Sony shines light on Blu-ray DVD plans

The consumer electronics maker announced its plans to release a new blue-laser DVD recorder, which can store up to five times more data on a disc than current red-laser devices.

Sony says it's ready to deliver its first blue-laser DVD recorder, which the company promises will let discs hold up to five times more data than current red-laser DVD models.

The Japanese parent of Sony Electronics announced Monday that its Blu-ray Disc Recorder would be released in Japan on April 10, priced at around $3,800. The company would not comment on U.S. availability.

Sony's DVD recorder could give the company a head start in what many expect will become a popular niche, not only because the Blu-ray device has high storage capacity but also because it comes with a built-in broadcast digital tuner. Digital satellite broadcasts are slowly becoming available in Japan, the United States and elsewhere, and Sony is aiming to get an early start at attracting consumers in the market for high-definition TV products.

"The market has already been established, and although it's still looking for direction, there will be a growing number of users who want high-definition recording," said Sony spokeswoman Shoko Yanagisawa.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, Sony President and Chief Operating Officer Kunitake Ando said that recordable DVD Blu-ray products would appear this year, initially in Japan. At the time, Ando said that the technology was ready, but that there were some licensing issues that still needed to be worked out.

In February, the nine companies promoting Blu-ray Disc technology--a next-generation recordable DVD format using blue-violet lasers--announced the start of licensing. Hitachi, LG Electronics, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Pioneer, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, Sony and Thomson are known as the "Blu-ray Disc Founders" and have been pursuing a broad acceptance of the format.

Blu-ray technology is designed to allow a single-sided, 12-centimeter disc to hold up to 27GB of storage. (Currently, most DVDs hold 4.7GB of data.) The technology uses a short-wavelength blue-violet laser--instead of the red lasers in current optical drives--to read data off discs.

The higher-capacity Blu-ray discs should enable owners to record high-definition broadcasts, which offer better picture quality than the more broadly available TV broadcasts. Sony's new device records and plays back Blu-ray discs, but can also play back DVD, DVD-RW, DVD-R, CD and CD-RW discs. However, the recorder won't be able to read DVD-RAM or DVD+RW discs.

Companies are already developing products using Blu-ray technology. Philips has demonstrated a prototype miniature Blu-ray disc drive with a 3-centimeter disc that can store up to 1GB of data. Typical CDs, measuring 12 centimeters in diameter, can hold up to 650MB of data. The prototype drive is suitable for use in portable devices such as digital cameras, handheld deivces and cell phones. Philips has been working to shrink the drive.

Sony has developed a similar product.

Last year, Toshiba and NEC proposed a rival blue-laser DVD format, which uses existing DVD plants and equipment and would minimize the investment needed to popularize the next-generation DVD format. The format would provide storage of only 15GB for read-only discs and 20GB for read-and-write discs. Toshiba is looking to have its blue-laser DVD recorder on the market in about another year, according to a company representative.

The introduction of rival blue-laser DVD recording technologies could lead to a replay of the competition surrounding red-laser DVD recordable formats, which has caused some consumer confusion and slowed sales.

Reuters contributed to this report.