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Recordable DVD Showcased at Comdex

16 Nov, 2001 By: David Ward

Recordable and enhanced DVD emerged as a major theme at Comdex in Las Vegas, as feuding recordable formats held out some possibility of an eventual compromise on a single standard, even as companies brought a host of competing products.

The good news for consumers is that recordable DVD drive makers seem intent on pushing prices downward into the mass market range as quickly as possible, especially on the PC side.

Philips announced an external DVD+RW drive to be available exclusively at Best Buy for less than $800, while Hewlett-Packard showed its internal DVD+RW PC drive for $599. HP also announced its new Pavilion 9995 high-end computer with DVD+RW, Intel Pentium 4 chip, 512 MB RAM and 80Gb hard drive for $1,995.

While set-top recordable DVD players have yet to drop below $999, there were some predictions at the Recordable DVD Council press conference that hardware would come down next year. Fueling that prediction is an IDC report suggesting annual sales of DVD recordable drives will rise from the current pace of 1.3 million to 30 million by 2005.

Hitachi and Panasonic are planning to launch multiformat drives — capable of playing DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD-R — for PCs early in 2002 with both companies suggesting DVD+RW, championed by Philips, could be added once they get access to the +RW technology.

Software giant Microsoft used Comdex not only to tout its recently released Windows XP operating system, but also to showcase host of living room products, including the Xbox game console and the wireless pen-based Tablet PC. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates voiced optimism for the digital future during his keynote speech and predicted that mobile computing and wireless online access would drive the next decade of technology growth.

Sony and AOL-Time Warner’s announcement of a deal to work together to develop a broadband home network as well as new types of digital entertainment content stole some of Gates’ thunder. Sony also announced a deal with Nokia as it used the show to shed its “go it alone” corporate image. “Corporate alliances are the key for our future success,” said Sony president Kunitake Ando. “We used to have a ‘not invented here’ syndrome, but we have changed our attitude 180 degrees.”

While the formal numbers weren’t available at deadline, Comdex attendance appeared down this year as tight security — including metal detectors outside all convention center entrances — and recent terrorist attacks combined to dampen some of the hype that traditionally accompanies new technologies.

But this year’s show was also tempered by a dose of economic reality. Indeed, at last year’s show much of the promise was tied to consumers rapidly embracing high-speed broadband access to both PC and living room devices. But with the broadband installed base growing at a much slower rate than hoped, many companies are now looking at ways to enhance the living room viewing experience without the need to go online.

PlanetWeb showcased its new photo management software for DVD players as part of that company shift away from a strictly browser-based business model. PlanetWeb president Ken Soohoo said the photo product, which enables downloading and display of digital pictures on a TV, was the first in a planned suite of enhanced DVD products that will also include music file management tools and family friendly games. PlanetWeb already has a deal in place with hardware maker Sharp in Japan and Soohoo said the company is negotiating with other consumer electronics firms looking to give consumers incentive to step up from entry-level DVD players.

“If you can build these features in as value-added applications, our research shows that you can get anywhere from $25 to $110 more,” he said. But while the movement to Internet enable DVD players has stalled for the time being, Soohoo predicted it will gain momentum again next year, once the DVD Forum approves a standard for online connectivity that both the studios and the hardware makers can use.

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