Singulus to support Blu-ray Disc mass production

TOKYO -- Blu-ray Disc will take an important step forward next year when Singulus Technologies AG begins selling machines for mass producing read-only versions of the discs, the company said this week.

Singulus, in Kahl, Germany, is planning to supply machines that make the discs, called BD-ROMs, by the end of 2005, according to a spokesman for Sony Corp., one of the disc format's backers.

Read-only discs are used for pre-recorded content, such as movies, and the Singulus equipment will enable disc makers to produce 25GB and 50GB discs. That's enough space for a high-definition version of a movie.

The move is seen by Sony as a big step toward enabling mass production of BD-ROMs, said spokesman Taro Takamine. Mass production of BD-ROMs requires the use of a template-like master disc and equipment to mass-produce the copies. Sony has its own BD-ROM mastering technology, and Singulus will make the copying equipment and sell it to optical disc makers, Takamine said.

Higher-capacity technology is needed to replace DVDs for the storage of high-definition video. The ability to mass-produce the Blu-ray Discs is important to promote the format in this market, where the main competitor is likely to be the HD-DVD (High Definition/High Density-DVD) format.

The Blu-ray Disc format is backed by a group of companies that includes Dell Inc., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic), Philips Electronics NV, and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. The competing HD-DVD format is backed by NEC Corp., Toshiba Corp., Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. and optical disc maker Memory-Tech Corp.

Costs of discs and players are cited by protagonists as one of two critical issues that will decide whether Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD will win the unfolding standards battle.

The announcement by Singulus will help disc makers produce BD-ROMs at nearly the same cost as DVDs, Takamine said.

Memory-Tech makes similar claims for the cost of producing HD-DVDs.

The company is already capable of mass-producing HD-DVDs and is completing its sixth HD-DVD production line, said Masato Otsuka, general manager of Memory-Tech's engineering department. Each of these lines will be able to produce about 700,000 HD-DVD discs per month. Mass production should start next year, he said.

The cost claims by either camp can't be verified until after actual mass production of both formats begins, said Yasusuke Suzuki, a research manager for storage at IDC Japan.

"Right now, it seems that Blu-ray is more difficult to produce. I think that HD-DVD has the lead [on cost]," he said.

Another important issue is the availability of content, particularly from major Hollywood studios.

On Monday, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema and HBO said they will release titles on the HD-DVD format. So far, only Sony Pictures, which is owned by Sony, has backed the Blu-ray Disc Format.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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