Virtual Multilayer Discs Look for Place in DVD Format Battle

The battle over the next generation of DVD players just got another entrant: the virtual multilayer disc (VMD). VMD is a high quality format with built-in copyright protection designed for next-generation optical media.

New Medium Enterprises demonstrated its VMD technology at the CeBIT trade show in Germany. The 20GB high definition VMD uses red laser infrastructure, just like current DVDs, instead of the blue rays that characterize HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats.

VMD drives are identical to current DVD drives. The only additional equipment needed is a high definition encoder. That means VMD is inherently backward-compatible, with the ability to read all previous DVD formats.

Red Ray, Blue Ray

New Medium Enterprises believes red rays will win the DVD standards battle, despite the advantages of blue rays.

The color of the laser determines the size of the laser dot on the disc’s recording layer. The size of the dot is important because it, in turn, determines the amount of space required to store data. Since blue is a shorter wavelength, its dot is smaller and allows for more data storage.

The Promise of Greater Storage

New Medium Enterprises attempts to circumvent the blue ray advantage with its multilayered approach. Adding more layers to the disc increases its capacity without sacrificing the standard red ray DVD technology. the company said.

Today’s DVDs can store 4.7GB of data. HD-DVD offers 15GB of storage and Blu-ray offers 25GB. New Medium Enterprises reports pushing the storage limit to 50GB with its red ray, 10-layered alternative.

It’s not just about larger capacity disks, though, said IDC Associate Research Analyst Josh Martin. There are other issues that hinder the adoption of red ray technologies, namely digital rights management and industry buy-in.

“Red laser DVDs do not have robust digital rights management that the Hollywood studios, which obviously are the primary driving factor in these formats, demand in a DVD format,” Martin told TechNewsWorld.

The Price Is Right

VMD’s production costs, however, are an advantage. Costs to produce VMDs would be comparable to mass-manufacturing costs of current DVD components, according to New Medium Enterprises.

That translates to cheaper DVD players for consumers. The VMD approach would keep the next generation of DVD players priced at around US$150. The first generation of blue ray players will come online at $500 to $1000.

That might make a difference in China and India, said Michelle Abraham, principal analyst at In-Stat Group, but it won’t make much difference stateside.

“The success of competing formats depends on the availability of content. If the content from Hollywood studios is only available in one of the blue laser formats, then I don’t see the other technologies being successful,” Abraham told TechNewsWorld.

It’s a Blue World

Ultimately, analysts agree that a blue laser product standard will emerge as the winner, though red laser technologies may catch on in Asian countries. Abraham compares it to video CD players that took off in Southeast Asia but never gained momentum in the rest of the world.

“Video CD players weren’t necessarily supported by the Hollywood studios, but Indian and Chinese movie studios made content available and people were willing to buy them,” Abraham noted. “I think you could see, to that extent, more than one standard.”

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