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New spin on DVD

Hewlett-Packard says the DVD-RAM design won't fly even as Sharp and Sanyo join the effort to promote it.

As two new companies join the DVD Forum, the industry consortium working on setting recordable DVD standards, Hewlett-Packard is casting doubts on whether the standard will fly with consumers.

In Tokyo, Sharp and Sanyo Electric are joining the effort to promote a recordable DVD standard called DVD-RAM, according to the online version of Nikkei Business Publications. But while the DVD Forum is moving to shore up support for DVD-RAM, officials at HP are casting aspersions on the technology.

HP, along with Sony, Philips, Mitsubishi Chemical, and Ricoh, recently announced that it is working on a noncompatible alternative to DVD-RAM called DVD+RW (or DVD RW). One of the concerns, according to HP, is that the DVD-RAM discs have to be ensconced in a cartridge to ensure data is recorded accurately.

"We think that...people are more comfortable with something that looks like the CD. It's high technology and yet unintimidating. A [DVD-RAM] cartridge looks different," says Dave Deane, DVD marketing manager for HP. It sounds trivial, Dean admits, but packaging can mean the difference between mass-market acceptance of a product and relegation to the sidelines of the market for storage devices.

A spokesperson for Hitachi, which is developing DVD-RAM drives, counters by saying that eventually the technology will advance to the point where the cartridges aren't needed.

Philips has other concerns about DVD-RAM, but downplays the division over a recordable DVD standard. "We think the key issue is compatibility. DVD RW is more easily made compatible with existing CD technologies," says a Philips spokesperson.

Overall, the debate over recordable DVD standards is "a tempest in a teapot," he says, because all of these products are several years from being released on the market.

In the meanwhile, DVD Forum is working to advance DVD-RAM technology so that it can store 4.7GB per side, equaling the amount of data that can be stored on a DVD-ROM. Hitachi is already working on such technology and plans to offer the drives by early 1999. DVD-RAM technology proposed to date has only offered 2.6GB per side.

There is currently no market consensus on whether DVD-RAM or another technology will become the industry standard, but one possibility is that a drive could be modified to read both formats. Another possibility is that the different formats will find acceptance in different market segments, according to Philips.