Why DVDs have been a desktop dud

DVDs were going to replace CDs on desktops as the storage medium of choice, but analysts say the PC industry is sleeping through the first act. Manufacturers say otherwise

Movies are all the rage when it comes to DVDs, but this is not what PC makers had in mind when they started building them into their systems. DVDs, with 8.5GB of capacity, were supposed to overtake CDs as the mass-storage medium of choice in all PCs. But high costs and a lack of content have nearly stopped the DVD-ROM revolution.

Manufacturers admit that the transition to DVD has been slow, but say it's unavoidable. Many have bet on DVD, including the likes of Apple Computer, which recently made DVD-ROM drives a standard component in its new Power Mac G4 Cube.

Playing movies is currently the only thing that users can really do with their DVD-ROM drives, which is fine for consumers and travellers with laptops -- but that addresses only part of the potential overall market.

Brian Zucker, the technology-thumping Dell evangelist, predicts that DVD will take off when the other half of the target market -- companies -- can take advantage of the medium.

That will happen, he said, once DVD-RAM hits the market -- although no one can say for certain when that might be. DVD-RAM allows people to write onto DVD-ROM discs, which is what some people consider the missing element to the DVD technology.

In the meantime, Zucker said, sales of systems with DVD-ROM drives have generally been well-received by consumers because they believe that applications are on the way. But DVD won't really blossom, he said, until those apps actually arrive.

"It's a chicken-and-egg situation," he said, "where [widespread DVD acceptance] won't happen until the applications get here, but the applications won't get here until DVD takes off." But the market may have already moved on, analysts said.

"What's selling like hotcakes is CD-ReWritable drives," said Mary Craig, principal analyst of optical storage at Gartner's Dataquest.

She projected that by year's end, CD-RW drives will have outsold DVD drives 28.7 million to 22.6 million.

CD-RW sales would be even higher -- 30 million to 35 million -- were it not for component shortages, the research firm said.

Craig said that while CD-RW should outsell DVD for a couple more years, neither technology anytime soon will gain the near-mainstream acceptance of predecessor CD-ROM, which should have 500 million units on the market by year's end.

Analysts used to call floppy drives the cockroach of the storage industry because they are everywhere, but CD-ROM drives are quickly taking over.

To be considered mainstream, analysts have said that a technology should have somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million users.

"DVD-ROM is not forecast to have strong growth," Craig said. "There just aren't enough compelling reasons to buy."

The factors that have made CD-ROMs so popular -- plenty of content available only on CDs, and competitive pricing -- are the same ones needed for DVD to gain mainstream acceptance, she said.

Movies and a few games are the only programs that are available on the DVD format, and those titles are not compelling enough reasons for manufacturers to swallow the $30 to $40 price difference between CD and DVD drives.

That price difference needs to be more in the $10 range before the industry will shift from CD to DVD, Craig said.

One thing in DVD's favour, though, she said, is that the hybrid CD-RW/DVD drives on the market will help bring down the cost of DVD-ROM drives.

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