Trying to Bring Order to a Chaotic Optical-Disc World

With the plethora of CD and DVD formats out there, it can be confusing figuring out what will work with what. Standards can help define specifications for a particular format, but often do little to guarantee compatibility between them.

To solve this problem, the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA) was created in 1992. According to their website, "OSTA does not create standards, but it helps the optical storage industry define practical implementations of standards to assure compatibility of resulting products."

Last week, OSTA announced that 31 drive manufacturers, representing 98% of CD and DVD optical-drive shipments worldwide, have requested applications for the use of their MultiRead specification.

MultiRead is an optical drive specification ratified by OSTA members in July 1997 that enables all classes of CD discs (CD-Audio, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW) to be read on current and future CD and DVD devices.

Already approved to use the MultiRead logo are 13 companies, including: Actima, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Lite-on, Matsushita Kotobuki Electronics, Mitsumi, Philips Components, Pioneer, Ricoh, Samsung, Sony, and TEAC. Approval of several more applicants is expected soon.

The MultiRead specification defines the parameters necessary for optical devices to be capable of reading CD-Audio, CD-ROM, CD-R, and CD-RW discs. Most CD-RW drives are MultiRead-compliant, and most of the new high-speed CD-ROM drives incorporate MultiRead compatibility as well. In addition, most future DVD-ROM and rewritable DVD devices are expected to comply with the specification.

Compliance with the MultiRead specification is voluntary. Companies using the MultiRead logo are required to test drives using testing and benchmark criteria published on the OSTA website. Manufacturers must then submit a test report to Hewlett-Packard, which administers the MultiRead logo, along with a nominal ($995) license fee.

Media makers can also obtain authorization to use the logo on CD-RW discs, which can be read only on MultiRead drives.

"The MultiRead specification and its logo-licensing program create a clear mechanism for users to identify optical drives that can read the billions of CD-Audio, CD-ROM, CD-R, and CD-RW discs that continue to appear in the marketplace," states Ray Freeman of OSTA. "This is especially significant in light of the continued evolution and widespread acceptance of CD and DVD products."

According to Steve Hammond, vice president of marketing for Micro Design International and chairman of OSTA's Market Development Committee, "Despite the present uncertainty over rewriteable DVD standards, today's MultiRead specification ensures that user investments in data recorded on CD media will be protected as drive technology shifts from CD to DVD. Consumers can now find comfort in the fact that wherever they see the MultiRead logo, full compatibility with CD discs is assured. We're very pleased with the nearly unanimous level of interest among optical-drive manufacturers."