May 18, 2003 7:00 PM PDT

Pioneer broadens DVD support in drives

Pioneer Electronics is aiming to reduce confusion in the DVD rewritable market by incorporating support for several major formats with its next-generation drive.

The Long Beach, Calif.-based electronics maker will announce Monday that its sixth-generation drive, the DVR-A06, will arrive in the United States in June. The drive will retail for $329 and support DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, CD-R and CD-RW. The DVD+RW format includes support for DVD+R media. The DVR-A06 will be for use inside PCs; an external version, which can be connected to a PC via a cable, will likely follow in three months to four months, said Andy Parsons, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Pioneer Electronics.

"The market has been confused," said Parsons, referring to the confusion the incompatible DVD rewritable formats may have caused in consumers. "We're hoping that by changing our strategy, we can help grow the market and ease customer confusion."

Demand for DVD rewritable drives jumped late last year, Parsons said. PC makers started offering desktops and notebooks with built-in DVD rewritable drives as part of holiday promotions.

Pioneer, along with other drive and media manufacturers, has been competing to establish rival--and incompatible--formats as the industry standard. Part of the problem for the DVD rewritable market has been that some of the companies lining up against each other have significant clout in the market, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard versus Apple Computer and Panasonic, leading to a war of attrition of sorts. The companies have chosen sides behind two competing industry groups: the DVD+RW Alliance and the DVD Forum, with the alliance promoting the DVD+RW format and the forum advocating the DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM formats.

Pioneer brought DVD-R/RW drives to market in early 2001, more than six months ahead of DVD+R/RW drives. The company quickly garnered momentum from the DVD-R/RW format, which Apple and Compaq Computer had started shipping in consumer computers.

The two top PC manufacturers, Dell and HP, however, opted for DVD+R/RW, and Microsoft endorsed the standard for future versions of Windows. This support stacked the deck in favor of DVD+R/RW, analysts say.

DVD formats
A number of DVD formats are vying for consumers' attention. Here is a quick rundown.
Format Function
DVD-ROM Read only.
DVD-RAM Record, erase repeatedly. Good for data storage. Discs not compatible with most consumer DVD players.
DVD-R Record once. Good for video storage. Discs compatible with most recent consumer DVD players.
DVD-RW Record, erase repeatedly. Good for video storage. Discs compatible with most recent consumer DVD players.
DVD+RW Record, erase repeatedly. Good for data and video storage. Supports read and write DVD+R feature.
Buying DVD rewritable products and figuring out which discs can be played in which drives can be a confusing exercise because of the mix of incompatible formats being supported by industry groups, manufacturers and media makers. Yet the market for these products is growing as more consumers adopt digital content, such as pictures, videos and music, and look to store them in one place. The 4.7GB capacity of DVD discs is a large repository for digital content.

Gradually, however, companies are crossing the lines and choosing to support more than their favored formats. Sony Electronics made the move in late 2001 when it came out with a dual-format DVD drive, which supported the DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD+RW formats. More recently, Microsoft said it would support DVD+RW, DVD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-RAM in future versions of its desktop operating system after announcing last year that it would support DVD+RW in its OS. The software giant already supported DVD-RAM in Windows.

Parsons said that Pioneer is not joining the DVD+RW Alliance but is paying royalties to the group to use the DVD+RW format. He would not comment on the amount of those royalties.

Pioneer's drive supports 4x DVD+R, 2.4x DVD+RW, 4x DVD-R, 2x DVD-RW, 16x CD-R and 10x CD-RW.

Pioneer is a drive supplier for Apple, one of the early supporters of the DVD-R format. Parsons said it is up to Pioneer customers whether they adopt the new drive but added that the drive is a "superset of our products."

"I have to believe they are being subjected to the same customer confusion calls and it only takes two to three calls per consumer customer to wipe out margins" made from the drives, Parsons said.

Apple representatives could not be reached for comment.

 

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