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Pioneer blazing trail for DVD burning

The electronics maker is releasing a recordable/rewritable drive it says will help people burn DVDs twice as fast.

Pioneer Electronics wants to make the holiday season fly by for DVD fanatics.

The Long Beach, Calif.-based division of Tokyo's Pioneer on Thursday announced a new combination DVD-CD recordable/rewritable drive for PCs that cuts the time it takes to record a full-length DVD or CD in half.

The new DVR-A05 drive trumpets speeds that double those of Pioneer's previous generation of internal drives: 4X DVD-R and 16X CD-R for "recordable" DVD and CD formats, which allow for onetime recording only, and 2X DVD-RW and 8X CD-RW for the rewritable formats, which let consumers record over unwanted data.

The 4X DVD-R speed means that it will take drive owners only about 15 minutes to record enough data to fill a standard 4.7GB DVD-R disc, Pioneer Electronics said. That's about half as long as it takes with most drives now on the market, which record at a speed of 2X. The new DVR-A05 drive will be available in November for $299.

Pioneer is looking to take advantage of the upcoming holiday shopping season, traditionally a time of good cheer for consumer-electronics and computer manufacturers. This year, products using DVD recordable/rewritable technology are expected to have a significant impact on sales, as computer makers are touting the feature in new systems.

Analysts have said that the rising popularity of DVD players and digital entertainment is fueling the interest in DVD recordable/rewritable technology. Research company IDC expects DVD recordable/rewritable drive sales to surpass 3 million units worldwide this year and to grow to more than 30 million units by 2005.

That growth should occur despite a format war between two manufacturer's groups, the DVD Forum and the DVD+RW Alliance, who are advocating different and incompatible formats. The DVD Forum promotes the DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM formats, while the DVD+RW Alliance is pushing to make the DVD+RW format a standard in the industry.

Manufacturers are looking to make recording and rewriting to DVD discs easier, and part of that process means making such "burning" faster, according to Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research.

"Burn times have been one of the big issues in improving consumer expectations," said Gartenberg. "Combined with the falling cost of the drives and media, shorter times can lead to an upsurge in sales."

Andy Parsons, Pioneer's senior vice president of marketing, agreed.

"We have to make it easier for consumers to use this technology if we're going to appeal to a much wider, mass-market audience," Parsons said.

Parsons said that it was not clear if PC makers would be able to get the new Pioneer drive into their systems for the holiday season, but he said they've had access to the drives for some time. Computer manufacturers that have used Pioneer drives in the past include Apple Computer, Sony and NEC. Pioneer is also working on a drive for notebook computers that it plans to announce before the end of the year.

The availability of Pioneer's drive comes after the approval by the DVD Forum for the 4X DVD-R and 2X DVD-RW specifications. The DVD+RW Alliance has already approved a 4X DVD+R specification and is working toward a finalized 4X DVD+RW specification by the end of the year.

Hewlett-Packard promotes the DVD+RW format, and representatives said the company would have a similar drive available early in 2003.