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DVD-R Plays to the Mainstream

Pioneer’s $995 DVR-A03 DVD-R/CD-RW writer is the kind of product a reviewer lives for — one with the potential to radically alter both the computing landscape and the way the home entertainment industry does business. How so? The DVR-A03 is the first truly affordable drive that writes DVD-ROM and movie discs that are playable in commercial movie and DVD-ROM players. Home DVD movies are now close at hand.

IT shops will appreciate the fact that it is fast enough and has the capacity to compete with tape drives in the archival arena, and is a natural adjunct to DVD-ROM carousel servers.

Streamers, however, will find uses that hit much closer to home, such as easily and randomly accessible uncompressed master file storage, repurposing of streaming content to DVD with almost no financial risk, and interoperable transferability of notoriously large data files from computer to computer or country to country. Throw in CD-R/RW read and write compatibility and you’ve got one heck of a product. You might already have heard this drive touted by Steve Jobs as Apple’s SuperDrive or as part of Compaq’s MyMovieStudio option.

Perspectives in Plastic

DVD-R, the capacious 4.7GB writable cousin to DVD-ROM, isn’t new, but until now it’s been economically out of reach for many. And until last year, DVD-R offered only 3.9GB of capacity — not enough to fit an entire DVD-ROM worth of data, or a full movie without lowering bit rates. Pioneer’s first DVD-R drive, the 1X DVR-S101, debuted in March 1998 at the staggering price of $16,995, with 3.9GB media that cost a whopping $49.95 per disc. DVD authors jumped on the product anyway, since it was still a whole lot cheaper than spending $3000 a pop for someone to master and produce a one-off check disc. A year later, Pioneer delivered the $5400 second-generation DVR-S201 with 2X DVD-R, and 3.9GB media had dropped to $40 each — cheaper, but still prohibitive for many.

Last July, Pioneer introduced a firmware upgrade to the DVR-S201 that added support for 4.7GB media, and then in November announced the consumer-affordable DVR-A03. While the $995 MSRP of the DVR-A03 is hardly chump change, it’s still enticing once you read the specs: 2X DVD-R writing, 4X DVD-ROM reading, 8X CD-R writing, 4X CD-RW writing, and 24X CD-ROM reading. The drive is also compatible with Pioneer’s upcoming DVD-RW 4.7GB rewritable media, though it can only write to it at 1X. But an affordable DVD-R drive wouldn’t mean much if media were still ridiculously expensive. It’s not — Apple is selling DVD-R five-packs on the Web for $50. Pioneer expects disc prices to drop to around what CD-R media currently cost in the next year or so.

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