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Ricoh's new part brings HD-DVD Blu-ray closer

Ricoh, the Japanese electronics giant, has come up with a component that will let manufacturers build drives that read and record both HD-DVD discs and Blu-ray discs, potentially bringing some peace to the disc wars.

Ricoh will show the device at the International Optoelectronics Exhibition '06 near Tokyo, which takes place near Tokyo on July 12-14, according to EE Times. The company will start selling it to manufacturers by the end of the year.

The part in question is a diffraction plate. Say what? It basically sits between the laser and the lens and adjusts the light beam so that it focuses on the proper portion of the disk. Reading both formats isn't easy. The data layer of the Blu-ray Disc resides 0.1 mm from the surface, while the HD-DVD data layer is 0.6-mm deep. Both standards will sport multiple layer discs too.

The HD-DVD/Blu-ray battle has consumers up in arms. People are afraid of buying a player based on either standard because they are afraid it will become obsolete in a few years. And the decision is far more difficult than the Betamax-VCR decision because it affects more components. Not only do you have to worry about what player--HD-DVD or Blu-ray--to buy for your TV, you have to consider the issue when buying a PC.

Having a common component does help make it a little easier for manufacturers to come out with a player that can read both standards. Still, a minefield remains. Negotiations for unity broke down last year in acrimony, according to sources, and its hard to say if the leaders of the different standards (Sony, Philips, et. al. for Blu-ray; Microsoft, Toshiba and Intel for HD-DVD) are in a mood to talk right now. The Blu-ray backers stand to gain millions in royalties if their standard becomes dominant and HD-DVD backers likely stand to lose potential royalties too. Engineering pride also mixes into the equation. Legal and technical issues will need to be ironed out.

It's really the Israel-Palestine of consumer electronics.