Sharp unveils Blu-ray DVD recorder amid format war

Company says it's world's first high-definition recorder to combine three recording disc drives.

In the latest move in a heated format fight for the next-generation DVD standard Blu-ray, Japanese electronics maker Sharp said Thursday it would launch a DVD recorder based on Blu-ray technology in December.

Sharp is part of a global consortium that backs the Blu-ray format. Sony and Philips Electronics are also part of the consortium. Toshiba and NEC support a rival standard known as HD DVD.

The core of both formats is blue lasers, which have a shorter wavelength than the red lasers used in current DVD equipment. Blue lasers allow discs to store data at the higher densities needed for high-definition movies and television.

Support from U.S. film studios will likely be the decisive factor in the current standard battle--just as it was in the famous VHS vs. Betamax war two decades ago. Electronics makers are eager to launch attractive products in their formats to help swing the tide their way.

Osaka-based Sharp said the new recorder will come equipped with a built-in hard drive with 160GB of storage capacity. The recorder will be able to record 19 hours of high-definition digital television.

It will also have two disc drives--one for conventional DVDs and another for Blu-ray discs--which can handle 25GB of data. That's five times the space of current DVD discs and enough to record about three hours of high-definition TV.

The twin drive system would allow consumers to dub five conventional DVDs onto one Blu-ray disc or watch a movie on a current-generation DVD while recording high-definition broadcasting on a Blu-ray disc.

Sharp said it was the world's first high-definition recorder to combine three recording disc drives. The company hopes to sell the recorder in tandem with its liquid crystal display TVs, which are benefitting from the spread of digital television broadcasting worldwide.

Sharp is the world's top maker of LCD televisions.

Takashi Okuda, group general manager of Sharp's audio-visual systems group, said he expected Blu-ray disc recorders to begin contributing to the company's bottom line in 2006.

"Digital terrestrial broadcasting should cover all of Japan by then, and we should also see high-vision TV taking off in the United States and Europe," Okuda told reporters.

Sharp said the recorder, dubbed the BD-HDD 100, will begin selling in Japan on Dec. 9 for about 320,000 yen, or $2,991. The company says it is considering an overseas launch, but did not give an exact date. It plans to produce 3,000 units a month.

Sony and Matsushita have already launched Blu-ray DVD recorders for storing and replaying TV programs, costing about 300,000 yen each. But they're not designed to play prepackaged software.

Players for prepackaged Blu-ray discs are expected to hit the market by late 2005.

Toshiba plans to launch DVD players based on HD DVD technology in the last quarter of 2005 for $999 in the United States and below 100,000 yen in Japan. It aims to launch DVD recorders in the same quarter.

Story Copyright  © 2004 Reuters Limited.  All rights reserved.

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