compatibility from digital or analog video tape.

MedioStream neoDVD standard offers Sony users two patented DVD recording enhancement features, according to MedioStream's own release on the Sony bundle: "Direct-to-Disc Recording" for one-step (non-buffered) video transfer and "Smart Buffering," a method for maintaining DV-to-DVD transcoding activity on slower PCs roughly akin to BURN-Proof technology used to prevent buffer underruns in CD recording. Direct-to-Disc can be used with any DVD+RW drive, according to MedioStream; Smart Buffering offers compatibility with DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW recorders.

The Sony DRU-120A will be available in May for a suggested retail price of $499.99, and the DRX-120L model drive will be available in June for a suggested retail price of $599.99. Sony DVD+RW drives are sold through resellers and retailers nationwide, mail order catalogs, and select online shopping sites, including

Both Sony drives, like the new HP models, currently offer Windows compatibility only. Both drives are based (like their predecessors) on a Ricoh DVD+RW mechanism; Ricoh's own second-generation DVD+R/RW bundles, not sold in North America, have yet to be announced.

While the Pioneer A04 will be the first of the new drives to ship—if only pre-installed in the latest (now-available) Mac G4s and iMac DV's under Apple's chosen nom de plume, SuperDrive—information about the drive remains sketchier at this writing. Doubled CD-RW writing speed is reportedly one key enhancement. Also a half-height IDE drive like the A03, and also offering DVD-R/RW and CD-R/RW recording capability, the A04 currently appears on various mail-order computing sites with pre-order pricing in the $475 range.

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