HANOVER, GERMANY (dpa) - Computers didn't become genuine multimedia machines until optical drives came along. For a long time now, optical drives have meant one thing: CD-ROMs. In recent years, writeable CDs have caught on and fans have treasured them as receptacles of music data or short films.
But the storage capacity of blank CDs tops out at around 800 megabytes (MB). That's just not enough room these days. Thankfully, a successor to the CD, with even bigger storage capacity, is quickly becoming even more beloved: the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD).
Until now, DVDs have existed only for video players and read-only DVD drives for PCs. Now, however, the first affordable DVD burners are hitting the stores.
"In the past this kind of burner carried very high prices too high for most people, and the blank disks went for around 50 dollars each," says Nico Jurran, editor of the computer magazine "c't", based in Germany. "Now that devices are available in stores for prices under 500 dollars and the storage media can be had for as little as 20 dollars, DVD burners have become affordable for more people."
There is still at least one stumbling point for many buyers, though. The various manufacturers of writeable DVD drives have been unable to come to agreement on a unified standard for DVD burners. This has led to three parallel but incompatible standards, a situation reminiscent of the VHS/Betamax wars when VCRs were first introduced.
Of the three standards - known respectively as DVD-RW, DVD+RAM, and DVD-R - only the last, chiefly promoted by computer maker Apple, is compatible with "normal" DVD players. "Since March, our PowerPC G4 has been available in a configuration with the so-called Superdrive, a combination drive for CD-RW and DVD- R," says Apple's Frank Limbacher.
With the DVD-R drive, Apple's PowerPC G4 is about 500 dollars more expensive than with a normal CD burner. While that's no exactly cheap, keep in mind that not all that long ago the cost of a single DVD-R drive would have been more than the cost of the entire PowerPC G4 computer today.
For PC fans, the Pioneer has been making headlines with its DVR- A03, which is expected to be the first drive produced that will burn CDs and DVDs with equal ease. Each DVD would offer 4.7 Gigabytes (GB) of storage space. The DVR-A03 would be compatible with the DVD-ROM drives as well as DVD video players. This means that the burner could produce DVDs for any of the currently available devices. The Pioneer burner is expected to cost about 600 dollars and will be available in stores later this year.
"We're at the beginning of a new era in DVD technology," says Stefan Schiller, marketing manager for Pioneer. "The DVR-A03 will help the DVD be embraced by business and private users, just as the CD was before it," he adds.
Experts expect DVD burning to soon be as popular as CD burning is today. The reason is simple: more space. In the past, no storage media offered enough data space to record a film in DVD quality.
Thus, the illegal copying of long films with good quality is now theoretically possible. "Anyone who thinks that they'l1 be able to easily copy protected DVD videos one-to-one, though, is in for disappointment," says c't editor Jurran.
The Pioneer burner works only with media referred to as DVD-R(G). These blanks won't allow any copyrighted material to be burned onto them. DVD-R(A) blank disks do allow this, but won't work with the Pioneer burner.
Still, industry observers note that schemes are already being devised to circumvent the copy protection.
"There are already a number of tools available for putting films onto the hard drive in decoded form, so that they then can be transferred to the blank disks," says Jurran.
Even for legitimate uses, though DVD burning could be fraught with complication - at least for early adopters of this new technology. "Our tests showed that DVD burning can be quite crash-prone, bringing back memories of the early days of CD recording," says Jurran.