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DVD tries a new tack

Panasonic and Hewlett-Packard turn to consumers to give recordable DVD hardware and software a boost.

DVD drive manufacturers are hoping that some of the magic that has made recordable CDs a big hit with consumers will rub off on their efforts to make recordable DVDs a mainstream technology.

Panasonic, Hitachi and other companies descended Monday on the National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas to show off new hardware and software that will allow consumers to record video onto DVDs. Although recordable DVDs were originally touted as a way for creating backup files for businesses, the pitch has fallen on deaf ears in the corporate world. Subsequently, manufacturers are now looking to consumers to jump-start the market.

Prices of recordable DVD products remain high, but there's no lack of effort among companies to grab a foothold in the market. Both Panasonic and Hewlett-Packard announced Monday that their upcoming DVD-related products will be bundled with digital video authoring software, allowing consumers to record and store video on discs.

"Copying music was one of the reasons that CD-R took off," Gartner analyst Mary Craig said of CD-recordable technology. "And now DVD manufacturers are hoping that copying video will have the same effect. Backup and data storage just didn't do it for DVD, so manufacturers are looking to consumer applications to fuel better acceptance."

Panasonic announced that its upcoming combination DVD-RAM/R drive, the LF-D311, will be bundled with Sonic Solutions' DVDit LE software.

DVD-RAM is a rewritable DVD technology suited for archiving data or video. However, most consumer DVD players cannot read DVD-RAM discs. DVD-R, a competing standard, is for recording or rewriting, depending on which disc is used. DVD-R is designed mainly for video and is compatible with a large number of consumer DVD players and most PC DVD drives.

Sonic Solutions' software will allow consumers to edit and create videos, which can be recorded onto DVD-RAM or DVD-R discs.

Panasonic's upcoming DVD-RAM/R drive will be demonstrated at this week's trade show. The $1,000 drive is expected to ship to distributors later this quarter.

Meanwhile, HP announced that its DV Accessory Kit will be bundled with Spruce Technologies' SpruceUp digital video authoring software. The new software kit is only available for buyers of HP workstations and will cost $299. The company also announced a workstation Monday at the trade show. HP's new $3,000 workstation, the x2000, comes with a 1.7GHz Pentium 4.

"We have found that more and more users are communicating through video. And with our kit and workstations, our customers can now capture, edit and publish to DVD, CD or the Web," HP spokeswoman Molly Connolly said.

Pioneer also announced it will ship its DVR-A03, a combination DVD/CD drive, by the end of May for $995. The Pioneer drive includes DVD-R, DVD-rewritable, CD-R and CD-rewritable. The Pioneer drive will also bundle Sonic Solutions' software, MyDVD, for DVD-video authoring.

Right now, the Pioneer drive is only available as the SuperDrive in Apple Computer's Power Macs and in high-end computers from Compaq Computer.

Among consumers, recordable DVD products have yet to usurp technologies for recording CDs and have a long way to go, according to Gartner. Last year, 345,000 DVD-RAM drives were shipped compared with 36 million CD-RW drives.

The main reason comes down to price, Craig said. Prices for DVD-RAM discs range from $20 to $40, depending on capacity per disc, which ranges from 2.6GB to almost 10GB. CD-RW media comes in at 29 cents per 650MB disc. The costs of drives also vary drastically with CD-RW drives selling for around $100.

DVD-RAM and other recordable DVD technologies face a mighty opponent in the more affordable CD-RW alternatives, Craig said, but video authoring does open new doors.

"DVD-RAM will have a difficult time competing on price, but video opens new markets and can expand the market for DVD-RAM," Craig said.