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Home > Tech Reiews > Japan Technology Review Last Updated: 15:24 03/09/2007
Japan Technology Review #44: July 15, 2002

Will the Next-Generation DVDs Have Split Specifications?

By Hajime Yamada (GLOCOM)

In the last report, I described many companies have started production of blue lasers, expected to be used for the next-generation Digital Versatile Disk (DVD). In this issue I will explain movements around next-generation DVDs.

The market for storage devices that record data on the surface of disk media by means of light was established in the 1990s. The first of such media was the Compact Disk (CD), and the DVD followed. Now, development of next-generation DVD is advancing.

The memory capacity for a CD is about 650 megabytes, while the memory of a DVD has been enhanced to be 5.2 gigabytes, about eight times larger. A CD can store music data of over one hour length, while a DVD can store moving images of about two hours. The development goal for next-generation DVD is memory ten times larger than that of existing DVDs.

However, neither current CDs nor DVDs have compatibility with each other due to different specifications by manufacturers. The same situation is likely for next-generation DVDs.

CD Recordable (CD-R) and CD-ReWritable (CD-RW) are the kinds of CDs on which users can record data. Information can be recorded only once on a CD-R, while on a CD-RW a user can save and delete information as many times as he or she wishes. Recently, the price for a CD-R has been dramatically lowered to as low as less than a half dollar a piece, which has made CD-RWs less attractive despite their reusability.

Even more diverse specifications exist for DVDs. One of them is DVD Random Access Memory (DVD-RAM), and some are derived from DVD ReWritable, called DVD-RW and DVD+RW. DVD-R and DVD+R also exist. Although the names are very similar, they are not compatible with each other, as a DVD-R cannot be read by the DVD-RAM drive, for example.

Such diversification of specifications affects users when they need to make a choice. On one hand, it is beneficial to users because new products with better performance are available due to competitive technology development among manufacturers. However, users cannot exchange media between the office and home, or among friends when different specifications are used for devices. Actually, many users have been demanding unified specifications. For this problem, the market has grown more slowly than expected.

From the manufacturers' point of view, taking initiative in the market with its own specifications results in great profit. If one company can establish its brand in the early stage, such as "Walkman" by Sony, competition in the market is slowed. Therefore, in the beginning, manufacturers introduce products of different specifications to build a brand. Specifications become practically standardized over time, as the distinction between the winners and losers becomes clear in the market.

In fact, companies are now developing devices that can deal with multiple types of specifications. A new model called DVD-Multi, which can be utilized for three different types, namely DVD-R, DVD-RAM and DVD-RW, has been released. Equipment that can deal with DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW has been developed. Studies are also ongoing on further developing equipment that correspond to all the specifications.

Split specifications are also anticipated for the next-generation DVDs.

One is called Blu-ray Disc with memory capacity of either 27 or 50 gigabytes. It has storage of four hours of high-resolution moving images, or 24 hours of normal quality moving images. Those supporting this type of specifications include Hitachi, Ltd., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., Pioneer Corporation, Sharp Corporation, and Sony Corporation in Japan; LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics in Korea; and Philips Electronics and Thomson Multimedia in Europe. Their intention in alliance beyond geographic areas is to establish leadership by flooding the market with their products.

Toshiba Corporation alone is standing up to them with its own specifications with memory capacity of 30 gigabytes. Although a Blu-ray Disc is capable of storing larger memory, equipment for this media cannot play existing DVDs. Meanwhile, a device with Toshiba's specifications can handle existing DVDs as well as next-generation ones.

Next-generation DVDs are likely to be on the market in 2003 or 2004. Whether the specifications are standardized beforehand or left split to let the market select, we should closely watch the situation until then.

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