Hitachi DVD drive leaps language barrier

The company hypes a new drive that reads and writes three of the competing DVD formats now available. Can it clean up the standards mess and help the industry realize its potential?

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
3 min read
Hitachi is coming out with a multilingual DVD drive.

The electronics maker announced on Monday that it has developed a drive that can read and write several formats for recordable and rewritable DVD discs, as well as for recordable and rewritable CDs.

The GMA-4020B drive will support DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM formats and will begin shipping in January of next year. Pricing will be determined by retailers, according to a company release from Tokyo.

Hitachi representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Hitachi drive comes at a time when the competitive landscape is prime for a breakthrough product. With most of the DVD rewritable formats supported by the drive, Hitachi is in a good position to trump rivals with an all-in-one drive while at the same time pushing aside an emerging format, DVD+RW, which has had some trouble getting off the ground.

With the drive, consumers will be able to record video onto a disc and play it on a typical home DVD player. With the recordable and rewritable discs, consumers will be able to erase and record again on the same disc.

The Hitachi drive will help to ease the standards free-for-all in the market for DVD drives, where competing formats and incompatibilities have slowed what industry insiders had anticipated would be an explosive market.

"We're at the beginning of critical mass, but the stumbling block is competing standards," said NPD Intelect analyst Stephen Baker. "They can confuse people and kill a market?Having one box supporting all the standards gives consumers a peace of mind that what they are buying will not soon be obsolete."

Gartner analyst Mary Craig recently lowered her projection for 2001 shipments of DVD recordable and rewritable drives from 900,000 units to 540,000 units. Craig said that she adjusted her expectations because prices had not come down as quickly as she had anticipated and because she had expected that drives supporting yet another format, DVD+RW, would be out in volume by now.

But Craig added that she expected shipments to be higher next year, as pricing comes down and companies improve their marketing efforts.

PC makers and consumer-electronics makers are hoping for the same success that recordable and rewritable CD drives had when they were introduced a few years ago. Rewritable DVD drives could do the same this year, some industry watchers believe, as well as spur demand for PCs. DVDs can hold 4.7GB of data, seven times as much as recordable CDs.

Hewlett Packard began shipping the first DVD+RW drive, priced at $599, in September. The DVD+RW media, which HP is also selling, costs $15.99 per disc. Both the media and the drive were the low-water marks for the industry.

HP plans to incorporate the drives into its PCs later this year.

The DVD+RW format has significant support from the likes of Dell Computer--which announced it would begin shipping PCs with the DVD+RW drives this year--as well as Sony and Philips Electronics.

Hitachi expects to ship 100,000 units per month of the new drive. Craig was somewhat skeptical of that figure but said the Hitachi drive should help resolve some of the confusion among consumers.

"This drive offers as much functionality as a consumer will need for the time being, but the real sticking point will be the price," Craig said.

Competing drives are now in the $600 range, and Craig said that a good starting point for Hitachi's drive would be around $500.

Hewlett Packard DVD+RW product manager Christine Roby agreed cost was a critical factor. "Supporting multiple standards just builds cost into a product that the consumer must make up for," she said.

Roby added that Hitachi's drive is more of a short-term solution that doesn't help the industry in the long run. The goal is to help the industry pick a single standard, which eliminates additional cost and consumer confusion, Roby said.