Format wars heat up with Panasonic DVD launch

It's yet another round in the consumer format wars as Pioneer and Panasonic duke it out over recordable DVD

The struggle to establish a de-facto standard for recordable DVD players hotted up this week, with Panasonic announcing it would launch the world's second recordable player this summer which could hamper development of the format.

Panasonic's VDR-1000 DVD-RAM player records onto DVD-RAM discs but is not compatible with Pioneer's DVD-RW machine -- the first recordable DVD player -- announced at the end of last year.

The situation, says David Mercer, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, is bound to cause "consumer hesitation if not confusion" as the two electronics giants battle it out for supremacy in the DVD arena.

Supporting real-time MPEG2 compressed video recording, Panasonic's VDR-1000 records onto 4.7GB DVD-RAM optical discs which hold up to two hours of video in SP mode and four hours in LP mode. Features include Direct Navigator for instantaneous cueing from an on-screen menu, and a Playlist feature for video editing and creation of custom play lists of favourite scenes.

Another advantage of the player is that a digital recording can be of higher quality than the analogue original, using noise reduction processes, input time-base correctors, 3D Y/C separation and 3D DNR. It includes built-in Dolby Digital 5.1 channel decoder circuitry and dts digital output.

According to analysts, a single standard for recordable DVD will not emerge until 2001/2002. Until it does emerge there will be no mass market for the players, they say. Mercer believes companies are pushing products out in the hope of getting their respective formats accepted to preempt standards. "Format wars are all about winners and losers," he says. "This is obviously Panasonic's plan."

However all the fuss over formats may prove ultimately pointless. Mercer points out that alternative set-top box technologies are starting to appear that will take away some of the functionality of the VCR. "We may well see our need for any kind of removable media recording system start to diminish," he says.

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