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Recordable DVD hits the mainstream

Early adopters will be rushing to grab the machines, but three competing formats pose a risk for consumers

Recordable DVD is about to explode into the mainstream, with Samsung the latest to confirm to a UK launch date this summer.

The Korean giant joins Philips and Panasonic in the rush to get players out this year.

The phenomenal success of DVD means that recordable DVD is hotly tipped to replace VHS altogether. But with three competing formats, there is a danger that consumers could end up with an obsolete machine. There's no doubt, however, that early adopters will be rushing to grab the machines as soon as they hit the shops. So here is ZDNet's quick overview of what's coming, from whom, and when.

· DVD-RAM players

Samsung and Panasonic launch machines this year. They use 4.7Gb DVD-RAM discs, giving up to two hours recording. Disadvantage: the discs are held in a cartridge, so it is not backward compatible.

· DVD+RW players

Supported by Sony, Yamaha, Philips, Ricoh, Hewlett-Packard and Matsushita. Only Philips has committed to launching a player in the UK this year. The 4.7GB DVD-RAM discs are fully backwards compatible.

· DVD-RW players

Supported by Pioneer and Hitachi. Pioneer has launched a player in Japan but there are no details of an imminent UK release. Players read current DVD-Video discs but DVD-RW are incompatible with current machines.

The three competing formats, and the likely upcoming format war, means that consumers may well be advised to wait for the battle to finish before investing in a recordable machine. Although every company is being extremely cagey over pricing details, early machines are likely to hover around the £600 mark, making it a costly gamble.

The fact that DVD-RAM players will hit the market first, combined with Samsung's excellent track record in pushing DVD video players, suggests that it will be a strong contender for becoming the de facto standard. However, it would be unwise to discount the heavyweight support coming from Japan for DVD+RW, although there are rumours that Sony is wavering in its support for the format.

To further muddy the water and give early adopters reason to pause is the imminent arrival of hard drive based recording systems, such as TiVo, which have seen rocketing sales in the US. A major advantage of these machines is their time shifting feature, allowing users to start playback of a programme while it is still recording.

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