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Sharp begins mass producing blue lasers

Move could cut Blu-ray & HD DVD player costs

Sharp has begun mass production of blue-laser diodes at a new factory in Japan - a move that should help reduce the cost of Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD players.

The company kicked off production at a new line at its factory in Mihama, Hiroshima prefecture, at an initial level of 150,000 per month, said Miyuki Nakayama, a spokeswoman for Sharp in Tokyo.

The first products are low-power diodes suitable for disc players, but in late 2007 Sharp aims to increase production to around 500,000 diodes per month and also begin making higher power models for use in disc writers, she said.

The diodes are one of the most important components in the next-generation disc players and due to their use both new formats can accommodate several times more data than current CD and DVD discs. Blue light has a shorter wavelength than the red lasers used in CD and DVD players, and that means the laser, combined with new optics, can be focused more sharply on the disc surface. In turn this means each bit of data takes up less room and so more can be crammed onto the disc.

In the case of a single-sided single-layer HD DVD disc the capacity is 15GB and that of a Blu-ray Disc is 25GB. A DVD can store 4.7G bytes.

Despite their importance, companies have been slow off the ground in starting production, in part because several technology hurdles had to be overcome before mass production could begin. This was vividly demonstrated recently when Sony had to cut the global launch of its high-profile PlayStation 3 games console because of problems getting blue laser production to acceptable levels.

Only a handful of companies currently make the diodes and the addition of Sharp's output to the market could bring down prices.

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