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Small discs for camcorders get the blue light

Blu-ray group is developing a smaller version of its technology for portable electronics, aiming to give its format a leg up.

TOKYO--A group promoting blue-laser optical discs is developing a smaller version of the technology for devices such as camcorders in an effort to make the format more widely accepted.

The Blu-ray Disc Association announced last week that the smaller Blu-ray Discs will have an 8-centimeter diameter, as opposed to the more familiar 12-centimeter discs, and will have capacities of 15GB per layer. That will give the 8-centimeter discs about the same storage capacity as 12-centimeter HD DVD discs.

HD DVD is a competing format that companies such as Toshiba and NEC are promoting as a replacement for today's DVD technology. Blu-ray and HD DVD use blue lasers as opposed to the red lasers in current DVD technology, but they are incompatible. Like small DVDs that fit into camcorders, the smaller discs would eventually serve as recording or playback media for portable electronics.

"There are a number of potential applications. Camcorder is certainly one," a Sony representative said. The company declined to say when the specification, or the first products incorporating the smaller disc, will emerge. However, Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, citing unnamed sources, said the camcorders could come out next year.

Some manufacturers have started to market flash memory video cameras. Flash memory cards, however, currently can hold only a few gigabytes of data and can cost a few hundred dollars at those densities. Dual-sided Blu-ray discs will be capable of holding up to 50GB of data, compared with 4.7GB on current DVDs.

On the other hand, the density of flash memory cards continually improve, and cameras with flash cards are smaller than camcorders with discs. A flash-based video camera recently released from Sanyo is about the size of an electric shaver.

Sony and Panasonic have already started to sell Blu-ray disc players in Japan. Wider worldwide proliferation is expected to occur next year. Sony will also use the technology in the next version of the PlayStation. A number of other manufacturers, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, have joined the Blu-ray Association.

Intel, which is a member of the consortium promoting the rival HD DVD format, has also expressed interest in Blu-ray. Speaking at Ceatec last week, Kevin Corbett, an Intel executive who is handling many of the chipmaker's content and security negotiations with Hollywood, praised the Blu-ray organization for working to adopt industry copyright-protection standards.

However, he stopped short from saying Intel would join the group, which Japan's JVC did this week.

In other camcorder news, Sony is set to release a high-definition Handycam on Oct. 15.