The next generation of DVD storage has a colourful name and promises a leap in capacity. But like everything in the optical storage world, the industry is forming battle lines over blue laser formats.
Blu-ray Disc, which could carry as much as 50GB of data, is expected to replace VCRs and DVD
recorders in the coming years with the transition to HDTV. It’s also expected to eventually become a standard for PC data storage.
But resellers will have to keep an eye on the struggle with a competing format as the PC expands into the centre of the electronic home.
The unusual name comes from the reading technology. While current discs (like DVD) use a red laser, the new format uses a blue-violet laser —hence, the moniker.
Developed by the Blu-ray Disc Association along with a group of consumer electronics and PC manufacturers, it has wide industry support from manufacturers such as BenQ, HP, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony and Walt Disney. According to the association, Blu-ray Disc offers a cost-effective removable storage medium for the storage of large amounts of data.
The typical capacity of a CD is 650 MB, while a DVD’s is 4.7GB. Blu-ray has a capacity of 27GB, or 50GB in double-density format.
Any form of data available on a PC can be stored on a Blu-ray Disc, including text documents, images, video and audio files. And with appropriate software, users can edit standard or high-definition video, then record it to a Blu-Ray Disc.
Blu-ray is a bit ahead of its time, says Jimmy Davlouros, vice-president and general manager of BenQ Canada. “”They have a cure for the common cold, but if you put it on the market, what’s going to happen to Dristan and Kleenex?”” he says. “”So the same thing with Blu-ray. It’s going to revolutionize the industry in the areas of capacity and technologies and usage.””
That begs the question of what will happen to DVDs and CDs when these technologies haven’t even matured yet?
However, Blu-ray isn’t expected to take the world by storm, says Ross Snow, director of sales and marketing with LG Electronics. “”Perhaps some product will get launched at the very end of the year,”” he says.
“”By next year it’s expected that only 2.1 per cent of the total worldwide optical disc drive market of 245 million units will be high-density drives and not much more by 2007. So every year the calculated average growth rate would be about two per cent per year, where DVD writing will continue to grow dramatically.””
Before users start adopting more expensive technologies like Blu-ray, he says, they’ll utilize dual-layer technology as a bridge.
“”We find ourselves today just at the beginning of a high-density (period),”” he says, “”so we expect this will expand this high-density period and by 2010 we’ll be in 100GB capacities, and then by 2014 we will be approaching a terabyte, so the technology changes to nano technology.””
So what do we need all this storage for? You could put the entire Toronto license plate directory on one disc, says Davlouros. Or it could be used to store digital patient records in hospitals. “”(But) even though the higher levels of sciences require that mass data storage on one disc, it’s not the end of the world if you put it on 10,”” he says.
Its major competitor is another blue laser format, HD-DVD. Already, the industry has divided into two camps, much like Beta and VHS. “”Things are still up in the air,”” says Snow. “”(But) there are many more partners in the Blu-ray camp.””
The HD-DVD camp includes Toshiba, Sanyo, NEC and Memory Tech. Both camps are seeking to encourage content providers and hardware suppliers to support their format. Blu-Ray wins out in terms of capacity. But HD-DVD is cheaper to make and is easy to make backwards-compatible. Major Holly-wood studios, with the exception of Sony Entertainment, have said they’ll support HD-DVD.
System integrators and value-added resellers will clearly want to reap the margins from whichever standard comes out on top. The faster the standard is agreed upon, the faster customers will invest in new technologies and related services.
But until that standard is adopted, most customers will stick with what they know — traditional optical storage methods.
HD-DVD is already available, giving it an edge over Blu-ray. However, Blu-ray is expected to become the preferred choice for optical archival storage, according to research firm Frost & Sullivan.
Still, nothing has been set in stone. Several data storage technologies for large-scale archiving are already under development, such as holographic discs and 3-D fluorescent multi-layer optical media.
A Japanese company, Optware, is currently developing a system that can read and write data to a holographic optical disc that will store more than a terabyte — or one trillion bytes — of data.
Blu-ray, therefore, needs to establish itself quickly before losing to these competing technologies — which, for large-scale storage applications, may be more appropriate.
Product late this year
“”Different companies have different directions,”” says Paul Chiu, senior product manager with Supercom.
“”Every company would like to be the standard.”” But “”when, how or what standard is going to be picked is a matter of timing,”” he says.
“”I don’t think we’ll see product earlier than Q4 at least.””
But he says for video, no format will win on capacity alone. It’s overall picture quality, he says, that will make both Blu-ray and HD-DVD technologies attractive to customers.