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Streaming Media
HP in Hot Water Over DVD+RW Drives
Posted May 1, 2002 Print Version     Page 1of 1

May 2002|Did Hewlett-Packard mislead consumers who bought their first-generation DVD+RW drive with the expectation that it would be able to write to the less-expensive DVD+R discs once they were released?

Plenty of HP dvd100i owners think so, and they raised a stink in March when HP released its second-generation drives and said that users would have to buy the new model if they wanted to take advantage of DVD+R. Users complained to the company and vented their frustrations on DVD bulletin boards, pointing to HP and DVD+RW Alliance press releases that promised—or at least suggested—future DVD+R compatibility.

Some industry insiders think consumers should have been smarter than to put their faith in promises about a format that hadn't even been finalized last fall, when the first-generation DVD+RW drives hit the market. Others think that HP made an unfortunate public relations error. (Philips and Sony also came out with DVD+RW drives last year, but Sony stayed away from promising DVD+R capability while Philips made its claim to DVD+R right on the drive's box.)

A DVD+RW Alliance statement posted on the HP Web site in May 2001 said that alliance companies would include DVD+R capabilities in units to be released that summer, with a quote from HP vice president John Spofford claiming that DVD+R and DVD+RW would give the world "a seamless media exchange" in much the way that CD-R and CD-RW have. Another Alliance statement in November reinforced the idea that the +RW drives would be write-compatible with +R media, adding that "DVD+RW and DVD+R discs written on a DVD+RW recorder can be read and played in most DVD-Video players and DVD-ROM drives."

Furthermore, a 2001 data sheet for the dvd100i, which was also included in the higher-end models of HP's Pavilion PCs, says that the unit includes "information on DVD+R upgrade." All recent references to the dvd100i on HP's Web site make it clear that the unit is not write-compatible with DVD+R.

So were consumers wrong to believe that their HP dvd100i—or, for that matter, their Phillips DVDRW208 or Sony DRU110A, which use the same Ricoh mechanism—would handle DVD+R media? That depends on who you ask.

"It's silly to expect a drive to write a format that's not released," said Felix Nemirovsky, general manager of Oak Technology‘s optical media software group and chair of the Multiread subcommittee of the Optical Storage Technology Association. "It's surprising that anyone would expect the drives to work."

"There's been a lot of public outcry, and perhaps justifiably so," said Robert DeMoulin, marketing manager of Sony's disc storage and peripherals division. "Until a standard is finalized, you shouldn't say much about it. But one company did and now everybody's got a little egg on their face."

As early as November, Hewlett-Packard was backing off on DVD+R claims for the dvd100i, with product manager Christine Roby telling CNet that the technology might be part of their "spring line." And EMedia reported in January that the DVD+RW drives would neither be able to use write-once discs nor be upgraded to do so (see "What's Past is Prologue: HP Dumps CD-RW for DVD+RW,", company claims notwithstanding. Whether or not HP was too aggressive in touting DVD+RW's compatibility with DVD+R, all seem to agree that some members of the DVD+RW Alliance were overly optimistic. Many involved believed that +R compatibility would require nothing more than a firmware upgrade, DeMoulin said. Nemirovsky believes that's still the case, but DeMoulin says that the difference in technology—write-once being a dye-based process while rewriting is accomplished through a phase-change process—means that the DVD+RW drives would need a completely different controller chip to use DVD+R.

In the meantime, HP and Sony announced the dvd200i and the DRU120A DVD+R/RW drives, respectively, at CeBit this spring. The fact that they came out with second-generation drives less than six months after the first-generation versions hit the shelves seemed only to pour salt on the wounds of frustrated dvd100i and DRU110A owners.

At press time, DeMoulin said Sony was considering some sort of plan to respond to customer complaints; in mid-April, HP initiated a "dvd100i Trade-in Program," with new DVD+R/RW drives available to dvd100i owners for $99 through June 30.

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