Drives and discs based on the beleaguered DVD-RAM standard will come to market in January 1998, the first in a series of product releases in the high-density storage arena for the year.
Matsushita Electric will commercially release DVD-RAM computer drives and discs into the U.S. and Japanese markets in January under its Panasonic brand name, the company said today. Barring other events, Matsushita will become the first company to release technology based on the DVD-RAM standard.
The Panasonic LF-D101 internal drive will be able to read and record on discs with an overall capacity of 5.2GB. Initially, the drive will carry a suggested price of $799. Double-sided discs having a total capacity of 5.2GB will be available at the same time for $39.95. Single-sided discs with half the capacity will sell for $24.95.
DVD-RAM has become a political hot potato in the high storage market. DVD-RAM allows consumers to record data onto a disc, erase it, and then re-record on the same disc, similar to how consumers currently use VCRs and computer disks. Vendors such as Sony, however, claim current DVD-RAM technology makes recording difficult since users can't do staggered recording, but must start from scratch each time.
DVD-RAM is essentially a follow-on to DVD-ROM, already on the market, which only allows playback of data.
The discs, both RAM and ROM, are expected to provide customers with movies, databases, and other data-capacity-intensive applications.
Although the DVD-RAM standard originally enjoyed widespread industry support, manufacturers began to propose different, incompatible standards for re-recordable high density storage in the early fall. As a result, there exists a debate over which re-recordable technology will become the standard.
The competing technologies are a hodgepodge of specifications and storage capacity bravado.
Sony's recordable DVD drives can store up to 3.0GB of data per side, slightly higher than the 2.6GB-per-side capacity offered by DVD-RAM. Sony's drives are expected to be commercially available in the spring of 1998 but no pricing has been set, according to reports.
Meanwhile, Hitachi and Toshiba are also expected to release DVD-RAM products. Hitachi, however, has said it has developed DVD-RAM technology that provides a capacity of 4.7GB per side, beating both Sony and standard DVD-RAM in capacity. The Hitachi technology will be submitted to the DVD Forum and is compatible with standard DVD-RAM technology..
NEC, for its part, is further proposing technology that purportedly tops the all others in capacity. This would allow 5.2GB per side.
To top it off, Thomson Consumer Electronics and Zenith will make DVD players by mid-1998 that play special discs using technology from Divx. The technology, developed with $100 million in financial backing from retail giant Circuit City, lets users bring home a disc for an expected price of around $5 to view a movie. The Divx technology is being positioned not as a direct competitor to DVD but as one that adds additional capability to DVD.
While the manufacturers are split on standards for re-recordable media, they have all generally agreed to support read-only DVD-ROM technology and record-once DVD-R standards.
DVD sales, slow so far, are expected to explode: As many as a million DVD-ROM drives could be in customers' hands by the end of the year, according to Dataquest. In 1998, sales could reach 8.2 million more, with 10 million to be sold in 1999 as the drives increasingly come with new PCs.