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HIVE EXCLUSIVE: Recordable DVD Is Here, But at Hefty Prices

2 Jul, 2001 By: Seth Goldstein

Will the real DVD recorder please stand up? Retailers will be asking that question this fall with the arrival of three DVD recorders, eachrepresenting a different format.

Pioneer, Panasonic and Philips are the primary vendors, although othercompanies introduce product as well. The three groups—DVD-RW, DVD-RAM and DVD+RW—are designed to answer the question consumers have asked since DVD arrived in 1997: “When can we record?”

Actually, they’ve been able to for a couple of years, provided buyers were willing to spend in excess of $10,000 for first-generation units. The Pioneer and Philips units can record on the same disc about 1,000 times and are compatible with 80% to 90% of the DVD players already inhomes. Panasonic’s machine, employing more sophisticated circuitry, is good for 100,000 re-recordings and offers more elaborate playback features but isn’t compatible with most of the installed base.

Experts agree there’s no bridging of the technological divide. What’s different this year are the prices. Although still high by conventional DVD standards, these new models are in the $1,500 to $2,800 range, low enough to attract early adopters who want to convert tapes todisc.

Panasonic’s Rudy Vitti, DVD national marketing manager, says the company’s DMR-E20, utilizing RAM technology, will carry a $1,499 suggested list that translates to an in-store price as low as $999. Pioneer’s “minus RW” DVR-7000, also due in October, starts at $2,800, but likely will retail for much less. Philips’ “plus RW” DVD-R1000 arrives after Labor Day at $2,200 suggested list, which should put the street price within range of the Panasonic player.

These set-top recorders are only half the picture. The three formats have been packaged as computer drives either built into PCs or sold separately.

There, Pioneer has established a major retail beachhead. Best Buy optical drives buyer Will Wallus says the consumer electronicschain, an early supporter of the DVD format, will stock the Pioneer DVR-AO3 in its more than 400 U.S. outlets by the end of the third quarter. His price: $799.99, nearly $200 under Pioneer’s suggested list.

Eager-beaver consumers can scope out the DVD burner and place orders on BestBuy.com beginning this month.

“Right now, we have an exclusive with Pioneer on the piece,” says Wallus, who would not comment of the term of the deal. The agreement is limited to Best Buy’s class of trade, including Circuit City, Office Max and OfficeDepot.

At least one program vendor should benefit. “The truth is, we were planning for next year. This is surprising and very good news,” exults David Goodman, president of New Jersey-based DVD International. It’s distributing a programcalled "How to Make Your Own DVD." He planned to contact Best Buy immediately about stocking the disc.

Several other DVD burners are coming on the market but lack the DVR-AO3’s versatility, Wallus says. DVDs made on the system play on all computers “as far as we have tested” and in some set-top players. Equally important,Pioneer was the only manufacturer ready to supply a production model, although quantities will be limited throughout 2001.

“I think demand is there at the higher end of PC users, those doing editing at home, for example,” Wallus predicts.

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