An invitation-only presentation at CEDIA last week by New Media Enterprises (NME) Ltd. (www.nmeinc.com), a London-based technology firm, revealed a high-capacity red laser disc technology complete with a native 1080p player that sells for $179, along with media content, that the company claims should render moot the Blue-laser disc format wars. The group said its HD-VMD (versatile multi-layer disc) - let’s call it Red-HD for short - stores up to 5Gb per layer to reach 30GB of mass storage using traditional red laser manufacturing and replication processes.
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The impact is significant in that it solves the red-laser capacity issue that forced HD content to look for another technology. The breakthrough came when the company was able to move red-laser disc technology beyond two layers, thus boosting storage and read/write capacity into the multi-gigabyte range required for full-HD content films.
While a blue laser solves the capacity problem, it comes with its own (train load) of baggage, including a confusing and costly format war between technology titans Sony and Toshiba and their respective allies. Blue laser has also been fraught with manufacturing delays (primarily blue-laser diode production), multiple cracks in its repressive AACS encryption scheme and cost issues driven by expensive authoring tools that reach up to $50K per film, ballooning the final disc cost to consumers.
"By cracking the red-laser disc-layering nut there is no reinventing the wheel to accommodate high-capacity HD film content," said Dr. Eugene Levich, director and CTO of NME Ltd. "This is the correct technology for the HD market, in that it removes so many cost barriers to HD content replication and distribution. The technology will help kick-start HD display sales in ROW geographies like India, Russia and China," Levich said, "where blue-laser HD options are virtually non-existent."
Levich said the technology only requires a small firmware upgrade to traditional DVD players, along with other off-the-shelf technology, and uses the DVD standard AES (advanced encryption standard) copy protection, not the flawed AACS (advanced access content system) approach used by the blue-laser camp. The heart of the technology is the multiple-layer disc (the "M" in VMD) that offers manufacturers a 90% or better yield using a patented variant of the traditional 2P (Philips photo polymer) replication process. The breakthrough in disc layering is not limited to red-laser technology; it is also compatible with blue-laser formats. The company said if blue laser is used the disc capacity can be boosted up to 200GB of data per disc.
Since the platform is based on red-laser technology, and the existing DVD industrial infrastructure, the software will be much less expensive to produce than either Blu-ray or HD DVD, which should mean that movie titles will retail for significantly less than the average $25 to $30 for Blu-ray and HD DVD titles.
Beyond cost and infrastructure advantages, red-laser discs have a maximum data transfer rate of 40Mbps versus 36 Mbps for HD DVD and Blu-ray, which gives it the potential of sharper, more detailed pictures over the competing Blu-ray and HD DVD formats, the company said.
NME plans to launch two Red-HD native 1080p players using the Sigma Designs EM8622L chip set for video processing, scaling, and decoding algorithms. They plan to use Microsoft’s VC-1 encoder software with support for graphics acceleration, multi-standard audio decoding, advanced display processing capabilities, and HDMI/HDCP output.
Our take: The prospect of a low-cost Red-HD alternative to the hissy-fit going on in the Blue-laser camp is a God-send to the CE industry and to consumers alike. This solution solves so many problems on so many levels that it sounds almost too good to be true. Certainly, the technology needs to pass strict critical review to insure it is all it’s cracked up to be. For this we won’t have to wait too long, as the discs and players are due to go on sale in the U.S. in October.
Next, beyond technology, the availability of HD content will drive the success of the platform, which is the primary reason the company is first targeting ROW geographies where film distributors have the leverage to cooperate, and cost issues are much more significant.
This is a more than interesting twist that may just prove (once again) the futility of going to war. For had the blue-laser camp found common ground and released a unified format supporting a single standard, adoption would be a fait accompli and we would have avoided the confused state of the HD industry we have today.