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Pioneer jumps into DVD market

Pioneer announces a new "write-once" DVD drive, while also declaring it has submitted a new proposal for a re-recordable DVD standard.

LAS VEGAS--The alphabet soup of differing standards for re-recordable DVD technology just got thicker.

Pioneer today announced a new "write-once" DVD drive, sometimes called "DVD-R," while also declaring it has submitted a new proposal for a re-recordable digital video disc standard to an industry consortium known as the DVD Forum.

Pioneer's new DVR-S101 DVD-R drive is intended for use by programmers who are testing and See special report: Blurred picture for DVD? developing DVD applications, as well as those who are distributing limited numbers of DVDs or storing images or video data, the company said. The discs can store 3.95GB capacity, which is roughly six times more than a CD-R disc can store but less than the 4.7GB capacity of DVD-ROM drives.

DVD-R discs can be read by any DVD playback device, including DVD-ROM drives and DVD-Video players. While manufacturers have generally agreed on a read-only DVD-ROM and record-once DVD-R technology, the same can't be said for standards for re-recordable media.

Pioneer's proposed DVD-R/W technology, along with DVD-RAM and several other re-recordable DVD technologies, allows consumers to record data onto a disc, erase it, and then re-record on the same disc. Vendors such as Sony however, claim current DVD-RAM technology makes recording difficult since users can't do staggered recording, but must start from scratch each time.

DVD-RAM and the other re-recordable DVD technologies are essentially a follow to the DVD-ROM, already on the market, which only allows playback of data. Both technologies will provide customers with movies, large databases, and other data-intensive applications. More importantly, DVD-RAM would allow consumers to store information from digital television broadcasts in a high-quality format as easily they record programs onto VCRs today.

Although the DVD-RAM standard originally enjoyed widespread industry support, manufacturers began to propose different, incompatible standards for re-recordable high density storage in the early fall, with each company vying to have its intellectual property used in all of these next-generation VCRs. As a result, there exists an increasingly muddled debate over which re-recordable technology will become the standard.

Sony, along with Hewlett-Packard and others, were first to break ranks on DVD-RAM, saying that it was working on a non-compatible standard called Phase-Change ReWriteable, or DVD+RW.

Sony's recordable DVD drives can store up to 3.0GB of data per side, slightly higher than the 2.6GB-per-side capacity offered by DVD-RAM. Sony's drives are expected to be commercially available in the spring of 1998.

Matsushita Electric has decided to forge ahead and commercially release DVD-RAM computer drives and discs into the U.S. and Japanese markets in January under its Panasonic brand name. The Panasonic LF-D101 internal drive will be able to read and record on discs with an overall capacity of 5.2GB for around $800.

Hitachi and Toshiba are also expected to release DVD-RAM products. Hitachi, however, has said it has developed DVD-RAM technology that provides a capacity of 4.7GB per side, topping both Sony and standard DVD-RAM in capacity. The Hitachi technology will be submitted to the DVD Forum and is compatible with standard DVD-RAM technology.

NEC, for its part, is further proposing technology that purportedly bests all the others in capacity. This would allow 5.2GB per side.

Pioneer's technology would be backward-compatible with DVD-R standards and provide 3.95 GB of storage capacity.

The DVR-S101 will be available by December 1997 for a list price of $16,995, Pioneer says. The drive comes with five blank DVD-R discs and pre-mastering software. Additional DVD-R discs will be available for a list price of $49.95.