A Year Ago: DVD group pushes for common format

First published: Wed, 13 Jan 1999 12:00:04 GMT

DVD promises consumers high-quality digital recording of TV programming and the ability to back up massive amounts of data. The problem? Three incompatible formats have confused the market. Later today, the Optical Storage Technology Association hopes to start on the path toward ending that confusion.

The industry association announced plans to meet with 29 companies over two days to establish a specification that will insure that DVD drives can read all three major writeable digital video disc formats. "The battle for supremacy in the writeable DVD standards game has inhibited market growth," said Felix Nemirovsky, chairman of OSTA's Writeable DVD subcommittee, in a statement on Monday. As a result, he said, "some consumers are afraid of backing the wrong horse."

Writeable DVD sales this year will be far below those of DVD-ROM, according to John Freeman, president of storage hardware watcher Strategic Marketing Decisions. The market researcher estimates that writeable DVD sales will reach only 500,000 units in 1999 -- compared with about 30 million DVD-ROM drives and DVD players sold. OSTA's spec could increase consumer confidence in the writeable technology. The initiative would attempt to ratify an extension of the group's current MultiRead spec, which insures compatibility between CD-Audio, CD-ROM, CD-Recordable, CD-Rewriteable, DVD-ROM, and DVD-Recordable formats. The new initiative attempts to bring both DVD-RAM and DVD+RW under that umbrella.

However, the new MultiRead spec may attempt to do too much, warned Alan Bell, program director for digital media standards at IBM Corp. "There needs to be a balance between eliminating consumer confusion and preventing too much bundling of proprietary technology into one package," he said. Such overloading could make the spec too expensive for manufacturers to put into next-generation drives. Freeman agrees. "Manufacturers are not interested in adding 10 or 15 dollars [in cost] to drives that the market wants to be at $65," he said.

Add to that the variety of interests and intellectual property concerns ... and you have a recipe for meltdown. "I would give them as much chance as I would the Republicans and Democrats getting together on an impeachment decision," said Freeman.

OSTA became an international trade association in 1992 and promotes optical writeable technologies. The first meeting of the OSTA Writeable DVD Subcommittee will be Wednesday and Thursday in South San Francisco.