The 1970s saw a bitter fight over the ideal recording and reproduction system for VCRs. Japan's JVC in 1980 finally gained the upper hand against the technologically superior Betamax (Sony) and Video 2000 (Philips) formats. The current search for a successor to the antiquated VHS cassette has proved just as complex for consumers.

Two industry associations dominate the debate about formats for writable DVDs. Each association is trumpeting its own preferred format. About 230 firms have come together to form the DVD forum, including branch giants such as Philips, Sony, Hitachi, Matsushita, Mitsubishi, Pioneer and Toshiba Corporation.

Their competition is the DVD+RW Alliance, made up primarily of
hardware and media manufacturers such as HP, Yamaha, Ricoh and Verbatim, but also DVD-Forum members such as Sony and Philips. It is a battle of "minus" against "plus".

Cheaper alternatives

While the DVD-Format is championing the "DVD-R" and "DVD-RW" formats for rewritable media, the Alliance is backing the "DVD+R" and "DVD+RW" formats as cheaper alternatives.

Now, a complete DVD can be
recorded in six minutes

Format is no longer a major issue for DVD burners mounted in PCs. Almost all current DVD burners can handle both the "plus" and "minus" variants of writable DVDs. The problem comes for stand-alone players intended to replace the VCR in a consumer's living room.

Buyers do indeed need to commit to one format or another when purchasing such a device. "For one-time writable media, DVD-R and DVD+R are in a neck-on-neck race, with 42 and 41 per cent market share respectively," says Philips' Frank Simonis, a member of the DVD+RW Alliance.

For blanks that can be recorded and then re-recorded afterwards, DVD+RW leads its competitor 58 to 33%. Another format, Panasonic's DVD-RAM, is also a factor in this segment, with a market share of 22%.

Recording speed

Representatives of the various industry associations are now
attempting to get the public excited about quicker drives for their particular format. Verbatim used the recent CeBIT technology fair to show off DVD+R media with 16x burning speed.

"For one-time writable media, DVD-R and DVD+R are in a neck-on-neck race, with 42 and 41 per cent market share respectively" 

Frank Simonis,
A member of the DVD+RW Alliance

That means that a complete DVD can be recorded in six minutes. When DVD blanks first came on the market, an entire hour was required to burn a DVD. In addition to the  "plus/minus" format dispute, the entertainment industry is also currently wrangling over the future format for the recording of high definition video. The DVD-Forum, together with several Hollywood studies, is singing the praises of the "HD-DVD" high definition process.

This format is facing off against "Blu-ray Disc", advanced by
makers like Matsushita, Pioneer, Philips, Sony, LG Electronics,
Sharp, Samsung, HP, and Dell. Blu-ray offers a higher capacity (50 GB) than HD-DVD (30 GB).

HD-DVD's proponents emphasise the better backward compatibility of drives using that format and the low prices for the media. A number of HD-DVDs will also soon be coming on the market with Hollywood films, whereas Blu-ray is still waiting for the support of the film industry.

Apple used the CeBIT fair to take sides: it joined the Blu-ray
Disc Association. Yet, Apple is also supporting HD-DVD, perhaps because Apple CEO Steve Jobs cannot afford to end up backing a losing horse when it comes to the video format of the future.