Battle brewing over the successor to the DVD

Battle brewing over the successor to the DVD

With its release of what it claims is the first blue-laser optical disk reader for data, Sony Corp. has kicked off what promises to be a standards war over the eventual replacement of DVDs that will be comparable to the Betamax-versus-VHS clash.

The Tokyo electronics giant says that it's new line of optical disks and reader-writers will replace CDs and DVDs. Each disk, which uses Sony's Professional Disc for DATA format, can hold 23.3G of storage. DVDs hold 4.7G and CDs about 650M.

Today's DVD systems use infrared lasers to read and write materials to disk. Infrared lightwaves are about 650 nanometers wide. But through recent advances in material science, researchers now can produce lasers that can emit light at even shorter wavelengths, blue-colored light with 405-nanometer-wide wavelengths.

Drives can use the short-wavelength light beams to write and distinguish between rows of data more closely spaced than on current disks. With more rows per disk, each platter can hold more information.

Sony said the drives have an 11M-per-second read rate and a 9M-per-second write speed; so a disk would take about 45 minutes to burn. Sony is offering both write-once and rewritable disks that cost about $45 each.

Although the disks are available now, the company won't release the drives for a few months. Original equipment manufacturers, however, are embedding them now in computers and storage systems, a Sony spokesman said. The only company to announce a product based on this technology is Asaca/Shibasoku Corp. of America in Golden, Col.

The OEM drives cost about $3,000 each. Sony has not announced the price it will set for the drives once it begins offering them directly to the public.

Sony is not the only company to offer a new format built around blue-light lasers. At least two other company teams are touting blue-laser-generated disks.

The most popular format, at least among manufacturers, is Blu-ray. In February 2002, a coalition of nine consumer electronics companies published Blu-ray specifications for video recording but promised to adapt the standard for data storage techniques.

Sony's Professional Disc for DATA disks will not be interoperable with and Blu-ray disks, the company said.

The first Blu-ray products are for video recording, not data storage. Earlier this year, Sony introduced its own Blu-ray video recorder. At least two other Blu-ray video recorders are about to arrive on the market, from LG Electronics Inc. of Seoul, South Korea, and Matsushita Electric Industrial Company Ltd. of Osaka, Japan.

To complicate matters further, Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp. have introduced a third blue-laser format, the Advanced Optical Disk. AOD doesn't have as much industry support as Blu-ray, but the DVD Forum, an industry group has chosen the AOD read-only format over Blu-ray as the successor to DVD. AOD products are expected to hit the marketplace early next year.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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