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DVD formats put to the test

Panasonic is trying to tackle one of the major obstacles that has slowed mainstream adoption of recordable DVD drives with a new drive that can read multiple formats.

Panasonic is trying to tackle one of the major obstacles that has slowed mainstream adoption of recordable DVD drives with a new drive that can read multiple formats.

The electronics maker unveiled the DVDBurner II this week at the TechXNY technology conference in New York. The new drive meets the DVD Multi specification, meaning it is able to read and write recordable DVD formats recognized by the DVD Forum, an industry group with 230 member companies that support DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD-R formats.

Late last year, Hitachi unveiled its own drive, which, similar to Panasonic's DVDBurner II, supports the DVD Multi specification.

The DVD industry has been split in two over the issue of standards and technology. DVD Forum members--including companies such as Apple Computer, Hitachi, NEC, Pioneer, Samsung and Sharp--advocate the DVD-RAM, DVD-R and DVD-RW formats. The DVD+RW Alliance, which includes companies such as Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Philips, has thrown its support behind the DVD+RW format, which also features support for DVD+R.

Panasonic's drive is scheduled to ship in October. Priced under $500 and able to read several formats, the drive surpasses two of the biggest hurdles analysts have said are preventing mainstream adoption of DVD recordable drives. Consumers may ultimately decide the winner in this battle, according to Gartner analyst Mary Craig.

"In the long run, this battle comes down to which companies adopt which formats and who the consumer trusts more," Craig said.

Consumer electronics and PC companies are looking to the increasing popularity of video editing, which recordable DVD drives play a key role in, to boost hardware sales. Some 628,000 DVD recordable drives were shipped in 2001, and 27.6 million shipments are expected by 2005, according to Gartner.

Panasonic product manager Dana Berzin said that the DVDBurner II reduces consumer confusion over which drives and discs can be used together. However, Craig said that consumers will probably still be frustrated over the format question, as Panasonic's drive still doesn't recognize DVD+RW.

"Consumers still have to figure out which is the best technology for their needs, and for the most part, drives and media supporting the different formats are comparable in price and industry clout," Craig said.

Sources say Hitachi LG is working on a drive that supports DVD-RW and DVD+RW formats and is expected to be available in the fall. Hitachi LG representatives did not return calls for comment.

Sony representatives confirmed that the company is working on a similar drive.