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Future DVD products displayed

DVD technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, as evidenced by a trade show in Japan.

Though the first generation of DVD drives is just beginning to flood the market, next-generation devices that offer much higher data capacity and more portability are coming.

At the Electronics Show '97 trade show in Japan, Pioneer Electronic showed off a DVD drive with the ability to play back movies at high resolution, while several other companies displayed more-portable DVD drives, including one with a built-in screen, according to a report in the online edition of Nikkei Business Publications.

Clearly, DVD technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace.

Pioneer showed a prototype DVD (digital versatile disc) player that can store up to 15GB of data on one side of a disk. Current DVD-Video players use discs that can store about 4.7GB of data. The increased storage capacity is needed for playback of movies in the high-resolution, 1920-by-1080-pixel HDTV format. Because more picture detail would need to be stored on a disc, these new players will playback MPEG-2 data at a rate of 19.3 mbps compared to around 11 mbps for current DVD-Video players.

Pioneer says it expects to commercialize the technology by the year 2000, Nikkei reported, but the technology may be too difficult to engineer into a less costly and long-lasting consumer product by that time.

"A 2000 introduction date is ambitious," says Ted Pine, an analyst with market research firm Infotech. "I wouldn't be surprised if that slipped several years."

The prototype players use a blue laser to read data from the disc instead of the red laser typically used in current CD and DVD players. The higher-power blue laser can be more tightly focused, enabling it to read ever tinier bits of data squeezed together more tightly on a disc.

But Pine says the problem is making these blue lasers small and durable enough for a consumer product--a typical blue laser now requires special refrigeration equipment and burns out frequently.

Despite the technical hurdles, some companies such as Toshiba expect to be able to store up to 50GB of data on a single side by 2004, a growth rate that translates into a tripling of storage capacity every four years. If companies achieve their goal, consumers who already have DVD players won't be happy to hear they'll probably need to update their systems.

"For consumers with DVD players today, there's a darn good chance that five years down the line you're going to be replacing that player. If everything keeps going at this pace, there will be a high degree of mutability in DVD players" that can't be stopped, says Pine. Today's DVD discs will still be readable by the new players, but older players will not be able to read the improved discs with their high-definition display capability.

Also at the show, Matsushita Electric, which sells products under trade names such as Panasonic and JVC, exhibited a new portable DVD player with a built-in 5.8-inch active-matrix display. The device can play for more than two hours on a specially designed battery, according to the report.

Toshiba exhibited a slimmed-down DVD player as well, but one that's not quite as portable as the Matshusita model.