Panasonic 50GB Blu-ray is go

Written by Geoff Richards

December 6, 2005 | 13:53

Tags: #50gb #bd-rom #capacity #data-rate #dual-layer #dvd #hd-dvd #hdtv #high-definition #xbox-360

Companies: #blu-ray #panasonic

Panasonic, one of the key manufacturing partners in the Blu-ray Disc Association, has announced that it has successfully modified its production facilities and expects to be producing sample dual-layer BD-ROM media by the end of the month.

Existing single-layer Blu-ray media has a capacity of 25GB and the natural result of a dual-layer disc is 50GB. On paper, the next-generation format can support many more layers, suggesting 100-200GB per disc will be possible in the future. Existing DVD media holds 8.5GB at most.

"Working closely with the movie studios and our replication partners, Panasonic was able to foresee the need for greater disc capacity to give consumers a much richer user experience," said Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, director of Strategy & Alliances, Panasonic Hollywood Lab.

"The additional capacity will allow movies and other High Definition video titles to be stored, along with value-added features, on a single Blu-ray Disc" continued the press release.

Highlighting the ability to loads of content on a single disc makes a lot of sense considering that Blu-ray is more capacious than its rival HD DVD format, but it pays to peel the onion...

Vendors will cite Cost of Manufacture benefits, but they choose to ignore that us early adopters will be gouged like there is no tomorrow if we want high definition content. We have already seen Xbox 360 games retail US$10 higher than their Xbox counterparts for no real reason other than because they can. The first HD movies are likely to be priced at a premium.

Sure, it would be pretty cool to have an entire season of 'Friends' on a single BD-ROM rather than three double-sided DVD-ROMs - no more disc swapping, right? The trap with this move is that it fails to account for man's vulnerability when it comes to 'more = better'.

Have you noticed how lots of DVDs recently have been "2-Disc Special Editions"? They sell because people perceive greater value. We are becoming addicts to boxsets, so while changing discs is inconvenient, which do you think has more shelf-appeal: Star Wars Trilogy (with Bonus Disc) 4-Disc boxset, or a single, slim DVD box with all three films (plus bonus content) on a single BD-ROM?

Lord of the Rings fans might be thankful for condensing twelve discs into one but when you're spending big bucks on a favourite film, people need to feel something tangible for their money, and ignoring the technicals, a single disc just isn't as cool as a boxset. Incidentally, 12 x 8.5GB = 103.2GB, so 12-into-1 is feasible, if only in Standard Definition.

Of course, neither Blu-ray nor HD-DVD is a miracle panacea for our storage woes. 50GB per disc? Great, but I 'dstill need ten discs to back up my 500GB hard drive. HDTV needs a data rate of up to 25Mbps, or around 11 gigabytes per hour; Blu-ray can fit 2 hours on a single-layer 23GB disc, though Return of the King is 201 minutes in standard trim, and the extended edition is 251 minutes. No worries - 3-4 hours fits on a 50GB dual-layer BD-ROM. Curiously, we are back to a single film per disc - so much for the boxset-on-a-disc theory. Remember too, that HD DVD holds less per disc.

The Format Wars are far from over, though the vibe is that Blu-ray has significant momentum right now. We will be reporting the latest from both camps next month from CES 2006, including their reaction to reports that both formats could be on the way out before they've even started, with word that 300GB holographic discs could be with us before the end of next year.

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