On October 12, Sony announced DVDirect, a groundbreaking DVD recorder that—if it performs as advertised—sets a new standard for versatility in a DVD recorder. The new drive, which features the same vertical configuration of most recent Sony external desktop drives, combines features of desktop and set-top burners in a single unit. In addition to state-of-the-art recording speed (16X DVD+R and 12X DVD-R with a forthcoming firmware update) and 4X DVD+R DL support, the DVDirect can also connect directly to a camcorder or VCR for on-the-fly DVD+VR burning, including both pre-recorded material and live streams.
"This product was picked and pieced together from technology developed a few years ago in San Jose for Video CD recording," says Robert DeMoulin, marketing manager for branded storage products in Sony Electronics' IT Products division. As the limited appeal of VideoCD-based products became evident, Sony "put it on the shelf," DeMoulin says, where it sat for some time before the company decided to "dust it off and update it for DVD."
For PC-based DVD recording, the DVDirect (model VRD-VC10) operates just like any other external USB 2.0 drive, and comes with Sony's now-standard Nero software bundle. In standalone mode, consumers should find much that's familiar as well. "For anyone who's ever dubbed a cassette tape," DeMoulin says, working with DVDirect will be "a very familiar experience." For real-time standalone recording, DVDirect uses DVD+VR mode, which allows DVD project parameters to be set on-the-fly. +VR recording limits standalone use of the drive to DVD+R media, which may confound some users who've grown accustomed to dual-format drives that will record to virtually any media you throw at them. DeMoulin says it will require some modifications to the drive to add -VR support, and such an upgrade will probably be available roughly a quarter after the drives' release.
For real-time recording, DVDirect offers MPEG-2 hardware encoding for DVD in three modes: HQ (10Mbps--one hour SL, two hours DL); SP (4.6Mbps—two hours SL, four hours DL); SLP (1.6Mbps—six hours SL, 12 hours DL). There's no scene detection, but the drive will automatically set chapter points at five, 10, or 15-minute intervals. Users can also set chapter points manually with the click of a button. DVDirect will then add a thumbnail for the newly set chapter to the DVD menu, using the "first non-black frame" in the chapter.
Other features of DVDirect include synchronized dubbing, which enables the drive to start and stop automatically with most camcorders and VCRs based on when it receives a video signal. The drive also records discs with an AutoPlay function that allows users to bypass the menu and go straight to the movie. A/V inputs include composite (yellow RCA jack), S-Video, and two-channel analog audio.
DeMoulin says Sony is positioning DVDirect primarily as a consumer drive, but he sees potential professional applications as well. For example, he says wedding videographers could use it to make "a rough cut disc at the end of a shoot," which they could then "give to the bride and groom to take on their honeymoon." And given the growing live event duplication industry, DVDirect could form a link in the chain for live mastering of a DVD disc for subsequent duplication and printing.
Sony plans a late November ship date for DVDirect, and an MSRP of $299, which includes the drive and full Nero software suite for using it as an external USB 2.0 desktop drive. As with other DVD±RW models, Sony will sell the drive through resellers and retailers throughout the U.S., mail order catalogs, online outlets, and Sony's own store at www.sonystyle.com.