Rivals start to spin Blu-ray, HD DVD alternatives
All the 'Versatile' disc technologies explained
Suddenly, all sorts of small companies are crawling out into the sunlight to tout alternative optical media technologies that will support HD content without the need to move from the current red-laser technology to tomorrow's blue-wavelength lasers.
In one corner is a consortium of well-known names such as Sprout CD (Ukraine), Antrop Studios (Russia) and VDL ODMS (the Netherlands), Engadget reports . They're shouting about their VCDHD (Versatile Compact Disc High Density) system, which stores 4.7GB on a single-sided disc that's allegedly half the thickness of a DVD. Only a cynic would suggest that's because DVDs have two layers...
VCDHD is also claimed to be less error-prone and more robust than DVD, despite being thinner, which may also explain why they can be punched out in at least a third of the time, the companies claim. The yield is also way higher, allegedly.
Next we have PH-DVD, developed by a company called Polarizonics. This time, the trick is to increase the capacity of blue-laser discs and read-speed threefold by using different light polarisations - a feature it claims is already present in blue-laser systems but goes unused. We wonder why Sony, Toshiba and co missed it...
PH-DVDs, Polarizonics claims, can be made using existing HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc plants.
Both formats have emerged even as the consumer electronics industry is gearing up to launch the two better known next-generation optical disc formats. But there are other, already announced alternatives.
Work is progressing on China's EVD (Enhanced Versatile Disc), the format that is expected to offer HD content on a DVD-like red-laser disc. In December 2005, EVD's developer, Beijing-based E-World said it would work with London-based New Medium Enterprises (NME) to merge EVD with NME's VMD (Versatile Multi-layer Disc), a red-laser system offering 50GB of storage capacity on ten 5GB data layers, though it can go up to 200GB, according to NME.
Just as E-World is hoping to bring cheap HD content to the mass Chinese market, NME has its eye on the Indian sub-continent and all those hugely popular Bollywood extravaganzas. The two companies are now one, called NME-World. VMD will ship in Q3, its developers claim.
Finally, there's Taiwan's FVD (Forward Versatile Disc) A single-layer FVD can hold 5.4GB to 6GB of video content or data, rising to 9.8-11GB for a single-sided, double-layer disc. That's sufficient for 135 minutes of 1920 x 1080i HD content, the format's backers claim.
FVD went on sale in November 2005, around the time EVD began to come to market. Both seek to avoid the licensing fees the DVD, HD DVD and BD owners require Asian manufacturers pay to use their technology.
But let's not forget the rogue element: the companies pursuing holographics storage. As we reported on Monday, Lucent off-shoot InPhase is touting its Tapestry holographic system, which is expected to debut later this year offering 300GB of storage on a DVD-sized disc. The data can be read at a staggering 20MBps. InPhase reckons it can get that up to 23MBps and the storage capacity to 1600GB (1.6TB). Maxell has licensed the technology to bring it to market.
Meanwhile, Japan's Optware, backed by Fuji Photo and others, is pushing HVD (Holographic Versatile DIsc), a DVD-sized disc (again) that holds 1TB and can transfer data at a rate of 1Gbps, 40 times the speed of DVD, according to the developer. It's working to define HVD as a standard, though with a more modest capacity of 100GB for ROMs and 200GB for cartridge-enclosed HVD-RW products.
It's impossible to say how many of these will ever make it to the mainstream. The holographic systems have the potential to make a lot of noise in the enterprise storage market before maturing sufficiently - ie. becoming cheaper - to provide the foundation for the post-BD/HD DVD era, though there's a limit on how high a home video's resolution needs to be, which in turn sets a limit on the maximum necessary storage for a consumer medium.
As for the other, red-laser based systems, there's certainly market niches they can address, but whether they'll be able to shout above the noise the consumer electronics and content industries are going to be making about the BD and HD DVD formats seems unlikely. Not without some strong industry voices on their side, at any rate. ®