Just when you think that you've heard as much news as you thought that you would about blue lasers, there's more news. I'm just getting blue over high-definition optical discs. Within 24 hours of each other, Ricoh and the proponents of HD DVD made separate and unrelated announcements about different aspects of next generation discs. It seems that we just can get away from being blue in the news.
Ricoh is trying to bridge the gap between two competing formats. The company announced that it has developed an optical component that reads and writes all disk formats — Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD, as well as DVD and CD — with one pickup and one objective lens. The component is a 3.5-mm diameter, 1-mm thick round diffraction plate with minute concentric groves on both sides which function as a diffraction grating. The diffraction plate is placed between lasers and an objective lens. The diffraction grating is designed to adjust a light beam to an optimum incident ray relative to the objective lens so that light focuses on the proper position for each disk format. The data layer of the Blu-ray Disc resides 0.1 mm from the disk's surface, while the HD DVD data layer is 0.6-mm deep from the disk's surface, the same as DVD disks. CDs have a data layer depth of 1.1 mm from the disk surface. Although the diffraction device works for both reading and writing modes, Ricoh noted that it will initially offer the device for disk players only. For BD/HD DVD recorder, a stronger blue laser is needed
In related news, this particular optical component has eluded both Samsung and LG so far. In fact, both companies have been also planning on offering a combination BD/HD DVD player. Samsung talked about one at CES this past January, and LG made reference to a possible model last May. LG is holding a press event next week in NYC. You can be sure that the status of their combination BD/HD DVD player will be queried by the press. So, with Ricoh's announcement this week, it could make the upcoming format war moot. We hope. Of course, a lot depends on how quickly this specialized component can be incorporated into new products, but my guess is that it would not be before next year.
And, not to be left in the dust, proponents of the HD DVD video format will launch a whopping $150 million promotional campaign to ensure the format takes off in the U.S. Recently, it seemed as if HD DVD was pushed to the back of retailers' shelves with Blu-ray being more prominent. And, HD DVD discs are hard to come by -- as they are only available at select retailers and on-line. The seven companies — Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video, Paramount Home Entertainment, HP, Intel, Microsoft and Toshiba—will jointly form a trade organization named the North American HD DVD Promotional Group Inc., and each will contribute to the promotional campaign. The nonprofit group will carry out the HD DVD hardware and software promotion via major consumer media outlets, including television, print, online, and outdoor signs under the moniker of "The Look and Sound of Perfect." It will co-market HD DVD hardware with hundreds of HD DVD titles expected on store shelves by the end of 2006. And, just this week, Paramount Home Video started shipping its first HD DVD titles to retail as part of this promotion. All I can say is that it's about time.
And, who knows, it may still yet be a Blue Christmas. We'll have to polish up that old Elvis holiday song.