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DVD-RAM standard again on horizon

The DVD Forum, an industry consortium, has started working on a standard for next-generation re-recordable DVD-RAM drives which can store 4.7GB.

    In an effort to trump other players in the DVD arena, the DVD Forum, an industry consortium, has started working on a standard for next-generation re-recordable DVD-RAM drives that can store 4.7GB of information on a single-sided disk.

    The Forum's efforts would not only expand DVD-RAM capacity but also lead to peace and unity among the DVD powers, who have been brandishing competing specifications for re-recordable DVD technology. The infighting has threatened to push out mass acceptance of the technology, say some.

    DVD-RAM allows consumers to record data onto a disc, erase it, and then re-record on the same disc, similar to how a VCR or computer disk is used. The current iteration of DVD-RAM drives, due out by January of 1998, will only be able to store 2.6GB of data on a single side. This pales in comparison to DVD-ROM drives, which can play back up to 4.7GB of multimedia content on a single side. DVD-ROM drives, however, can't re-record information.

    The DVD Forum is now collecting proposals for the updated technology from DVD manufacturers, and reportedly hopes to have the second version of the official standard ready by September 1998.

    "The original [DVD-RAM] specification was very conservative. It offered increased reliability over higher capacity drives. On the flip side, it opened up the way for a number of leapfrog announcements," said Ted Pine, analyst with market research firm InfoTech.

    The leapfrogging Pine refers to started in September with Sony, Philips, Hewlett-Packard, and others announcing that they were working on a separate re-recordable DVD technology that could potentially store up to 3.0GB of data per side.

    Pioneer followed the announcement by declaring it had its own re-recordable technology which stored even more data. Pioneer claims its technology will store 3.95GB of data.

    Though the DVD-ROM standard has not been affected by the turmoil in re-recordable DVD, the market's growth has been stunted by the confusion. Analysts such as InfoTech's Pine said the manufacturers are clamoring to set a 4.7GB standard so the devices can one day function as VCR replacements. In the meanwhile, most purchasers of re-recordable DVD products will be multimedia content creators or corporate users who have large amounts of data to archive.

    Pine said the publicity surrounding the explosion of re-recordable DVD technologies "goosed" the DVD Forum into moving forward with the 4.7GB standard.

    "It?s good preventative medicine for them [the DVD Forum] if they can come out with an official specification. That might parry some of the other specifications," Pine noted.

    Standardized DVD-RAM products should be ready for market in mid-1999, if all goes well, Pine predicted. The new drives are expected to be backward compatible with older DVD-RAM drives.