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Streaming Media
Building and Burning Dual-Layer DVD
Posted Apr 12, 2004 Print Version     Page 1of 4 next »

The growing pains of DVD recording in the late 1990s occurred in relative obscurity. For the most part, they were barely noticed outside the small vertical market where the technology was initially used: DVD authoring studios, who used DVD-R media as "check discs" to test their productions on in-house DVD players before premastering the contents to digital linear tape (DLT) and sending the tape off to the replicator.

For those authoring houses, the initial $17,000 price tags of DVD recorders and similarly high media costs were necessary evils, consistent with the rest of their setup and operational costs. There simply was no cheap way to get into DVD in those days.

But DVD-R presented another problem for the early adopters: capacity. Originally, and for some time after its debut, DVD-R media maxed out at 3.95GB, which was 17 percent less than the capacity of a single-sided, single-layer replicated DVD. DVD-RAM was unsuitable for disc-checking because it was incompatible with DVD players, and the Plus formats didn't exist yet. Capacity grew a little as DVD recording grew a lot. Before DVD recording achieved the visibility and popularity it enjoys today, all the DVD formats—DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD+R (in roughly their order of appearance)—achieved the 4.7GB capacity of a single-layer, single-sided pressed DVD.

And that's where they've stayed, capacity-wise, as DVD recording has bashed its way into the mainstream. We all know how it got there: by getting cheaper, faster, and more reliable; by multiformat drives quieting the format war; by the grace of simpler authoring tools, faster computers, and the ascendance of DVD "backup" tools like 321 Studios' embattled DVD X Copy; and by playing a key role in the home/hobbyist urge to capture life on digital video.

But writable DVD hasn't gotten any "bigger," which means it hasn't really gotten any better at its original mission: to provide viable facsimiles of titles in progress. Even more today than when the format debuted, commercial DVD titles take advantage of the full capacity of replicated DVD, which allows for two layers and 8.5GB per side, well beyond the capacity of DVD±R. (Replicated DVD also can be double-sided, but you can simulate the playback of a double-sided, single-layer DVD title much easier than a single-sided, dual-layer title with 4.7GB DVD±R.) More than half the Hollywood DVDs in circulation are dual-layer DVD-9s, and most professionals building titles for replication do a significant chunk of their work for DVD-9. And in the recordable DVD world, there's simply no equivalent.

That's all changing. Attendees of NAB 2004 in Las Vegas will find media manufacturers like Verbatim and drive makers like Sony doubling down and gambling that professional DVD authors and, soon, their consumer counterparts will pay a modest premium to (nearly) double the capacity of their recording media. In the biggest writable DVD announcement since Pioneer unveiled the DVR-A03, the first sub-$1000, internal ATAPI DVD/CD recorder, NAB attendees will witness the debut of "double-layer" DVD+R, a new write-once disc format that will offer 8.5GB capacity on a disc that will play in "most" existing DVD players when written in the DVD-Video format.

Developed by Philips and Verbatim parent Mitsubishi, backed by the +RW Alliance, and dubbed DVD+R DL, the new format will require new recorders, as well as supporting authoring and recording software. Verbatim says they'll have media in "late Q2," with volume shipments to follow shortly thereafter. Sony will launch its 700 Series drive, supporting DVD+R DL (as well as single-layer DVD±R/RW and CD-R/RW), in the same time frame, with both media and drive priced somewhat higher than their single-layer counterparts [see sidebar, "Delivering DL: Drives and Media"].

But how quickly, and how much, will DVD+R DL actually impact the market? Who will adopt it, and how fast? What authoring tools will support it, and how will they change, from a user's perspective, when they do incorporate DL support? Will the DVD Forum follow with a dual-layer version of DVD-R? (Pioneer has presented a dual-layer DVD-R spec but it hasn't been finalized yet—see "Pioneering" sidebar.) And, given that DVD recording is a multi-tiered market, serving a range of demographics and applications, how many of those tiers, demographics, and applications will actually know or care when DVD+R DL hits? Finally, what will authors need to know about the ins and outs of dual-layer DVD authoring with the leading tools in the market to get into the dual-layer game?

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