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A busy year for CD technology

The past year brought enhancements in every segment of the CD industry--many of which will be shown at AIIM and SIGCAT '98 this month.

One of the fastest growing segments of the CD-ROM market is hybrid CDs, which provide information on a CD-ROM and also connect to the Web. The appeal of that combination is its integration of two powerful technologies in a way that optimizes the performance of each one. Bandwidth-hungry content such as graphics, video and audio can be provided locally on the CD, and other content, usually text-based, can be downloaded from the Web to exploit its ability to provide the most current information.

Prime applications of connected CDs are:

  • promotion and advertising. The Web is a big place, and companies trying to reach customers can't be sure that their prospects will arrive at the site. Connected CDs can be sent as direct mail or distributed at trade shows to spark an initial interest. The disc then provides an easy path to the Web site.

  • literature or marketing fulfillment. For customers who have expressed an interest in a product, connected CDs can be used to distribute interactive electronic catalogs that let the user view a company's offerings and then connect to the Web for E-commerce purchases.

  • sales support. For salespeople on the road, connected CDs offer the advantage of being able to show multimedia elements without transmission delays, while providing updates on product prices, distributors and other relevant information.

  • customer support. Technical documentation and troubleshooting materials can be put on CD, with built-in Web connections for downloading software updates or revisions of technical material. Instructional video clips can easily be played from a CD but remain problematic when transmitted over the Internet.

MarketScape (www.webcd.com) specializes in creating WebCDs by capturing the content of a company's Web site and recording it on CD in its original HTML format. That allows the user to browse the Web site without being online. A Web connection can be invoked to allow a customer to visit the Web site to purchase a product or retrieve updated information. For a salesperson using Web information to educate prospective customers, the WebCD provides good insurance against a slow (or unavailable) Web connection.

Peter Hallett, marketing director at MarketScape, points out that despite the current interest in E-commerce, it has its limitations. E-commerce alone does not expand a company's revenue base, although it may reduce transaction costs. "Unless interest is generated that attracts new qualified prospects, having an online mechanism for purchase is not particularly helpful. The WebCD has been an effective way of reaching customers and bringing them to a company's Web site."

Most of the leading CD authoring products now have the capability to produce a connected CD. Those products usually retain the data in a proprietary format rather than HTML and convert it on the fly. Although proprietary formats initially had greater functionality than Web search engines, today's engines have many of those capabilities for searching text, including Boolean and fuzzy searching. Publishers that have been using CD authoring products may choose to use the same product for Web publishing to maintain continuity for their customers and benefit from their past investment. Fielded data is still better handled using databases (as opposed to HTML). However, the authoring products will face heavy competition from browser-based connected CD products as intranet and Internet publishing continues to grow.

Having large files available locally on CD will continue to be a desirable option for the next several years, until the Internet's bandwidth can accommodate all forms of multimedia. Gregory Wester, VP and research director for the Yankee Group (www.yankeegroup.com), a market research and consulting firm, said that even after 2000, more than 90% of consumers will still connect to the Web via a phone line and modem. The connections are better for enterprises, but multimedia content remains cumbersome. Thus the outlook for connected CDs is positive for the next several years at least.

CD recording

"It's all coming together now," said Robert Van Eijk, director of strategic marketing for Philips Electronics (www.philips.com), Business Group Optical Storage. "Price, ease of use and functionality have converged to move CD-Recordable and CD-Rewritable into the mass market." Van Eijk, who will be keynote speaker at SIGCAT '98, said, "We don't really know how big the market is, because demand has always exceeded supply. Forecasts are for 6 million to 7 million drives in 1998, but it could be much higher." Van Eijk added that with CD-R media at around $1, no other method of data interchange makes as much sense.

About 2 million CD-R and CD-RW drives were sold worldwide in 1997, according to the Santa Clara Marketing Group. The market leader was Hewlett-Packard (www.hp.com), with nearly 20% of the market, followed by Philips, Yamaha (www.yamahasyst.com), Sony (www.sony.com) and Ricoh (www.ricoh-usa.com). Sales of 6 million in 1998 would represent a remarkable tripling of the market size. One determinant of growth will be whether CD-R and CD-RW drives begin to be integrated into computers, according to Van Eijk. Acceptance and use of CD-ROM increased dramatically when they began to be incorporated into new computers, and the same result is likely for CD-R/RW drives.

The most interesting development in CD recording this year, aside from the growth in the market size, was the emergence of CD-Rewritable drives. Despite some dispute about whether using CD-RW is cost-effective given the low prices of standard CD-R media, and confusion as to whether the discs can be read on existing CD-ROM drives, numerous manufacturers are introducing CD-RW drives with a variety of connection options, including SCSI, ATAPI and EIDE. Those include Hewlett-Packard, Hi-Val (www.hival.com), Memorex (www.memorex.com), Mitsubishi (www.mitsubishi-informationstorage.com), Philips, Ricoh, and Smart and Friendly (www.smartandfriendly.com), which uses the Yamaha CD-RW.

As far as readability of rewritable discs, two ingredients are required. One is a multiread drive that compensates for the lower reflectivity of rewritable discs. Virtually all the drives being produced are in that category, but it will take a couple of years for the installed base to evolve, either by attrition or upgrading. The second ingredient is a universal disc format (UDF) driver that allows the Windows operating system to understand UDF files. Software files that accomplish that can be downloaded from various Web sites including Adaptec's (www.adaptec.com). For distribution, CD-R (or CD-ROM) is still the best bet, but CD-RW drives are fine for backup and other in-house use.

The past year was also marked by the introduction of several new 4x recorders to join Yamaha and TEAC (www.teac.com). Matsushita Electric Industrial Company (www.mei.co.jp) now has a 4x write, 8x read model that sells under the Panasonic label, and Plextor (www.plextor.com) has a 4x read, 12x write unit. Yamaha's CD-R drives are 4x write/6x read, and TEAC's newest is a 4x write, 12x read. Yamaha is the only one to offer an IDE connection in addition to a SCSI connection; the others are SCSI only.

In the media arena, the most interesting development was the introduction of 8x media by Taiyo Yuden (Tokyo) and Ricoh. The introduction of the discs preceded that of 8x recorders, which are still not out yet (although expected within the next several months). The media itself is selling, based in part on promises of improved performance at any speed because of the greater demands of 8x recording. Other media manufacturers are making improvements in formulation and introducing new protective coatings and printable surfaces. Maxell (www.maxell.com) is among the manufacturers that have introduced DVD-R discs. However, with DVD recorders still in the $15,000 range, DVD recording is not approaching mass market status.

CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives

For CD-ROM drives, the vast majority shipping are in the 20x to 24x range. Over 10 million drives in that category were shipped in the fourth quarter of 1997, more than all the other speed categories combined. DVD-ROM drives are just beginning to make a showing, with fewer than a half million shipping during the same time. The total number of drives shipped worldwide in 1997 was 70 million. As noted above, most new drives now comply with the OSTA multiread specification.

More computer suppliers and mass storage companies are offering DVD drives as an option. As more software products become available on DVD, the demand for the drives will increase, in turn fueling more DVD products.

Industrial strength disc testing

Disc quality and readability have been of interest since the first CDs were produced, but there have been limited options for testing discs. Audio Development (www.audiodev.com), maker of the CD-CATS, has dominated the field, with only a few other competitors.

Now Sony is entering the disc testing market with a line of three disc analyzers, all scheduled to be available within the next four months. They can be used on CD-ROM, CD audio, and recorded CD-R discs. The CD Precision Analyzer, DQC-50, is designed for a new set of measurement standards, the CD Reference Measuring Method (CD-RMM), advocated by Sony and Philips. CD-RMM specifies new measurement method standards, and the use of reference or calibration discs enables a wider range of measurements to be made. The DQC-50 also has a feature that is not available in any other analyzer: the ability to test discs at 4x speeds as well as 1x. It measures HF signal parameters such as jitter, asymmetry and cross talk; track following signals such as push-pull; and block error rate (BLER), among others.

Another product, the CD In-line Analyzer, DQL-50, is intended for inline inspection during production. It is also CD-RMM-compliant and operates at 1x and 2x speeds. Finally, the Disc Unbalance Checker, DUC-10, is designed for measurement of the dynamic balance of CDs and DVDs. That device tests to be sure the center of gravity is at the center of the disc, which can affect the balance and readability of the disc.

Those products are not for the casual user or for those on a limited budget, but for disc manufacturers and service bureaus, they offer an alternative to currently available disc analyzers. As more data is stored on CDs, the desire to verify disc quality will also increase, so the market for disc testing is likely to grow along with the volume of discs.

Integrated products

Surely one of the most clever products to be introduced this year is Canon's (www.usa.canon.com) new CD-4046, an integrated imaging and CD-Recordable product. The device emerged from the needs of micrograhics customers, but is likely to find much broader applications because of its ease of use, portability and price. The scanner portion is based on Canon's DR-2030 scanner, which operates at up to 37 pages per minute. Images are stored in Group IV TIFF format on a hard drive (1.7 GB) and simultaneously copied to a 2x/6x CD recorder using Adaptec's Direct CD, a packet-writing recording program. The system runs under Windows 95.

Function control is achieved via a touchscreen with a simple set of controls, so no monitor is needed. The ease with which the device can be operated is one important reason it is likely to be widely accepted. "Banks and credit unions are a good market for this device," said Canon's product marketing manager George Morris. "In addition to the standard imaging capability, the CD-4046 has an endorsement option for stamping the back of the check image. Also, because it weighs just over 30 pounds, it can be taken on-site easily and used for other applications such as litigation, where images of hard-copy documents are required."

The price is just under $8,000, which puts it within reach of smaller organizations. A few limitations should be noted. Because the CD-4046 was designed primarily for image capture, it does not have a strong retrieval capability. Also, because it is not using optical character recognition (OCR), the text data cannot be searched. Finally, as a new product, it does not have a performance record. Nevertheless, when well matched to its application, the product should be successful. It will be exhibited at both AIIM and SIGCAT '98.

Another new system that should alleviate some customer headaches is Microboards' (www.microboards.com) new Desktop CD-R publisher, an integrated CD recording and printing system that fits nicely on the desktop. The PC version was announced in December 1997 and the Macintosh version in April 1998. Also priced at under $8,000, the system has two 4x recorders, a Fargo (www.fargo.com) Signature CD color printer and Cedar (www.cedar-tech.com) autoloader and editing software, Prassi's (www.prassi.com) CD-Rep premastering software for Windows 95, NT or Macintosh and Prassi Robo Rep duplication software. Fargo's printer is relatively new to the market and can print full-color, high-resolution text, graphics, logos and photographs onto printable-surface CD-R media.

In the past, the components individually have cost up to $25,000. But as important as the competitive price--which makes the technology affordable to a wide range of smaller businesses--is the assurance that the components will all work together. Early sales reports are promising. Mitch Ackmann, executive VP of Microboards, said, "As fast as we can make the systems, they're out the door." Ackmann added that CD technology has done more than add one more technology to the list; it has brought the world together. "You can send a disc anywhere in the world and as long as there is a CD-ROM drive, the disc can be read," he said. "That's an amazing feat."

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