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DVD Drives Support Multiple Rewritable Standards

It has been a little over two years since the “format war” began for recordable digital video disk (DVD) media standards, with three rewritable formats being developed: random-access memory (DVD-RAM), and DVD-RW and DVD+RW. The manufacturers responsible for each standard have been marketing their proposals actively, and this has led to a complicated situation in which multiple standards compete for the same market, with no clear winner emerging. As demand continues to rise, the competition is becoming increasingly intense. Finally, though, it looks like the format war is drawing towards an end.

DVD-Multi vs DVD plus-minus RW

There are two ways in which the convergence of a wide variety of recordable DVD formats could occur, namely: (1) a record/play drive capable of handling most recording DVD formats (a “multi-format” drive) could appear, and (2) there could be an explosive growth in sales of write-once media, rather than continued use of the rewritable media that is providing the current competition. If progress is made in both directions, then users won’t have to face complicated choices in selecting drives or media.

In the second half of 2002, recordable DVD manufacturers will be releasing a succession of multi-format drives, mostly of two types. The first type is the DVD-Multi compliant drive, which supports the DVD-R, DVD-RAM and DVD-RW standards drawn up by the DVD Forum; the other is the DVD plus-minus RW drive, supporting record-and-play formats DVD-RW and DVD+RW. Hitachi-LG Data Storage Co, Inc was the first to make a move, shipping a DVD-Multi drive for use in personal computers (PC) at the end of May 2002. In the second half of 2002, DVD-Multi drives will be shipped by firms including Matsushita Electric Industrial Co, Ltd, Samsung Electronics Co, Ltd, and Toshiba Corp, while NEC, Sanyo Electric Co, Ltd, Sony Corp and others plan to ship DVD plus-minus RW drives. The market should become remarkably active (Fig 1).

Multi-Format Support

Now that it seems clear that the three rewritable formats will continue to coexist, optical disk drive manufacturers are beginning to shift towards active support for multi-format drives. Given this environment, increasing the number of formats supported provides a value-added feature that will stimulate user interest.

PC manufacturers have also recognized the value of the multi-format. NEC, for example, has until recently been using DVD-R and -RW drives in its audio-visual (AV) PC, but has also decided to adopt the DVD-Multi drive. “This is because we simply cannot ignore the increasingly large presence of DVD-RAM in the AV sector,” explained Yoshihiro Koshisaka, manager, Product Planning Department, Marketing Division, NEC Custom Max Ltd.

Hitachi-LG Data Storage, which manufactures the drive, “…can’t supply all the production demand, with the large number of inquiries from many manufacturers,” said Shigemitsu Higuchi, general manager, P5 Team (Super Multi), Development Division at the firm. Matsushita Electric, which plans to ship a DVD-Multi drive to the US in October 2002, has already made a good start toward attaining its goal of high-volume deliveries to PC manufacturers, according a source at the firm.

A number of manufacturers have announced that they will provide multi-format DVD recorders for storing video to recordable DVD disk. As Rick Murai, general manager of Product Planning Department, Home Video Company, Sony Corp Broadband Solution Network Company explained, “We have been selling DVD-RW recorders for some time, but recently more and more PCs are mounting DVD+RW drives. As a result, we will release DVD plus-minus RW drives overseas, where the shift to DVD+RW is more pronounced. And if DVD+RW becomes more popular in Japan, we’ll support both here, too.”

DVD-R Disk — Winner

There is a likely to be a sharp rise in the use of write-once media in 2002 and 2003. “We expect most users to be using write-once media. Eventually, people will be using write-once media in high volume, with only two or three rewritable disks per user,” predicted Tetsuya Mutsu, director, Corporate Sales Promotion Department, Corporate Sales Support Division, Mitsubishi Chemical Media Co, Ltd of Japan.

Shiro Miyauchi, manager, Advanced Optical Department, Recording Media & Solutions Business Group, TDK Corp of Japan, said, “We have already positioned write-once DVD as our key product, and we expect significant demand.” For rewritable media, each firm seems to be heading down its own path: Hitachi-Maxell Co, Ltd of Japan is embracing DVD-RW, Mitsubishi Chemical Media is concentrating on DVD-RAM and TDK is focusing on DVD+RW, all manufactured under original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) contracts by third parties.

Write-Once Usage

One reason why media manufacturers believe that write-once DVD will take over is that the whole scenario appears very similar to that of the spread of CD-R. It seems that many users are likely to use cheap write-once media rather than reusing more expensive rewritable media.

The low price of CD-R disks increased consumption, which in turn reduced manufacturing costs and further widened the price difference with CD-RW. The capital investment required for manufacturing equipment is lower for write-once media for DVD as well.

“People using recordable DVD drives on personal computers are beginning to use DVD-R disks almost all the time,” said TDK’s Miyauchi.

With DVD recorders as well, with which rewritable media has mainly been used, there is a likelihood of a strong shift toward write-once media. Recorders with built-in hard disk drives (HDD) handle image save/discard selection and editing within the HDD itself, eliminating the need for rewritable media. In the more common HDD-less DVD recorders, as Hitachi-Maxell’s Jun Ishikawa, general manager, Business Planning Department, Recording Media Business Group explained, “It will be difficult to eliminate the price gap between write-once and rewritable media. Once people become more familiar with write-once media, we expect the market to adopt it wholesale.”

Low Price Drives

Just as with CD-R drives, the entry of new manufacturers into the DVD-R field will accelerate the fall in prices. Pressure is being increased from two quarters at once to lower prices — from oversupply and increased competition caused by the rising number of manufacturers, and from the entry of new manufacturers, including many from Taiwan.

The industry is expected to enter an oversupply situation in the fall to winter period of 2002. It looks like Japanese manufacturers will have the capacity to fulfill the entire Japan market demand by themselves.

CD-R disk manufacturers face little difficulty in entering the write-once DVD sector. As one engineer at a media manufacturer pointed out, “It is possible to modify many CD-R media manufacturing lines, although not all, to make DVD-R media. All you have to really do is make sure that processes like disk injection molding, stacking attachment and transport can handle the 0.6mm substrates that DVD uses.”

The existing CD-R manufacturers are being joined by new competitors from Taiwan and Korea. Fujiwara Rothchild, a survey firm involved in the optical disk industry, believes the total number of firms in the market is over 20 already.

One-Dollar Disk

Some Internet sites have begun offering DVD-R for about US$1 a-piece (Fig 2). Even more astoundingly, at Computex Taipei 2002, in June 2002, Princo Corp of Taiwan offered an OEM price for DVD-R disks of just US$0.60. The firm claims it will halve the price by the end of 2002.

Japanese media manufacturers believe that these astonishing prices are possible because the DVD patent fee is not included in the media price, or because some manufacturers have adopted manufacturing processes which ignore quality concerns.

Patent fees levied on DVD media have not been clearly defined as yet, and major media manufacturers have set their prices to provide for future payments.

Quality issues have already come to light, too, with a number of reports about the inspection process being skipped, or injection molding being continued beyond the recommended service life of the mold used to press the disks. As a result of this type of practice, many low-quality disks are released onto the market. “Naturally, not all disks are like this,” admits TDK. “Still, when we inspected a number of these low-priced DVD-R disks, we found that play signal jitter increased toward the periphery. One of the DVD-RW disks could only be written to once.”

Some people at Japanese manufacturers are calling for a lawsuit to be launched by the patent holders. For CD-R fees, Royal Philips Electronics is continuing to take legal action against manufacturers who have not yet paid licensing fees. On June 25, 2002, for example, the firm filed a suit with the International Trade Commission (ITC) against 19 media manufacturers, claiming infringement of its CD-R/RW media patents.

Next Year: Drive Wars

The sharp decline in prices is about to hit the recorder/player, too. One engineer at a Japanese optical disk manufacturer expects several major Taiwanese manufacturers to enter the market as early as 2003.

Optical disk drive manufacturers are aiming at OEM prices of US$150 by the end of 2002, and US$100 by the end of the following year (Fig 3).

If the price drops to US$100 or below, it will be possible to mount the drives in the value-priced PC models. Demand will rise, further lowering the manufacturing cost in a feedback loop.

An increasing number of PCs are already mounting the drives. Dell Computer Corp, Epson Direct Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co, Sotec Co, Ltd of Japan and others now offer a PC for under 200,000 yen with a recording DVD drive installed as standard. “There is very strong demand for DVD recordable drives, and if the prices drop a bit more we want to mount them in all our personal computers,” said Junji Tsuyuki, senior manager, Product Planning Department, Vaio Desktop Computer Company/Vaio Notebook Computer Company, Sony.

DVD Players

If DVD recorders achieve widespread market penetration, it will almost certainly spark a review of future DVD technology. Until recently, DVD has appeared as a medium to store standard-definition television (SDTV) images, with image quality being equivalent to the National Television System Committee (NTSC) image. For high-definition TV (HDTV) and extended-duration SDTV recording, next-generation optical disks with capacities of 20 Gbytes or higher will be commonly used. Addressing this, nine AV manufacturers in Japan, Europe and Korea have jointly defined the Blu-ray Disc standard, modifying the optics to achieve a considerable increase in the capacity of the existing DVD standard. At the same time, though, there are efforts to apply compression technology to provide the same recording time using less capacity (Fig 4).

Technical discussions are under way to store HDTV images onto DVD-Video, using a single-sided, two-layer 8.5-Gbyte disk. Advances in compression technology have largely overcome the technical issues involved in reducing the encoding rate to 7 or 8 Mbits/s. If the encoding rate can be held that low, it will be possible to store at least two hours of HDTV images on a single-sided, two-layer DVD-ROM disk.

ESS Technology, Inc of the US is developing a codec integrated circuit (IC) for DVD recorder/players that will support Moving Picture Coding Experts Group Phase 4 (MPEG-4) and Windows Media Video (WMV) formats. The decoder chip is expected to ship in the second quarter of 2003, and the encoder chip in the fourth quarter of the same year. Once these chips become available, it will make it possible to record and play long video streams even without next-generation optical disks. It appears that some Chinese manufacturers are already developing DVD players supporting MPEG-4.

by Masayuki Arai

Dell Computer:
Epson Direct: Only)
ESS Technology:
Hitachi Maxell:
Matsushita Electric Industrial:
Mitsubishi Chemical Media:
Royal Philips Electronics:
Samsung Electronics:
Sanyo Electric:
Sotec: Only)

(September 2002 Issue, Nikkei Electronics Asia)

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