BERLIN, Germany The emerging market for DVD video recorders, which are being designed as potential replacements for consumer VCRs, will likely create irreconcilable divisions over the technology used by industry players, as well as prolonged confusion among consumers.
Pioneer Electronic Corp. became the first company to announce plans to launch a new DVD video recorder, but one that's based on yet another candidate for the industry's standard rewritable DVD format. Pioneer calls its format DVD-R/W.
"We will first roll it out on the Japanese market this coming November, as soon as details of a real-time read/write recording (RTR) format are nailed down within the DVD Forum this fall," said Tadahiro Yamaguchi, director of Research & Development Laboratories at Pioneer (Tokyo), speaking at Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) '99, held here this week.
The Japanese company has leveraged its DVD-R (write-once) technology to develop a DVD-R/W disk system with a 4.7-Gbyte storage capacity.
Sharp Corp., which supports DVD-R/W format, also showed its prototype DVD-R/W video recorder behind the curtain at IFA '99. According to a company official, the Sharp recorder will hit the Japanese market at the end of this year priced in the $1,850 to $2,300 range. Introduction in the United States and Europe will follow in 2000.
Pioneer's DVD-R/W announcement and Sharp's support for it at IFA '99 came as bombshells to many in the industry. The DVD-R/W format is neither compatible with DVD+RW, which was developed by Philips to add video-recording capabilities to DVD players, nor with DVD-RAM, originally designed by the DVD Forum as a peripheral drive for PCs to hold rewritable applications.
However, Pioneer's Yamaguchi stressed that both DVD-RAM and DVD-R/W are official DVD recording formats and are acknowledged by the DVD Forum, while Philips' DVD+RW is a proprietary system not recognized by the standard-setting group. DVD Forum members have already agreed to use the same real-time video recording format for both DVD-R/W and DVD-RAM video recorder systems, he added.
In the meantime, Hitachi and Matsushita, the main developers of DVD-RAM, have already shown prototypes of video servers and video-disk cameras that assume the use of a second-generation DVD-RAM disk system. These companies are planning to use the 4.7-Gbyte DVD-RAM for consumer video recording applications, although the timing for the product's launch is undetermined.
At a time when the market for prerecorded DVD-Video is booming and more DVD players are being sold worldwide, a key question for consumers is whether they will be able to play back video programs recorded on DVD-R/W, DVD-RAM or DVD+RW video disks on DVD players they've already purchased.
So far, Philips is the only company to promise so-called "two-way compatibility," which would support such playback. Specifically, Philips demonstrated that recordings made with its new DVD Video Recorder on DVD+RW discs will play back on any existing DVD video players not only those offered by Philips, but also those of its competitors.
According to Pioneer's Yamaguchi, video recorded on DVD-R/W disk will not play back on the current generation of DVD players, due to the fact that the real-time recording format, now being developed for rewritable DVD formats within the DVD Forum, uses a logical format that's incompatible with that of a DVD player. DVD players will need software modifications, possibly a replacement of ROM, to maintain compatibility, Yamaguchi said. "The idea is to make a fresh start for a family of DVD formats within the DVD Forum with this newly developed RTR video recording format." With additional reporting by Yoshiko Hara