By JIM KRANE, AP Technology Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - As the personal computer gets shoved out of the spotlight at the PC Expo trade show, a three-way battle is heating up over standards for recordable digital video or DVD devices.
Analysts say the battle is vital for electronics makers, but not for consumers - yet.
The just-emerging DVD recorders - employing three competing, incompatible platforms - are still too expensive for most users.
"There will have to be some coalescing of the technology," said Judith Abrams, principal of the market research firm TechIntelligence. "Right now it's too confusing for the consumer."
On Tuesday, Panasonic fired the show's first volley. The electronics maker announced the October release of a stand-alone $1,000 home entertainment recorder that uses a platform called DVD-RAM.
The sleek silver or black machines allow users to record TV shows or other video on high-capacity, rewriteable DVD-RAM discs that can hold up to 9.4 gigabytes of data.
One problem, though.
The DVD-RAM format isn't viewable on the majority of DVD players. So Panasonic also allows you to record in the single-use DVD-Recordable format supported by most players.
Panasonic is joined by Hitachi, JVC, Toshiba, Samsung and Hitachi in pushing the DVD-RAM standard, which will also be released on PC drives that cost about $600.
On Wednesday, a phalanx of companies that support a separate recording format - DVD+RW, or "DVD-plus-rewritable" - announced that PC juggernaut Dell Computer would adopt their standard.
Unlike Panasonic's technology, the DVD+RW format, set to hit the market in the fall, will be compatible with most current DVD players.
Besides Dell, companies backing the DVD+RW camp include Hewlett-Packard, Philips Electronics, Sony Corp., Ricoh and Yamaha Corp.
If that weren't confusing enough, Pioneer Electronics has already released DVD recorders that use a third format, DVD-RW.
Pioneer's $850 version is showing up in computers sold by Apple, Compaq and Sony (which is toying with two of the three formats), and will emerge as a home audio component this fall, said Abrams.
The advice for consumers? Abrams suggests waiting for prices to drop and a clear standard to emerge before buying.
Abrams said corporate customers are gravitating toward DVD-RAM for data archiving, while consumers tend to buy the DVD-RW machines, simply because they were first on the market. The upcoming release of the DVD+RW machines might spark a price war, and a standard format could emerge, she predicted.
Outside PC Expo's DVD pavilion, vendors showed off a cornucopia of products that had metamorphosed beyond the personal computer.
The show's list of a few dozen traditional PC makers was eclipsed by vendors of wireless, handheld, peripheral and networking products, along with niche gadgets.
For the laptop user who tires of hunching over a tiny machine, a California-based company named PaceBlade is among manufacturers that has separated the keyboard and display panel, allowing the two parts to communicate through an infrared connection.
PaceBlade's result, called the PaceBook, allows the user to set the "monitor" higher, or farther away, relieving neck and back strain.
Or, why not ditch the keyboard entirely? The screen doubles as a touchable tablet PC that can be operated with a stylus.
The $2,000 machine, which uses Transmeta's Crusoe 800 MHz low-power processor, is to go on the market in the fall.
Sony already has a tablet PC out and Panasonic, ViewSonic and Microsoft are among companies that have announced similar products.
Another worthwhile device being touted is the unglamorous USB 2.0 PC card.
Just about all PCs now support USB 1.1 ports, a connector that sits on the back of your desktop or laptop and mates with peripheral devices like scanners, CD-ROM drives, printers and joysticks.
Problem is, USB 1.1 is a data bottleneck.
The USB 2.0 port allows data to flow at 60 megabits per second, or 40 times faster than USB 1.1 - quicker even than the FireWire connections now common on digital video cameras.
At least three companies at the expo, Adaptec, Orange Micro and Keyspan, offered USB 2.0 ports for sale at around $100 - give or take $30 - along with driver software, ready to install for anyone with the a little screwdriver expertise.
Installing the port is, unfortunately, the easy part. Finding a peripheral device that can take advantage of its speedy data transfer is a tougher task.
A few CD-rewriteable drives and an external hard-disk drive are already available, with other devices, including a scanner, set to emerge in fall, according to Adaptec.
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