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dot life Monday, 21 October, 2002, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
The DVD format feud
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The dominance of DVDs is set to expand from the home entertainment market into PC data storage. But which format to choose?
Few can have failed to notice that DVDs have started to push videos off the shelves at shops and at film rental outlets.

CD Rom
How quaint...
And the next step is for the disks to be increasingly used as storage for PCs, the place to keep digital pictures and home movies.

"We see in the future rewriteable DVD will take over from the floppy disk," says Andrew Wyllie, commercial manager at NEC. "The majority of manufacturers are coming away from installing floppy disk drives in PCs."

It is easy to understand why. DVDs can hold 4.7 gigabytes of data, much more than the 650 megabytes that can be crammed onto a CD or the paltry 1.44 megabytes a floppy will hold.

But there are two main types of DVD that can record and re-record data, and the respective manufacturers are slugging it out for market dominance.

film shop
DVD sales are booming
Thus users will have to decide between DVD+RW and the DVD-RW formats (not to mention DVD-RAM, which is big in Japan), which record data in different ways.

Like a floppy, the -RW disks must be formatted before use - a time-consuming process because of the huge capacity. Its advantage is that many DVD players support this format.

By contrast, the +RW disks are like a computer file. Simply drag and drop information, and the disk formats in the background. This type has the backing of many computer and software companies, which may give it the edge.

One or the other

Companies such as NEC and Sony are bringing out DVD drives that can work either + or -RW disks. But will these hybrid drives make it simple for consumers?

"We think there will eventually be one format," says Chris Buma, program manager for recordable disks at Philips, which backs +RW.

Eyewire photo
DVDs look set to send floppies to the scrapheap
"Hybrid products sound nice because in the shop you do not have to make a decision but in fact you do have to make a choice every time you buy and use a disk."

And there is the rub. Currently consumers have a tricky job working out which format to choose.

The -RW format has been established longer but lacks the support of the big players.

The advice from Mr Wyllie is to think about what you are going to be using these disks for. The backing that the +RW format has will probably mean that it has more software written for it.

And that could make it easier to use for the average user.

Every Monday looks at how technology has changed our lives, and more importantly how we would like to change our lives. Let us know your views, using the form below.

I recently bought a DVD+RW recorder for a very sensible price. It is fantastic to use - easy, high quality recordings and fully featured. All disks I have so far recorded play prefectly on my PC DVD drive, seperate high end DVD player and even my Playstation2. Plus, you can now pick up a blank DVD+RW disk for under a fiver. What more could you want?
Richard, Scotland

Don't believe the hype surrounding +RW! -RW is already the dominant force in the computer storage market (you can already buy a PC DVD-RW drive for less than 200) and offers higher compatibility with standalone DVD players. It is also the "official" format (ie: recognised by the DVD Forum that controls standards). Fact is, -RW is the format to back!
Jason Brown, UK

As with these "choices" in the past (such as betamax v VHS) the best technology will probably lose. Let's hope not.
Richard Mercer, UK

I thought DVDs were soon to be replaced with so-called blue disks (basically DVDs written using a blue laser, hence the name) which can store 30Gb. But who at home has that much information anyway?
Trevellyon Newell, UK

I have a full 20Gb hard drive on my home PC plus numerous CDs that I use for storing music, music videos, film clips, photographs, etc...
James Chohan, UK

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See also:

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