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HP revs up DVD burners

The company doubles the speed limit for its DVD writers with two new devices and sticks to its guns in the battle over recordable DVD formats.

In the latest salvo in the struggle between recordable DVD formats, Hewlett-Packard on Tuesday announced faster DVD burners based on its favored technology.

The DVD+R/+RW drives record information at speeds of up to eight times (8x) the normal DVD playback speed, according to HP. Previously, the company has sold recorders that write data at up to 4x speed. Both devices--the Dvd400i internal drive and the Dvd400e external drive--will come with software for tasks such as editing video and saving photos.

Some companies, including Sony and Pioneer, have introduced drives that can record using the DVD+R/+RW format and also the competing DVD-R or DVD-RW technologies. But HP is sticking to the +R/+RW format in its new products.

"HP is committed to developing DVD technology that is easy to use and supports the most popular format," Christine Roby, a product manager at HP, said in a statement.

The Dvd400i is expected to go on sale this month at the company's Hpshopping.com Web site and at retail outlets in the United States at an estimated price of $199, HP said. The Dvd400e is slated to be released in December with a price tag of $279.

DVDs hold up to 4.7GB of storage capacity, far more than a CD. DVD recorders, which can be integrated with a computer or connected to a home entertainment center, are growing more popular. Retail sales of laptop and desktop computers with DVD burners jumped 550 percent in unit terms during the first half of this year, according to research from NPD Group.

Hanging over the DVD recorder industry, though, is a standards squabble echoing that of the war between the VHS and Betamax video formats. DVD-R and DVD-RW technology is battling it out with the DVD+R/+RW format. The first two "dash" formats are championed by DVD Forum, an industry organization that counts consumer electronics giants Sharp and Pioneer among its members, while the other "plus" technology is backed by another industry group that includes HP, Dell and Sony.

Statistics from NPD Group suggest that the plus format leads in popularity, as HP claims. Sales of recordable DVD media using that format increased from two percent of the U.S. retail market in July 2001 to 55 percent in July 2003, according to the market research firm.

Still, HP's strategy of staying with the plus format alone in its new drives is a bit risky, NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker said. DVD players can generally read disks recorded in either format, but a DVD+RW drive, for instance, cannot record on DVD-RW media, nor can DVD-RW drives record on DVD+RW media.

HP therefore may irk some customers who buy the wrong media for their DVD recorder, Baker suggested. "If you've got a dual-format drive, that takes the whole media issue away," he said.