Since the introduction of CD technology in 1984 as a new method of storing digital information, the CDRom drive has become an essential component of nearly all modern PC systems.
Its high capacity and reliability have simplified the distribution of large software packages and other forms of data. More importantly, CDRom was instrumental in bringing the advantages of multimedia to the masses, and, as a result, has become an industry standard.
However, it is facing a strong challenge to its market dominance from the introduction of DVD, which promises significant improvements in storage capacity and flexibility.
But it is important to note that DVD is often erroneously referred to as digital video disc. In fact, the acronym DVD stands for digital versatile disc. This confusion has stemmed from the wide adoption of the DVD format by the film industry for the distribution of digital video to the consumer market.
DVD is the natural evolution of optical storage technology, and most drive manufacturers have begun to adopt this new technology as a direct replacement for CDRom drives. Certainly, as far as any technical issues are concerned, there are no valid reasons why DVDRom should not be used as a straightforward substitute for CDRom drives.
Andy French, notebook marketing manager at Toshiba, said: "DVD drives now read CDs at 24x max speed, the same maximum speed achieved by most CDRom drives. When reading DVD discs, they can read data at up to 6x max speed. In addition, second-generation DVDRom drives will happily read CD-R and CD-RW [rewriteable] discs.
"As far as the user is concerned, there are no drawbacks to using a DVDRom drive as opposed to a CDRom drive. In fact, there is one significant advantage: they can now play DVD video discs on their systems."
French added that a further advantage is that modern processors are now powerful enough to cope with DVD video without the use of hardware decoders. This again lowers the overall cost and allows manufacturers to be more flexible in production.
"DVD drives now feature in many of our models, across all customer segments: consumer, small to medium sized enterprises and corporate. While CD models sold still outnumber DVD models, the proportion of DVD-based models sold is creeping up," he said.
The death of CDRom?
Eddie Moore, Ideal Hardware's business development manager, believes that the writing is definitely on the wall for the ubiquitous CDRom drive.
"You need to remember that CD has been around for over 15 years. It has had a very good run, which reached its peak about 18 months ago," he explained.
Moore believes that the defining moments for CDRom were in 1991 and 1992, when Mitsumi and then Creative broke the £150 dealer price point. This led the way for lower-cost PCs featuring CDRom drives as standard.
"The other great driving factor was 'software bloat'," he claimed. "People were simply getting fed up having to juggle 10 to 20 floppy disks in order to install packages. To say history repeats itself is true in some ways, because software bloat has continued to drive demand for higher-capacity removable storage. Now we are in the situation where instead of juggling floppies, users are having to juggle CDRom discs."
French believes that the higher capacity provided by DVDs is a big issue. "Given that some titles are already distributed on multiple CDs, we expect software distribution of many titles to move to DVD within a few years, and can foresee the scenario where software is available by default on DVD, and on CD only by request. By specifying DVD now, customers can be ready for this move towards DVD media," he said.
Although Moore sees DVDRom as a logical progression, there are three major factors which he feels are holding back wider adoption of the technology.
"First, as with the CD in the early 1990s, it's a chicken-and-egg issue. The low penetration of DVDRom drives is obviously related to the availability of software in DVD format. However, software manufacturers are thinking, 'Why press to DVD when there aren't sufficient drives out in the field?'
"Second, there is still a significant price gap between CD and DVD. Although it is narrowing, this means that there is still a premium to pay for the newer technology.
"Third, this year DVD manufacturers have suffered major shortages due to the under-capacity of common components, also used in mobile phones, which do not affect CDRom. Logically, if you could buy any amount of DVDRom at the price of a CDRom, CDRom would vanish overnight. But our information suggests there will be both limited capacity and premium pricing for the foreseeable future," he said.
Demand outstripping supply
Jos Hageman, optical disc drive marketing manager at Samsung Electronics, also cites the current component shortage as the major factor affecting take-up of DVDRom.
"DVD sales have fallen short of projected sales forecasts early this year by some market research agencies. This is due in part to the shortage of key parts, and the disappointing growth of the PC market in general. Demand for DVDRom is currently larger than can possibly be produced, and consumer demand for products such as DVD video players and Sony's Playstation 2, which features DVD, will only make matters worse in the short term," he explained.
Even Philips, the original pioneer of the CD, has recognised that DVD is likely to supersede CD technology in the not-too-distant future.
Hans Driessen, global communications manager of optical storage at the company, said: "Today, CDs are still extremely popular, with an installed base of over one billion CD players. However, for the 'read-only' market, DVDRom will gradually replace CDRom. In 1999, the ratio between DVDRom to CDRom was 1:7.7. According to our estimates, this year the ratio is likely to be 1:2.4, which shows a definite trend in favour of DVD technology."
Nevertheless, he believes that CD technology should not be written off too quickly. "CD in the data storage market will be further developed by increased performance in terms of both reading and writing data, as well as enhancing the ease of use," he said.
DVDRom appears to have a bright future as a replacement for CDRom, as both are read-only systems. But when it comes to recordable storage, things aren't as clear cut.
The worm has turned
Today's CD technology offers two well-established standards for recording data: CD-R and CD-RW. CD-R is a write once/read many (Worm) media, and CD-RW provides the ability to re-record data on discs as required.
Stewart Vane-Tempest, marketing director at Plasmon, said: "Like CD, writeable DVD in the form of DVD-R will also allow users to compile their own DVDs. In the early days of CD-R, CD writers carried a huge price premium, and sadly DVD-R is following a similar trend, with writers costing in the region of £3000 at present. The advent of a new generation of 'general-purpose' drives will move the price point down dramatically in 2001, with a projected user price point of below £700 within 12 to 15 months."
Although there is a single recognised standard for Worm media in the world of DVD, albeit rather expensive at the moment, there are several different standards for rewriteable discs - DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVDRam - all of which are incompatible with one another.
A consortium of the major DVD industry players, known as the DVD Forum, has been responsible for defining the standards for rewriteable DVD media. Its original proposal was the development of DVD-RW, which was based on the principles of CD-RW technology.
Unfortunately, one major shortcoming was that CD-RW media could be rewritten only 1000 times. As a result, Sony and Philips decided to create their own technology, known as DVD+RW, independent of the DVD Forum.
To date, the companies are still developing DVD+RW, and no products have yet been shipped.
To further complicate matters, the DVD Forum came up with another standard for rewriteable DVD discs, known as DVDRam. This provides the same sort of capabilities as CD-RW, but with a much higher recording capacity of 2.6Gb on each side of the disc. DVDRam media can be rewritten over 100,000 times and looks set to become the de facto standard, with products already being shipped to market by Toshiba and Panasonic.
DVDRam writes and rewrites files by simple drag and drop, without the need for a creation process and the erasing of rewriteable media, as in CD-R and CD-RW. The only disadvantage of DVDRam is that some older DVDRom drives cannot read the media. This problem has been addressed with third-generation drives.
One possible interim solution to the problem of recording data could be the combination drive, which provides DVDRom compatibility along with the ability to write CD-R or CD-RW discs. This is the approach that Samsung is taking.
"A combo drive is a single-drive technology that combines the features of a DVDRom and a CD-RW. Samsung is currently one of only three manufacturers producing a combo drive," said Hageman.
Educating the channel
Ideal Hardware recently carried out some market research with Panasonic to assess the channel's attitudes towards rewriteable DVD.
Commenting on the results of the Ideal survey, Douglas Wood, distribution business manager at Panasonic, said: "The findings of this research have not been blinding bolts of realisation, but rather a worthwhile confirmation of the suspicions we already held, that there is a lack of knowledge in the channel regarding rewriteable DVD applications.
"As a conclusion to the project, Panasonic and Ideal will be working together to educate the channel about the reality of rewriteable DVD applications. We have already worked with Ideal to produce an educational booklet for resellers on media, and have plans for later this year that should put rewriteable DVD on everyone's lips," he said.
With resellers bombarded with acronyms like DVDRom, DVDRam. DVD-R, DVD+RW and DVD-RW, it's not surprising there is a general confusion.
Moore claims that Ideal intends to function as a business partner for resellers. It has launched an education initiative in the form of themed booklets and a sales information handbook. He adds that it is imperative that the reseller channel is aware of each technology as it happens in an industry where technological advancement and change is constant.
Case Study: Constellation 3D
A new competitor to DVD is already on the horizon based on a technology known as multi-layer fluorescent data storage. Developed by Constellation 3D, this technology overcomes the inherent physical limitations associated with conventional optical storage technologies, enabling data to be stored on multiple layers within a disc, thereby offering huge increases in both storage capacity and data access speeds.
Using multiple layers, Constellation 3D has produced a prototype FMC-Rom disc that can store 140Gbs - nearly 30 times as much as a DVDRom, and over 200 times that of a CDRom.
The concept of using multiple layers on an optical disc is not new; DVD currently supports two layers and IBM has developed a disc with six layers. However, by using a new fluorescent-based optical system, Constellation 3D claims it can produce discs with 20 layers or more.
Research has shown that media containing up to 100 layers is currently feasible, thereby increasing the potential capacity of a single disc to hundreds of gigabytes. Future developments based around the use of blue laser technology would increase the capacities to more than 1Tb per disc.
Another major advantage is the ability to read data on every layer of the media in parallel, which theoretically allows the potential for 1Gbps data transfer rates. This can be combined with parallel reading from multiple sectors of the same layer to increase data speeds still further, producing what is effectively 3D data transfer.
John Ellis, vice president of marketing at Constellation 3D, said: "Our advanced technology and related manufacturing processes permit production at costs equivalent to that for current card and disc media, resulting in a greatly reduced comparative cost per gigabyte. Manufacturers of current optical storage discs and drives can adopt our technology to their existing equipment with only minimal re-tooling," he claimed.
The company is also developing a new type of card storage technology which uses the same multi-layer fluorescent data storage technique. Called the FMC (ClearCard)-Rom this credit card-sized medium will have up to 20 layers and a 10Gb capacity. Its main advantage is that it will use a new type of 'drive' similar to a PC card slot. It will therefore avoid the problems associated with having to spin the media in order to access data.
- CD technology has been around for more than 15 years and is nearing the end of its useful life.
- DVD offers much greater storage capacity than CD, which is precisely what the market needs. But there is a price to pay.
- DVDRom drives are starting to supersede CDRom drives and as the unit price falls this trend will continue, assuming the relevant components become more readily available.
- Ever-increasing software bloat will no doubt begin to drive up demand for DVD products.
- While DVD products are available, they are currently too expensive for most users to consider.
- The situation with rewriteable DVD is extremely confusing, but DVDRam appears to have established itself as the accepted standard.
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