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Iomega debuts DVD combo drive

The company unveils a drive that can read and write numerous DVD formats, but Sony responds with a rebate on its rival product, which has had the market to itself.

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NEW YORK--Iomega unveiled on Wednesday a drive that will be able to read and write numerous DVD formats, but Sony responded with a rebate on its competing product, which currently has the market to itself.

As expected, Iomega's Super DVD drive will span the range of CD and DVD technologies, including CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW, all formats supported by Sony's drive. Where the Iomega product differs, though, is in its support for the DVD-RAM format for backing up data and in included software intended to make it easy for computer users to pick which software and recording medium to use for various tasks, said Richard Giannini, manager of the product.

Giannini showed two versions of the product at the CeBit trade show here. An internal version costing $329 is scheduled to arrive in August, with a somewhat larger $379 external model using a USB 2.0 connection scheduled for September release. The company is investigating the possibility of a system with a IEEE 1394 "Firewire" connection as well, he added.

The drive is an attempt to pave over a divide in the DVD industry, with DVD-R and DVD-RW competing with DVD+R and DVD+RW. Consumers are caught in the middle, as they were with standards for videotapes, video cards and 56 kilobit-per-second modems. That bind has led buyers to postpone purchases or risk buying one type of drive and creating DVDs that won't work in other drives or players.

"There's no longer a need to see who's going to win the format war," Giannini said.

Sony released its combination drive in November 2002 with a $350 price tag. Since then, it's increased recording speeds and dropped the price to $329. On Wednesday, Sony said it will offer a $30 rebate from June 27 through July 31.

Pioneer announced a multiformat DVD drive in March, with plans to release it in Japan in June.

Sony doesn't believe the DVD-RAM support in the Iomega drive will make a difference. The company said in a statement that the format "has very little value in the market. It's a proprietary format that's not playback compatible with DVD-ROM drives and DVD players. It's also slower, and the media is more expensive."

Giannini disagrees, saying that consumers will seek out DVD-RAM's backup features--a longer lifespan and a screening process to make sure data isn't stored on damaged parts of the media.

Another format war could be on the horizon, though. Two competing groups are working on next-generation DVD technology that uses blue lasers.

Iomega plans to sell its Super DVD drive at retail, not built into computers, Giannini said.