Format war plaguing DVD recorders

, posted: 2-Apr-2004 22:53

This looks set to be the year of the DVD recorder as prices come down to levels that make it attractive for consumers to upgrade from video-cassette recorders. But sales of DVD recorders have been bedevilled by a media format war. Unlike recordable compact discs, buyers have to choose between three mutually incompatible media formats.

At first, there was DVD-Ram and DVD-Recordable/Re-Writeable (also known as DVD Minus), but a third format appeared in 2001, the DVD+R/RW (or DVD Plus).

Why the different formats? DVD recording spells big money. In-Stat/MDR estimates 10 million recorders will be sold worldwide this year, rising to 19 million next year. Controlling the dominant DVD recording format is crucial for vendors in the competitive home electronics market.

What do buyers think of the format wars? According to David Bunzel, of DVD market analysts Santa Clara Consulting Group in the United States, "people don't buy DVD video-recorders by formats. They buy them for what they can do and possibly favour a brand because of awareness, features or price".

Computers, which people use for video editing, add to the compatibility confusion. DVD Minus and Plus drives are the most common in computers, with only a few brands producing DVD-Ram drives. Recognising that buyers are put off by the format war, manufacturers are offering dual-format players that eliminate the worst problems, but still carry significant drawbacks.

Dual-format DVD-Ram machines also record on DVD Minus discs, which play back on most other DVD players and drives, including DVD Plus/Minus dual-format recorders. But while they play back Minus discs, many DVD Plus/Minus recorders only record in the Plus format. If you want  Minus recording as well, look for a true dual-format recorder.

Unfortunately, it looks like the format silliness may carry over to the next generation DVD recorders. These will pack 15 to 50 gigabytes on a single disc, or five to 10 times the present amount, and use shorter wavelength blue lasers.

This time around, electronics giants Toshiba and NEC have broken ranks with the rest of the industry. They are behind the Advanced Optical Disc (AOD) or High Definition DVD (HD-DVD) standard, while everyone else is backing the Blu-Ray standard. Blu-Ray looks like the winner, thanks to extensive industry support. Sony already has a very expensive recorder for sale in Japan.


DVD-Ram/DVD Minus or DVD-Ram/DVD-R/RW
Although you can get DVD-Ram/DVD-Minus dual format recorders from Toshiba and Hitachi, in New Zealand only machines from Panasonic are available. Computer DVD-Ram drives are uncommon as well.


* Ram stands for random access memory. For DVD-Ram, this translates into great features such as time-slip and being able to watch recorded programmes while recording others simultaneously, plus easy video editing.
* Bridges compatibility gap with DVD Minus format.
* Durability - DVD-Ram discs can be rewritten up to a 100,000 times.


* Only DVD Minus discs play back in non-DVD-Ram players and computer DVD drives. You have to copy over the content from DVD-Ram to DVD Minus discs for compatibility.
* DVD-Ram discs cost more than Plus and Minus ones.
* A hard disk-equipped DVD recorder offers the same features as DVD-Ram.

Dual-format recorders for the DVD Plus and Minus formats are available from many makers, from multinationals such as Sony and Philips to lesser-known Far Eastern brands.

Large computer manufacturers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard are also backing the DVD Plus format, which should ensure compatibility.


* DVD Plus discs play back in most DVD players and computer DVD drives, making it easy to share recordings. DVD Plus is the only format supported by Microsoft.
* Playback of DVD Minus discs.
* Many more vendors backing the standard, which is driving prices for recorders down.
* DVD Plus media cheaper than DVD-Ram.


* In disc-only recorders, no time-slip or watching and recording simultaneously; a hard disk is needed for these and other features available to DVD-Ram recorders.
* Most recorders cannot record to DVD Minus as well as Plus RW discs.
* Media not as durable as DVD-Ram; RW discs can only be rewritten about 1000 times.


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Nokia N9 reviewed

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