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HP to offer trade-in for DVD+RW drives

Hewlett-Packard will offer frustrated customers who own its first DVD-rewritable drive a chance to trade it in for a model that will support more formats--but at a cost of $99.

Hewlett-Packard will offer frustrated customers who own its first DVD-rewritable drive a chance to trade it in for a model that will support record-once DVD discs--but it will cost $99.

The company will swap the first-generation DVD100i drives with ones that will handle both DVD+RW (DVD-rewritable) discs and the less-expensive DVD+R (DVD-recordable) discs.

Last month the PC maker backed off of its initial claims that it would offer an upgrade for its earlier drive, the DVD100i, saying it would not be possible.

After learning this, owners of DVD100i drives became frustrated with the company. That sentiment extends beyond HP customers and underscores a confusion that exists in the DVD-rewritable and -recordable market.

That sector harbors several competing formats and compatibility problems, which have left consumers uncertain about whether products they purchase now will become obsolete in the near future.

Analysts have said that the uncertainty surrounding the various formats and products has slowed growth of this potentially explosive market, which could feed off a strong consumer interest in video editing and playback as well as the enormously popular DVD player market.

As previously reported, the DVD+RW (DVD-rewritable) format received what could become a major endorsement from Microsoft, which will add support for the format in its next version of the Windows operating system.

The DVD+RW Alliance supports the DVD+RW format. Its member companies include Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Philips Electronics. Apple Computer, Hitachi, NEC, Pioneer, Samsung and Sharp are among the member companies of the rival group, the DVD Forum, which advocates the DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM formats.

HP representatives said that the Microsoft news was positive, but that consumers would still need to learn more about the market to understand what different products are capable of doing. They added that they hoped the trade-in program would clear up some of the confusion--at least regarding its own DVD drives.

Before the launch of its DVD100i drives, HP had said it would make an upgrade available that would enable the drives to read and write DVD+R as well as DVD+RW discs. However, after the announcement of its second-generation drives, the PC maker touched off some controversy among its customers when it became clear that an upgrade for its DVD100i drives would not be possible.

The PC maker said it did not market DVD+R support as a feature of its DVD100i drives and did everything it could to make it clear that the drives did not support DVD+R, short of issuing a release.

"In hindsight, we wish we had done that," HP marketing manager Dean Sanderson said.

Customers who call HP customer service from May 1 to June 30 and ask for the trade-in will be sent a new drive and software that will read and write to both DVD+RW and DVD+R discs. The old drives must be sent back to HP. Company representatives said the replacement drive model had not been determined. HP will post further details of the program on its Web site starting Tuesday.

The trade-in will be available to customers in Canada and the United States; Europe is still under consideration.

HP representatives said the trade-in consists of hardware and software parts, and that the process ended up being more complicated than they expected it would. They would not say how many people bought the DVD100i drive, but they did say that only a small, albeit vocal, number has called customer service to complain.

HP will also replace the DVD100i drives that were sold in its Pavilion line of PCs.

The company is the first of the DVD+RW drive makers to detail plans for a trade-in option for owners of its first drives. Other DVD drive manufacturers, such as Sony and Philips, are still deciding whether to conduct a trade-in program.

A Sony representative said that no decisions about an upgrade have been made. In the past, Sony has said it was looking into upgrade programs for first-generation drive owners. Philips representatives did not immediately return calls seeking comment for this report.