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Sony eyes 200GB Blu-ray discs

Company hopes increased storage will boost its format's fortunes

Sony will announce next month that it developed an 8-layer version of the Blu-ray Disc that is capable of storing 200GB of data, according to a company spokesperson.

The announcement will be made at the International Symposium on Optical Memory 2004, which takes from October 11 to October 15, in Jeju Island, South Korea, according to Sony. The company further plans to commercialize a 4-layer 100GB version in 2007, says Sony spokesperson Taro Takamine.

"The advantage of Blu-ray over DVD is definitely capacity, and we are extending our multilayer performance. The 8-layer is a technology demonstration. We haven't decided when we are going to commercialize it yet," Takamine says.

The development is the fourth recent boost for the format as it competes with high-deifinition DVD to replace conventional DVDs in coming years. Both Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial, better known for its Panasonic brand, sell Blu-ray players.

But the players are expensive. A mass market will not develop for either of the new formats until major Hollywood studios are convinced that they can protect their content against piracy, according to analysts and industry watchers.

At the beginning of September, Blu-ray Disc backers announced that they added the MPEG4 and VC1 video codecs to the format, making for more efficient compression, meaning longer movies and more data can be stored on the same disc. VC1 is based on Microsoft's Windows Media 9 codec, and was previously called VC9. MPEG4.AVC is based on the H.264 codec.

Last week, Sony announced that it bought Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, potentially gaining access to and control of that studio's movie library. This week, Sony Computer Entertainment said it would adopt Blu-ray for its PlayStation 3 games console. The PlayStation 3 should reach the market by mid-2006, according to industry watchers.

The adoption of Blu-ray Disc for PlayStation 3 is seen as a major advancement for the format by Sony, because of the success of PlayStation and PlayStation 2 in promoting the adoption of DVD, Takamine says. PlayStation 3 will probably have compatibility with the 54GB version of the Blu-ray Disc, which can store about six times more data than a current DVD, according to Sony. The PlayStation 3 could be compatible with smaller-capacity Blu-ray Discs, according to Sony.

The 8-layer, 200GB capacity also shows the difference in approach that is developing between Blu-ray Disc, promoted as a very high storage medium by its backers, and high-definition DVD, which is supported by NEC and Toshiba.

HD-DVD is marketed as an easily made and low-cost, higher-capacity storage format by NEC and Toshiba. While HD-DVD hardware won't be on sale until 2005, Sanyo Electric said at the end of August that it decided to produce both components and players for the format, citing HD-DVD's ease of manufacturing.

Memory-Tech, one of Japan's largest optical disc makers, recently demonstrated HD-DVD discs production at a rate that meant it could be producing the discs at near-DVD prices in about one year from now.

Current HD-DVD discs have 30GB of storage. HD-DVD supporters say it is possible to convert a DVD line to an HD-DVD line within five minutes. The HD-DVD camp has not announced advanced plans to add more capacity to the discs because it wants HD-DVD makers to produce the discs at nearly the same price as current DVDs.


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