Magazine Article


Psst. Call it "Recordable DVD"

Psst. Call it
"Recordable DVD."

Q: How many marketing specialists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. They can't agree on which way to twist the bulb.

If you listen to the DVD specialists, you might get convinced that there are important differences between the two main competing DVD standards. But listen closely. If all you do is look, the only difference you might find is in punctuation.
The only observable difference (under a microscope) is in how each lays-out its recording. Nobody's claimed their pattern is better from the standpoint of DVD playback quality. They're both simply saying that their own pattern is more widely supported.
So alright, we have a standards war. It's Betamax and VHS all over again. Sorta. In that case too, the basic medium was shared (half-inch videotape), with the rivalry being about the recording layout. The big difference this time is in the nomenclature. The marketing stuff. When one alternative was called "Betamax" and the other "VHS," customers knew they were making a choice. Customers' reasons for making a choice may have been unenlightened—Ed down the block made that choice—but they could tell at first glance that a choice was to be made. T'isn't always the case with recordable DVD.

An Alphabet Soup That's in a Stew
DVD-RAM was the first recordable DVD. It had its advantages, including its compatibility with home theater systems—it shows up mostly in stand-alone players. Its downside was that it could play in few computer drives. That makes a big difference. People thinking of writing video or photos to DVD are likely to be working on the computer, anyway. How much better to be able to burn DVDs then and there, just like they do CDs?
CD-R got its start with the Photo CD. Kodak didn't invent the Orange Book standards, but they were the first to cultivate a popular market for it. As that market grew, so did its conventions. For example, it used a hyphen. A write-once CD was a CD-R, a phase-change rewritable was CD-RW. A combo burner became CD-R/RW. It was alphabet soup, but at least the inquiring consumer could tell, from alphabetic clues, that a given product was one or another.
If there's a logic to technical succession, to say nothing of marketing succession, it makes sense that the upgrade from recordable/rewritable CD-R/RW would be DVD-R/RW, right? Right. And for a few minutes, it was.
Then the second DVD group showed up on the market. Their standard offers more, they said. How do you express "more?" In a single glance? Why, what could be better than a plus sign? Standard No. 2 became DVD+R/RW.
Now, you can argue that even at first glance, "DVD+R/RW" looks different than "DVD-R/RW." And, the in-the-know consumer, having been told there's a standards war, surmises—ahhh, it's this one, not that one.
Thing is, the same customer in the days of Betamax didn't have to be told there was a standards war. One thing was called Betamax, the other, VHS. Make all the distinctive logos you like—on the page of a newspaper, a "plus" sign amid those upper-case letters is as easy to miss as the lone piece of chicken in a soupbowl.

Getting Specific About the Generic
And what do we use for the generic? What shall we call recordable DVD, when addressing it collectively? As in, " ... and, if you want to store pictures on something with seven times the capacity of CD-R, you can use ..."
If DVD+R is called "DVD plus R," shouldn't "DVD-R" be called "DVD minus R?" Maybe some of the "plus" guys wouldn't mind if you say so.
So the customer calls up and wants to know, "Do you have recordable DVD media?" How do you answer? You could always be product-neutral and say, "We have DVD plus R, and DVD dash R." I'm sure the customer will know exactly what you mean.
The most unpejorative terms are, of course, "DVD plus R" and "DVD dash R." That's politically correct around the "-" guys. But until he knows about the standards war, the customer still risks confusion. Since 1996 he's been referring to "CDR" without mentioning the dash. Wouldn't the intuitive terminology now be "DVDR?" But if he asks, "Do you have DVDR media," you've got to go through the same qualifying conversation, anyway.

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