The new CD player from Apple sets the standard for others to aim at with its double-speed technology, a speed select switch, a reasonable list price of $599, and support for multi-session PhotoCDs along with three other formats I'm unfamiliar with, CD-ROM XA (which apparently requires some extra hardware to play compressed audio), CD+G, and CD+MIDI. It of course reads all the ISO 9660/High Sierra and Macintosh HFS discs that the old (and still available) AppleCD 150 can read. The drive has an average access time of 295 milliseconds in double-speed mode, in which it can also transfer 300 KB of data per second.
Double-speed technology isn't new, since NEC has had the CDR-73M out for a while now, but it was plagued with some early problems that NEC only recently fixed. The AppleCD 300 hopes to avoid any such problems with its front-mounted speed select switch, and frankly, I suspect that Apple tested more carefully than NEC anyway, to judge from some of the less than favorable comments I've received about NEC. Will McCauley reported on his experience calling NEC, saying:
Gee, it wasn't that bad. I just sat with the phone next to my ear for 32 minutes listening to an improperly synchronized recording ("are busy. Please hold the line. All our operato") and then I got to talk to two real people, one of whom said she would send the new driver. I asked if I could post the driver to an electronic bulletin board, and she said "Oh, no, only the PC driver is posted there." I said I could post it to a bulletin board frequented by Mac users, and she said "Well, I don't know anything about that." Sounds like a go-ahead to me.
I have heard that NEC plans a ROM upgrade to support multi-session PhotoCDs, but it appears that NEC isn't entirely with it, because Povl Pedersen reports, "According to comp.sys.unix.aux the new NEC driver is still not A/UX compatible, so if you want to install A/UX someday, go for another drive like one from Toshiba, Sony, or Apple."
Many drives now support single-session PhotoCDs, which you create by having camera film transferred to CD rather than printed on paper. Multi-session PhotoCDs come about, apparently, when you take that CD back to the photo store and have them add more rolls of film to it. I know little about PhotoCD, but if anyone out there has played with PhotoCD personally and has had pictures put on one, I'd love an article about it.
Interestingly, and Apple's press propaganda was no help, the AppleCD 300 appears to have two modes. In mode 1 the drive can read 656 MB per disc, and transfer data at either 150 KB/second or 300 KB/second (working at normal or double speed). That jives with the little I know about CDs. In mode 2 the drive can read 748 MB per disc, and transfer data at either 171 KB/second or 342 KB/second. That's weird. It turns out that these modes are standards and almost all drives support both modes. Mode 2 discs store more and read faster because it has less error correction (not a problem for audio and fast animation, where a missed bit wouldn't matter), but almost no discs use the mode 2 format. Many thanks to Cary Lu, who solved this mystery by quoting to me from the fourth edition of his excellent book, "The Apple Macintosh Book," (ISBN 1-55615-278-7, $24.95 from Microsoft Press). I need to get my own copy of that.