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Sony abandons DVD-RAM format

Partnering with HP and Philips, Sony is abandoning the format agreed upon by major electronic equipment makers this past spring.

Sony is working with Philips Electronics, Hewlett-Packard (HWP), and other unannounced partners on a new recordable DVD storage technology that will eventually be promoted as the basis for hard drives and disk systems in PCs.

The new digital versatile disc technology will compete with the DVD-RAM format previously agreed upon by Sony and other major electronic equipment makers, including Matsushita Electric, Toshiba, and Hitachi. In addition, the format faces challenges from other companies and rival technologies, including NEC. (See related story)

DVD-RAM drives would allow users to both record and read data, As yet, the new recordable DVD technology does not have a name, and no release date has been set, said Sony spokesman Rick Clancy. Discs and players based on the new technology will resemble current CD-ROM and DVD-ROM discs and will be able to read both formats, Clancy added.

For now, Sony is distancing itself from the DVD-RAM standard altogether. "The company has no intention of developing products for DVD-RAM," said Clancy, adding that Sony often works on its own storage technology. Last May, for instance, the company announced that it was working on a technology for home use that would have a 12GB storage capacity.

Industry observers are worried that a new format would delay the introduction of recordable DVD drives.

"When the DVD-RAM specification was finalized by the DVD Forum in April, there was some speculation that Philips and Sony were disgruntled because they favored a different method for reading data. I wouldn't be surprised if they think that their tech is as good [as the approved technology] and that they can make more money using their technology," says Tom O'Reilly, editor and senior analyst for the DVD Report, an industry trade publication.

"Two formats that are incompatible isn't good news for the industry in general. It will cause more problems for the users, [who have] another choice to make, another source of confusion. It's not helping the DVD cause," O'Reilly says.

The three companies' new recordable DVD format is supposed to be more compatible with DVD-ROMs (read-only memories), which are already used in personal computers, than the common format. The new format has a data storage capacity of 3GB, compared with the common format's 2.6GB.

The three companies applied to the European Computer Manufacturers Association for approval of their format in May, according to Sony. Approval for the technology, which has been in development since 1995, will probably take six months to a year.

Reuters contributed to this report.