Sony Left Holding the Bag Again?

by Derrick Story

I've been following the DVD-R vs. the DVD+RW competition rather closely. I became more interested after accidently buying the wrong format for my SuperDrive at Office Max. (And still haven't had the time to get back there for a refund.) I hate that ...

Another informative article on the subject surfaced this morning over at Insanely Great Mac that points out that many DVD manufacturers are now leaning toward a "multi-format" recorders tentatively dubbed as Real DVD. My top of mind response is: "This is a good idea."

At the moment Samsung, Toshiba, Hitachi, Matsushita (Panasonic), Pioneer, and Apple are producing equipment using the DVD-R/RW format. Microsoft, Sony, and a host of others are behind the DVD+RW format, although Sony seems to be hedging its bets by showing support for DVD-R also. Depending on whose facts your believe, DVD-R and DVD+RW seem to be in a real horse race for popularity among consumers. In the end, I think DVD-R would prevail, but I don't want it to come to that.

Just as a casual observation, it's amazing to me that a company so bright as Sony -- in some ways I consider them the Apple of the PC world -- could end up on the wrong side of the format fence so many times. Both Betamax and MiniDisc are cool technologies, but ultimately lost pace with rivals. The Memory Stick is doggedly hanging in there (as is the MiniDisc for that matter), but it's only a matter of time until Memory Sticks meet the same proprietary fate as Sony's other "we're the only ones using these" formats. For example, I already see the new xD memory card gaining ground, in part due to multi-company support.

Right now, nothing would please me more (technologically speaking that is) than to see Sony throw all of its support toward an universal DVD format alongside other major manufacturers.

I like Sony products. This is why I really want to see Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, Hitachi, Matsushita, Pioneer, and Apple all producing equipment with the same format. The Recordable DVD Council appears to be working in this direction. It's only logical to settle on a standard disc.

In the meantime, I best get my tail over to Office Max for a refund while those DVD+RWs are still popular ...


2003-01-29 18:45:21
Down with memory sticks
That memory stick is an annoyance. Sony has some nice cameras, and some nice notebooks, but I won't buy either because I have an investment in Compact Flash cards, and I don't feel like buying a whole bunch of memory sticks. It's nice to have all my devices using same memory standard.
2003-01-30 01:21:18
It's funny how americans usually see the minidisc format as dead technology produced only by sony, when in fact its stille being produced by JVC, Kenwood, Aiwa, Sharp, Denon, Alpine, Yamaha, Panasonic, Onkyo and Marantz. Furthermore, it is still very succesfull in europe and asia. And while we are at the subject =), Sony tried to license the betamax format to several other manufactorers right from the beginning...
2003-01-30 07:49:41
Sony on both sides - today
Sony has delivered -R/-RW drives in the past on their VAIO computers, while their stroage division until recently delivered only internal and external, standalone +R/+RW drives.

They seem to have the best of both worlds, now.

Their VAIO PCV-RZ22G, -RZ24G, and -RZ26G computers (see now ship with DVD-R/RW+R/RW drives; supports all DVD media types except -RAM. The drive mechanisms have been available separately for several months, the DRU-A500.

So, Sony's gamble is to give the users what they want - both.

They also announced a set top DVD recorder which handles all DVD formats, except -RAM.


2003-01-30 08:47:30
Sony on both sides - today
Absolutely. As I said in the post, they're showing support for DVD-R and DVD+R/RW. Smart, but troublesome to support all those formats at once (clearly, Sony doesn't want to be left holding the bag on DVD).

That being said, doesn't it make the most sense for everyone to support a universal format? I would love to see Sony become a powerful force in that movement.

2003-01-30 09:06:10
Sony on both sides - today
I think you misunderstood my comment...

The new Sony drives support all formats with one drive.

The way I read your piece was that Sony was supporting all flavors with two different drives.

I've been involved in the debate for years. Sony is the first to come to the one drive solution.

The DVD Forum effort is simply a rebranding to "Real DVD", from the gobbledy-gook of various combinations of the characters: "D", "V", "+", "-", "R", and "W".

It is a religious issue, with neither side willing to compromise.

All the consumer cares about is this:
- I have some round shiny discs; some are video, and some are audio
- I want to insert them into my drive
- I expect them to work


2003-01-30 09:48:07
Sony on both sides - today
Mike, I'm not arguing with you, nor do I have anything against Sony, as clearly stated in the 'blog.

I also agree that all consumers really care about is that their DVDs work in all of their hardware, regardless of who the manufacturer is.

Sony's approach of supporting multiple formats seems wise as a temporary solution. But why not just join with other manufactures to work toward a long term solution of a standardized format? In the end, that seems like win/win for everyone. And no one will be left holding the bag (except for a few of us who accidently bought the wrong discs for our burners :)

2003-01-30 10:05:30
Minidisk actually quite successful
I lived in Japan for the last three years. Minidisks are very successful there. They have pretty much replaced cassette tapes and portable CD players. Just now they are in turn being replaced by MP3 players and small handheld digital voice recorders.
2003-01-30 11:18:37
Interesting Sony article
Wired ran an article recently about how Sony's electronics division is hampered by their media division:

2003-01-30 11:20:53
Sony on both sides - today
Agreed. A lot of the formats we used today have been strongly backed by Sony (3.5" Floppies... ok, I don't really use those; CDs). Sony definitely innovates, just sometimes they are so set in their inventions that they lose sync with the rest of the industry. Thus we get competing products that have very little extra benefit. Though I suppose Memory Stick is hardly in a product category dominated by a single standard.
2003-01-30 11:29:55
Sony on both sides - today
Same here, no argument.

Sony is known as a rebel or maverick in Japan. Reviewing their early history will show that their success is due to their unwillingness to conform along with the other Japanese conglomerates.

The lack of cooperation on DVD is political and also related to royalties. Recall that Philips and Sony have collected quite a royalty stream with the CD standard. In the future with CD technology being slowly replaced with some sort of DVD technology, that royalty stream may just dry up Witness the fact that there are two DVD audio formats: SACD and DVD-Audio. Oh well...thankfully there are now some players appearing that will play both automatically.

Derrick, you bring out some good points.

In the end, I don't see much public cooperation happening. There will be some minor successes in the background. For example:
- Panasonic/Matsushita is a supplier and manufacturer (as OEM) for some Sony branded products; as is Olympus, Pioneer, and others


2003-01-30 12:30:52
It's Proprietary
Sony's biggest problem when it comes to the formats it chooses is that they are Sony proprietary. Betamax was a better format, but it died because Sony wanted to license the technology to other manufacturers. Instead, other companies formed a coalition and developed VHS. Since the licences for the VHS format were free, it became the most widely adopted, even though it was inferior. The same could be said for MiniDiscs - better, yes, but no on wants to pay Sony to use the format.

Apple for a long time had the same problem. AppleTalk for example was incredible for its time, but it was proprietary. Apple finally figured out that standards are better, even if it's Apple's R&D that pays for it.

Sony is big enough that it can hold out for some of these things just to see if it works out for them. While waiting, they go ahead and make products that embrace the other formats as well, mostly as a hedge. In the end, though, it's the most widely adopted format that will win out.

2003-01-30 13:59:34
Enjoying the Sony Commentary
I'm really enjoying some of the comments about Sony. I think it's an interesting company that doesn't come up in conversation that often in my technology circles. Indeed, they are innovators. That's why I've always thought of them as the PC counterpart to Apple. If you have more insights that haven't been covered here, please post.


2003-01-30 14:33:59
DVD recordable format FAQ link here
Just in case you're interested, here is some general information about the various recordable DVD formats:



2003-02-03 09:02:05
Not surprising...
As you mentioned Sony is always on the wrong side of the fence. History proves it...

They will eventually support the formats that the rest of the industry rally behind but they constantly take technical risks in the hopes that they will control a given media format. Seems they are constantly stopped in that regard by their competitors.

Makes you wonder how things are handled internal to Sony's company. Must be a huge bunch of folks constantly at odds over every decision. Take their Recording Industry vs. their Consumer Electronics division and the battles that must be waged daily.