Whether you just got a new PC with a DVD burner, or you bought a drive to add to your system, chances are you’ve run into the same roadblock as consumers everywhere: There’s no DVD media in stores, and if there is, it doesn’t match the speed rating on your new drive.
This circumstance isn’t new — CD media typically lagged drives by a couple of months. But the situation has worsened with DVD, says Brad Yeager, senior product marketing manager for optical media at Memorex.
Memorex Corp. first shipped 4X DVD-R media in August, more than eight months after 4X DVD-R drives shipped. The company is not alone. Nationwide, users still experience a dearth of 4X DVD-R and DVD+R media in stores. Likewise, 4X DVD+RW media is available only in limited quantities four months after the drives’ release.
Where’s the Bottleneck?
Media lags for two main reasons, say industry experts. One is that drives support faster write speeds even before the corresponding media specification is ratified. Drive makers have little incentive to hold back their drives, since they can get a premium for faster models, says Wolfgang Schlichting, IDC research director.
And once the spec is ratified, media makers must submit their media for approval (for DVD-R/RW, it must be submitted to the DVD Forum; for DVD+R/RW, it’s the DVD+RW Alliance). That process often requires multiple submissions, and lasts up to two months to ensure quality high enough for wide compatibility.
The issue of compatibility is a big one. Media must support not only the latest burning technology, but the slower speed drives that came before, too. And unlike drive manufacturers, media makers can’t just issue a firmware update to improve the media’s compatibility after the fact.
The second reason for delays is the time needed to ramp up qualified media production. According to Rich D’Ambrise, director of technology at media maker Maxell, it can take another two months before a vendor can pump out media in volume.
“When you introduce a new media, it takes time to transition the technology,” says Tim Clatterbuck, Verbatim Corp. marketing manager. “It’s not a matter of just changing the line, switching the dye, and making everything as it was before. It’s a complicated manufacturing process.”
Often, it starts out with manufacturers like Verbatim, and then trickles down to higher volume producers like Japan’s Taiyo Yuden or Taiwan’s Ritek Corp. and CMC Magnetics.
In order to support faster write speeds, “you have to either make the media dye composition more sensitive or you have to increase the laser power (on the drive),” Schlichting says.
Usually, media vendors make the dye more sensitive. Plextor Corp.’s new US$299 PX-708A dual-format drive–the first to offer 8X DVD+R–addresses the media lag with hardware changes in the drive to allow burns at 8X even with 4X DVD+R media, says Howard Wing, head of Plextor’s marketing.
Although many vendors agree lack of media is a problem, no one considers it an impediment to the market’s growth. IDC expects 17 million drives will be sold this year, compared to 5 million last year.
The faster speed media will be available, too … it’s just a matter of when.