Industry divided over DVDs

But the technology comes with another, less appealing feature: a confusing format war, in which customers have to choose between competing, incompatible standards. To add to the confusion, the namesof the two leading formats — DVD+R and DVD-R — are similar.

So far, it’s an even fight. Of the 7.5 million blank DVDs sold last year — compared with 1.6 billion blank CDs — the research firm NPD Group estimated that 50.1 percent were +R or +RW and 47.5 percent were -R or -RW (or “dash”) format.

“R” indicates a write-once disc, which can’t be edited after it’s been burned. “RW” is a slightly more expensive disc that can be edited or rewritten. As with recordable CDs, most blank DVDs sold so far have been write-once. Among rewriteable discs, however, +RW outsells -RW about 4 to 1.

A third format, DVD-RAM, used mainly for non-video data, took under 3 percent of sales.

The downside of choosing a format that gets superseded, if that happens, is not that you’ll get stuck with DVDs only you can watch. Burn a disc in either format and you should have no problem reading it or playing it in most new computers or DVD players, although some older DVD players will balk at homemade discs. For example, Montgomery County video developer Abba Shapiro said the DVD-R movies he burns on his Mac work on about 95 percent of the players he has tried.

But there is a risk of buying the wrong kind of blank disc in the store. And people who buy rewriteable DVDs to archive their data might one day find that their new computer can’t write to their old disc.

So which one to buy? When they look at the technical merits of each standard, analysts are hard-pressed to pick a clear winner between the two. “The differences between the formats are fairly minor — both deliver on the basic promise of DVD recording,” said Wolfgang Schlichting, an analyst at IDC Inc.

The “dash” format has been around longer, which is why Apple chose it for its computers starting in early 2001, a company spokesman said. The younger DVD+RW format also has influential supporters. The two largest computer makers, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, adopted it. The two manufacturers account for 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. PC market.

Martin Reynolds, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said he believes that consumer demand will push the standards together. He predicts a day when customers won’t have to care about which format they use, because drives will be able to write to either format.

Sony already sells DVD-recordable drives that support the two formats, and representatives from Gateway this week, which supports the “dash” standard, said they believe such dual-format drives could be the future. Apple also wouldn’t rule out that possibility.

But gung-ho “plus” format supporters at HP and Dell say dual-mode DVD recorders just prolong confusion.

Dean Sanderson, product manager for aftermarket sales at HP, dismissed the utility of multi-format DVD drives. “We don’t think that’s a long-term play,” he said.

“There’s no added value to having multi-format [drives],” said Erickson at Dell. “Our goal is to get to one DVD standard.”

Source: Washington Post