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Sony targets pros with blue laser drives

The electronics giant announces Blu-ray disc recorders for the professional market as well as new, faster multiformat DVD drives for desktop PCs.

Sony Electronics is expanding into new markets with its recordable DVD products.

The company is demonstrating blue laser drives and media for professional use as well as new multiformat DVD drives with rewritable speeds of 4x DVD+RW for desktop PCs. Sony is one of the first manufacturers to announce these products.

Blue laser drives represent the next generation in DVD recording technology, using a short-wavelength violet laser--instead of the red lasers in current optical drives--to read data from the discs. The drives allow for much higher storage density than current DVD formats, which typically hold 4.7GB of data. One blue laser format known as Blu-ray is designed to allow a single-sided, 12-centimeter disc to hold up to 23GB of storage.

In March, the Japanese parent of Sony Electronics said it would release a consumer blue laser disc recorder in Japan on Thursday of this week, priced at about $3,800. Those devices will use Blu-ray, which is currently being considered as a standard. The new professional drives announced this week will use a different format that is not compatible with Blu-ray, Sony said.

Sony's rewritable and write-once discs will come in cartridges, instead of bare discs, and will be able to store up to 23.3GB of data at a transfer rate of 9MB per second. The 5.25-inch drives use an Ultra-wide 160 SCSI interface.

The company is licensing the design for the drive as well as the media to other manufacturers and both should be available by this summer. The drives will cost about $3,000, and the media will cost around $45. A Sony-branded version of the drive and media will be available before year-end.

Sony said manufacturers already are interested in selling second-generation drives and media with 50GB capacity and transfer speeds of 18MB per second by 2005. The third-generation products would involve recorders and media with 100GB capacity and 36MB-per-second transfer rates.

Sony is demonstrating the recorders and media at the Association of Information and Image Management conference in New York until Wednesday. The drives are a successor to 9.1GB magneto-optical technology and are meant to target professional customers, such as high-end workstations users.

Sony Electronics was also demonstrating new multiformat drives with 4x DVD+RW rewrite speeds at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas this week. The higher speed means that consumers will be able to record a full length DVD in about 15 minutes.

The previous generation of DVD multiformat rewritable drives will not be upgradable to 4x DVD+RW speeds, the company said. Sony's drives support DVD+RW, DVD-RW and DVD-R formats. The DVD+RW format includes support for DVD+R media.

Sony will release internal and external drives supporting 4x DVD+RW speeds, along with 4x DVD-R, 4x DVD+R and 4x DVD-RW speeds. The drives also support DVD-ROM, CD-R and CD-RW media. The internal drive will be available in early May, and the external drive will be available in June.

Sony is targeting a market for DVD recorders that is expected to grow to almost 90 million units in 2006, according to research firm IDC.