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Sony Optiarc: Piloting Blu-ray Through the Crisis

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 28 comments

Blu-ray adoption is still unsatisfying, price wars eliminated profit margins and the crisis hit hard. In a short interview with Sony Optiarc we learned their about their recipe to succeed.

We had the opportunity to talk to Sony Optiarc's European marketing director Ralf Wolf during this week's Computex show in Taipei, and the meeting revealed some interesting insight into the current state of the ODD business as well as upcoming Blu-ray developments. Clearly, the crisis hit hard on Sony Optiarc and other players on the optical market, but the firm perceives the crisis as a chance to purge this overly competitive market. Times in which market share stands above profit seem to be over. Sony seems to share this belief, as it took over NEC's 45% share in September of 2008, making the joint venture a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony.

Blu-ray Technology Roadmap

"From a technology standpoint, Blu-ray is not a big deal anymore", Wolf said. The technology is considered fully mature by now, as all upcoming improvements are laid out in the latest specification. "We will of course see speed bumps like we it was the case with DVD technology a few years ago". In addition to that, many users probably wonder about future capacity options: Blu-ray technology is currently available with single and dual layers, each storing 25 GB (23.3 GiB). Future Blu-ray products can be based on three or four platters, effectively doubling the capacity. Up to six layers are technically feasible on Blu-ray.

Optical Storage vs. Hard Drives

Since hard drive prices are extremely low, we wondered whether or not Sony Optiarc considers convenience storage products such as cheap external hard drives a threat or an option to optical storage. "Blu-ray is already well established in professional markets, and it is a matter of time until BD products will finally reach low mainstream price points. We believe that there will be a coexistence of both technologies for many years to come". We can confirm this statement by the fact that some higher end NAS servers (network attached storage) are being equipped with additional Blu-ray hardrive to upgrade the capacity by 50%, or to add an on-line backup solution to the NAS device.

Is Blu-ray Media Cost Coming Down Now?

Ralf Wolf is confident: "Verbatim was the first to introduce LTH BD recordables, which represent a significant step to reduce cost for recordable media." LTH stands for "low-to-high" and basically means producing Blu-ray discs exactly like DVDs - pressing several layers from the top down. Current BD media production processes work the other way around and had required new production processes and tools. With LTH production, media manufacturers can actually reclycle most of their tools they've been using for DVD recordables, which, Sony Optiarc hopes, could finally bring down cost. "Cost could certainly have come down much earlier, but the crisis turned the market upside down."

What's Next? Maneuvring During the Crisis

Wolf said that the crisis hit the ODD business very early and very hard, as a large amount of drive orders was cancelled in late 2008. Part orders by Sony Optiarc and others were effectively almost cancelled and "it wasn't until early 2009 that momentum returned." In the next step, the incoming orders exceeded the remaining production capacities, which then created a shortage. And since the crisis is not over yet, demand comes and goes in unpredictable waves. "Only those who can manage these waves of tide and flood in market demand and handle part orders as well as inventory efficiently will do a good job in maneuvering during this heavy crisis." wolf smiled.

Next Stop: BD Recordables for Notebooks

Sony Optiarc is confident to see a stronger second half of 2009, also because of the next product generation that is coming up: "Expect to see more and more notebooks with built-in Blu-ray burners". Initially, BD recorders will add at least $150 to a notebook's retail price, but since BD recorders are one of the few differentiation features for notebook vendors, we expect a quick adoption in the upper mainstream and high end segments.

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  • -6 Hide
    Tindytim , June 3, 2009 10:19 AM
    I don't see DD replace physical media anytime soon. A hard drive can fail, a Disc cannot.
  • 1 Hide
    pschmid , June 3, 2009 10:33 AM
    Fixed - thanks!

    Right, that's the critical point. More and more people who don't think about it tend to go for hard drives (not just one) to do backup or archiving because of low cost per Gigabyte. But they basically confuse storage with TRUE backup.

    Best,
    Patrick
  • 0 Hide
    gorehound , June 3, 2009 12:02 PM
    After all the stuff SONY has said to put us odwn on the internet and in addition to the rootkit and other BS they pull I have no intention to adopt their expensive bluray discs until i have no choice but to do that.

    i own a 1080p upsampling OPPO w/ Panasonic 42" plasma and i also have decent cables and a rackmount power conditioner and i got a great picture here.
    bye bye bluray
  • Display all 28 comments.
  • 5 Hide
    Tindytim , June 3, 2009 12:14 PM
    gorehoundi own a 1080p upsampling OPPO w/ Panasonic 42" plasma and i also have decent cables and a rackmount power conditioner and i got a great picture here.bye bye bluray

    You seriously think that compares? Perhaps my eyes are sharper than yours are, but can tell the difference between upsampled, and source material.

    Upsampling cannot create the details lost to lower resolution.
  • 4 Hide
    Botia , June 3, 2009 12:30 PM
    Whoever thinks that discs don't fail hasn't used them enough. Standards change over time. It becomes more and more difficult to find players to read them, especially recorded ones. Incompatibilities come to play between recording formats and players. They get scratched easily and fail. The sun damages them. Heat warps them. They are by no means a good long term backup strategy.
  • 2 Hide
    theuerkorn , June 3, 2009 12:52 PM
    I think it's ignorant to believe that higher prices would have helped the bottom line. It assumes that people buy it no matter what and have unlimited resources. Lucky if you do, but not realistic for the majority.

    Say there was only Blu-Ray and prices were still at $800 per recorder. How many people would buy this and then spend $30 per disk, especially in this economy?! Unless you're storing HD video, the 9 GB of a DL DVD go a long way. Neither is really suitable to back up a 1 TB hard drive anyway. An external HDD may be a better solution anyway.

    On the core business: Frankly, with movies in the $30 - $40 I certainly wait until they are on sale for $15. Without the sales, I won't buy as it's much cheaper to rent several times. Hence high prices would probably others deter from buying as well. So while higher prices in theory help sales, they also significantly reduce potential buyers ... especially in times of a crisis.
  • 4 Hide
    tenor77 , June 3, 2009 1:02 PM
    TindytimI don't see DD replace physical media anytime soon. A hard drive can fail, a Disc cannot.


    I have a lot of DVD's that disagree with you. While I think Blu-Ray will be the physical standard, DD is coming faster than even I thought it would. Between netflix streaming, especially if they can up the content, and other services (you're going to be able to get 1080p streaming soon) it's becoming very appealing to just have a digital copy. Add in the iPod, iPhone, Zune HD and disks are slowly being shown the door.

    MS even announced they're going to test out selling downloadable full games for the 360. We'll see how this goes, but if they price it right and give us a larger HD that could work.
  • -2 Hide
    Tindytim , June 3, 2009 1:14 PM
    tenor77it's becoming very appealing to just have a digital copy.

    How does that compete with a physical copy?

    tenor77Add in the iPod, iPhone, Zune HD and disks are slowly being shown the door.

    How so? I buy CD's, rip them in the format of my choice, and the quality of my choosing, then but them on my media player. I don't see how MP3 players change physical distribution.

    tenor77MS even announced they're going to test out selling downloadable full games for the 360. We'll see how this goes, but if they price it right and give us a larger HD that could work.

    Eh, With the bandwidth caps that are being imposed, and the fact that Microsoft only allows using their special hard drives, that limits the number of games I can have.

    Right now, I can walk into a store, buy a game, and it comes with it's own storage (a Disc), and I immediately get the product. I don't have to wait for it to download and hope the network isn't congested.

    BotiaWhoever thinks that discs don't fail hasn't used them enough. Standards change over time. It becomes more and more difficult to find players to read them, especially recorded ones. Incompatibilities come to play between recording formats and players.

    That's an issue with players, the Disc hasn't failed to store it's information.

    BotiaThey get scratched easily and fail. The sun damages them. Heat warps them. They are by no means a good long term backup strategy.

    What the hell are you doing with your Discs? Why are they sitting in the Sun for extended periods? Why are they in hot spots? How do they get scratched in their travel from their case to the player and back?

    I'm not really talking about writable discs, because I don't actually know anyone that uses them for anything other than installing an OS.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 3, 2009 1:17 PM
    @ Tindytim

    His 'upsampling' unit comes with accelerated auto photoshopping features. Any lack in detail is replaced with computer generated details :p 
  • 2 Hide
    dheadley , June 3, 2009 1:21 PM
    I don’t feel that the true purpose for writeable BD drives in a computer is for content delivery, especially where businesses are concerned. A BD player is about the movies, games and other entertainment sources. Writable material on any new format is primarily for data archival purposes until well into any standards lifespan.

    Mainstream computers had CD’s as standard equipment but not writable disks for the longest time. Same for the DVD drives in mainstream computers. And as with DVD writable disks, how many people out there have DVD capable car stereos or portable players to be burning massive MP3 music collections for portable use.

    Except for the portion of the population that creates backup copies of DVD movies, how many people use their DVD burners for more than archival storage of important files or tons of pictures from digital cameras etc.?

    Just my humble opinion, but optical disks of any type are by far the better medium for true backups. Optical disks do not "fail" as you say in a server room. They are not CD's left on the dashboard of your car.

    If you have direct sunlight on a backup disk for long enough to harm it you obviously work for a company that uses its gardening staff to do IT work and has a data center that doubles as an open air courtyard. The same goes for having enough heat to warp a disk.

    Also an archival backup on an optical disk will retain its data without risk of data loss for your entire lifetime...and your children’s lifetime....and their children’s...well you get the picture.

    Archiving data on separate disks which rotate by day or week also gives you a hard time constraint on how much data you can possibly loose. The disks not in use at the time can be stored in relatively cheap fire proof safes and water damage is not anywhere near as harmful to an optical disk as it is for a HDD.

    With incremental backups to hard drives people tend to have all the backup data on the same drives which is really not a wise move.
  • 0 Hide
    Tindytim , June 3, 2009 1:22 PM
    andessdsdhds@ TindytimHis 'upsampling' unit comes with accelerated auto photoshopping features. Any lack in detail is replaced with computer generated details

    Careful, without [sarcasm] tags, someone might think such technologies exist.
  • 1 Hide
    tenor77 , June 3, 2009 1:54 PM
    Quote:
    How so? I buy CD's, rip them in the format of my choice, and the quality of my choosing, then but them on my media player. I don't see how MP3 players change physical distribution.


    I'm talking video. To have an entire season of the Office on a portable player, that I can also connect to a TV in HD. No disks to lug around or get scratched, or just dirty (which happens way too much when you have kids)

    I'm saying it's becoming a real prospect to ditch physical media completely within a year, and I'm leaning on going that route. And so far, companies have been largely unsuccessful in implementing bandwidth caps. If we create the demand, and the cable companies don't meet it, someone else will. I promise you on that one.

    There are some things I will want a physical disk for but they're the exception rather than the rule. I'm still waiting for a Blu-Ray version of Star Wars and LOTR.
  • 2 Hide
    Maxor127 , June 3, 2009 2:13 PM
    BotiaWhoever thinks that discs don't fail hasn't used them enough. Standards change over time. It becomes more and more difficult to find players to read them, especially recorded ones. Incompatibilities come to play between recording formats and players. They get scratched easily and fail. The sun damages them. Heat warps them. They are by no means a good long term backup strategy.

    I've used CDs since they first became popular in the early 90s, scratched them, overused them, didn't take good care of them, and I have yet to have a single disc fail on me outside of ones that were burned bad, and I think that's either a Vista or DVD-burner problem for me. I've only had one disc break and that was because it was defective and had a hairline crack in the center ring that got bigger and bigger until the disc stopped working.
  • 1 Hide
    maaksel , June 3, 2009 2:24 PM
    wtf is with the grammar today? almost every article I've seen several 3rd grade mistakes... common. "we learned their about their recipe"
  • 1 Hide
    Tindytim , June 3, 2009 2:32 PM
    tenor77I'm talking video. To have an entire season of the Office on a portable player, that I can also connect to a TV in HD. No disks to lug around or get scratched, or just dirty

    You can rip Video as well.

    This is what I don't understand. You rip your content to the format of your choice, then put it on whatever players you want. If you need to convert it to another format, or you lose/accidentally delete your only file, just rip it again.

    A Disc to me is insurance that I always have a copy of the highest quality, and I have something nice to put on my shelf.
  • 1 Hide
    sublifer , June 3, 2009 2:41 PM
    fully mature my AS@ !! The day I don't have to worry whether a blu ray movie is going to play correctly on my PC is the day I'll consider it mature. Sick of this BS...
  • 1 Hide
    tenor77 , June 3, 2009 2:47 PM
    Quote:
    A Disc to me is insurance that I always have a copy of the highest quality, and I have something nice to put on my shelf.


    As general rule I'm past that. I have a big shelf in my basement loaded with DVD's CD's and games. I don't use them to decorate, I tuck them away, out of sight. I don't need the disks, especially if I can just pick up a remote and just choose a movie or game to play. If they do the DRM right so I can download it again should something happen that's way better than a disk that can get scratched or lost in a fire.

    I'm not trying to convince you to ditch disks, I'm just saying for me, I'm okay with not having them if it means more convenience and it takes up less space in my house.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 3, 2009 3:45 PM
    I dont plan on using bluray for archiving, 25GB per disc may be alot by disc standards but an LTO-4 tape will store 800GB (1TB+ with compression) hell a DDS4 tape can store more than a BR disc and thats a ten year old format so I dont see Bluray as a viable archiving method unless your a mere home user in which case 1 or 2 dvd-r's would most likely suffice (if you need more then that you should invest in tape, its alot cheaper per gb than bluray)

    ofc for movies I will be getting one :p 
  • 1 Hide
    frozenlead , June 3, 2009 4:46 PM
    I store everything on hard disks. I have far too many CDs and DVDs to take care of them properly - they sit in large drums. When I get a new game, a new music CD, or a new movie, they get ripped to my hard disk and the disc gets put away. I don't want to spend my time shuffling disks about and trying to find the right one. I've had enough of them skip and blunder through movies and installations. The hard disk, however, has never failed me. Ever.
  • -2 Hide
    TheZander , June 3, 2009 5:08 PM
    Complain about optical media all you want, but written and stored properly, optical media definitely provides a more reliable long term storage solution than current mechanical hard disks, and even most flash memory provide.

    I would love to see write-once flash technology. Think of all those game cartridges back in the day that withstood a tremendous amount of abuse, sun, humidity, dust, and read cycle wear and tear, yet they still lasted and maintained (for the most part) data integrity for years! If we make write once flash drives that are read-only after the first write, that would substantially reduce the wear and tear, as typically erase/write tends to produce more heat and cause more wear than strictly read cycles. These write-once flash memory modules would be very tough, like flash drives. They would be a great place to store, transport, and archive movies, photos, whatever, and the flash technology is constantly being produced cheaper and cheaper and in larger capacities.

    Selling write-once memory devices could also be a (temporary at least) solution to DRM. Consoles are proprietary and only work with their own games (unless hacked/modded somehow). You could make a USB/Firewire/eSATA reader for your brand of games. The games can't be copied, because this reader doesn't write, and the game will only play in that reader because it physically cannot fit in any other I/O port on your computer. It's a hardware solution that won't require any SecureRom or other DRM software to be installed, and copying could be prevented at the hardware level within the device. This could be used for high-definition movies as well. The modules would all be read only, just like your old Nintendo games, and be encrypted in a way that only the device, when connected to your computer, can read and display the material. I really think media companies should go this route. No more scratched, cracked or sunburnt discs. The movies and games would be a lot more durable, shock proof, etc.

    We're a long way from there right now, though, and Blu-Ray still provides a compelling solution. I'm seeing sales on blu-ray burners for $150 now, and I said over a year ago, that when I can get a $100 BURNER, I will adopt blu-ray. It's getting very close, now!! And $100 is worth it. I have a high-definition camcorder, and a powerful editing workstation. I want to take all the high def. footage of my three-year-old and make blu rays. Since it's now a ratified standard, I can send the blu ray discs (that I made myself!!) to my father and my mother & father in law, and they will be able to watch videos of their grandson in HD. Both of them have HD plasmas, but no HD or blu-ray players!! In fact, my mom and my step dad have DirectTV, but not the HD version. It's a 55" plasma TV!!! But now, I can just get them each a blu-ray player, and they can play normal movies, blu-ray movies (if they are on a good sale!), and my home videos in perfect HD quality.

    I'm not a Koolaid drinker, not a die-hard Sony fan (in fact I have an HD DVD player and about 35 HD DVD movies!), but they really sum it up well here:

    "Blu-ray is already well established in professional markets, and it is a matter of time until BD products will finally reach low mainstream price points. We believe that there will be a coexistence of both technologies for many years to come."

    Discs and burners are getting cheaper, and when more people can burn blu rays in their homes, more people will be able to also play them, and that includes me. There are movies that I like enough (like the new Star Trek or the Dark Night) to pay extra to have them in Blu-ray. But I don't spend that money now because I don't have a blu-ray player. There are lots of people in my situation. When they can afford a blu-ray player that fits their budget, they will be able to appreciate the higher quality, and storage benefits if they're going to use it as a data backup solution.

    This also makes it finally practical to backup the raw HD footage on optical media. I only have my HD footage on hard drives, and if my HD's die, the footage is gone! I have most of it backed up on two different drives, but that's still not as reliable as having an optical disk in an inexpensive fireproof safe. That's where I want to back up my critical stuff, but blu-ray just isn't quite where my budget will allow it yet. It's getting closer though.
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