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Another DVD scheme emerges

A new technology gives developers yet another DVD option amid an already crowded field of standards.

Just when it seemed that the DVD world had ended its standards rivalry, a technology announced today from Multimedia 2000 gives developers another option for digital video discs.

DVD Multiplay bridges the gap between standalone DVD players for the TV and drives that come bundled in PCs by allowing the same disk to play in both. At present, the interactive features of PC DVD discs usually cannot be used if played on a TV DVD drive.

The new technology is not a new standard per se, but an enabling technology for current DVD drives.

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Today's announcement from Multimedia 2000 could be important for the DVD world, as consumers have been reluctant to adopt the technology until titles proliferate and the initial quirks and incompatibilities are resolved.

Competing DVD types
DVD Type Rewritable? Capacity Industry Support
DVD-ROM Read only 4.7GB All major
PC makers
DVD-RAM Re-recordable 2.6GB Hitachi, Toshiba, Matsushita
DVD-R+W Re-recordable 3GB Sony, HP, Philips, Mitsubishi, Richoh, Yamaha
Divx Read only, limited use 4.7GB Digital Video Express, Circuit City, JVC, Zenith, Matsushita

"For those people who are torn between buying a standalone drive and watching DVD on their PC, this is the best of both worlds," said Richard Doherty, an analyst at The Envisioneering Group.

The difference between DVD Multiplay and other DVD standards is that it allows developers to reach a broader audience using conventional "DVD-ROM" drives.

DVD is primarily available now as a playback-only high-capacity DVD-ROM storage medium, which is attractive to consumers looking to view high-quality games on their PCs or movies on their TVs. These drives are shipping in high-end PCs and sold as stand-alone players at consumer electronics stores.

But the market is awash with a panopoly of competing technologies. Next-generation DVD-RAM technology, which allows the user to both playback and record, is beginning to become available in selected upgrade kits and high-end PCs. Another flavor of recordable DVD, DVD+RW, will hit the stores early next year.

The standards waters have been muddied even more by Divx, a limited-use version of DVD-ROM developed and supported by Circuit City for consumer rental purposes, is expected to become widely available this summer.

It's no wonder that consumers are confused by the many DVD options, and are waiting for the dust to clear and a victor to emerge before buying in, said Doherty. "We're suggesting that people hold off from [buying DVD-RAM drives] unless they really have to have it," he said. "If you take a disc from a DVD-RAM drive, you can't plop it into a DVD-ROM drive. They're not compatible yet."

DVD-RAM drives will be backwards compatible, according to Ken Weilerstein, an analyst at DataPro, meaning they will be able to read CDs, rewritable CDs, and DVD-ROM discs. However, existing DVD-ROM drives will not be able to read DVD-RAM discs.

"The thing that's holding up DVD-ROM is that there isn't a compelling need for read-only drives," Weilerstein said. "But if you had a drive that could read DVD-ROM and write DVD-RAM at a price that's competitive with CD-recordable, that would be a very competitive product."

Multimedia 2000 may help spur developer interest, and in turn attract consumers to DVD, Weilerstein speculated. "They're making it easy as a developer to reach a lot of people," he noted. "By reaching two different kinds of machines, they're expanding the potential range of customers. It could help the DVD market in a small way."