DL media have had teething problems from the start. It’s not hard to design a drive that meets the DL specification–or any specification, for that matter. But getting that drive to work with real production discs is another thing. The first DL drives on the market were set up for Verbatim DVD+R DL 2.4X samples. The actual production discs were different, and many people had problems with these first drives until a rash of firmware updates became available. (But even now, those first DL drives work poorly with other DL discs and not well with even Verbatim discs.)
The problem was the rush to market. Drive manufacturers are desparate for a form of differentiation. Speed has always been the big deal, but now that going beyond 52X for CD-R or 16X for DVD+/-R makes little sense (…yes, 18X and 20 media will be available, but they will be modified forms of 16X with new MID codes that will probably cause problems with all legacy 8X and 16X drives–just beautiful!), drive manufactures needed something new. DL was it. Yamaha, to their credit, came up with the silly T@2 labeling system; but that failed. DL drives were rushed to market too far ahead of the media, and people immediately had problems.
Today’s DL drives are far more compatible with 2P discs (the ones that use a “photo-polymer” temporary stamper that gets thrown out after being hardened by UV light), but compatibility problems remain. That’s a major reason why Taiyo Yuden is reluctant to introduce DL media. They are unsupported by all DL drives released so far, and if their discs do not work, AfterDawn critics will immediately blame the failure on quality or counterfeiters. However, in order to reduce the cost of production, 8X DL media are being manufactured with a new process; and those media tend to be incompatible with legacy DL drives and many, but not all, new 8X DL drives. This process, known as “inverse stack,” does away with the temporary photo-polymer layer and the debris it can introduce, and reduces cost because of no waste, fewer manufacturing steps, less debris, and better yields. The fact that IS media are less expensive does not mean they are lower quality. The fact that they often do not work on DL drives is also not an indication of lower quality, just less compatibility.
IS DL media are the future, like it or not, because consumers and retailers–who have even more influence than consumers!–are demanding lower prices for DL. That means that the DL category has not yet ripened. Expect to see better DL drives in 2008 that are more compatible and produce better DL recordings with 2P and IS discs.
And the next drive differentiator? DVD Download. The drive guys are going to push this as the next best thing. It allows consumers and kiosks to put CSS protection on their download recordings. Anyone who understands what it does has been skating around CSS for years. Those who don’t understand what it does may not even be interested.