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Sony Optiarc: Piloting Blu-ray Through the Crisis

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.

  • Tindytim
    I don't see DD replace physical media anytime soon. A hard drive can fail, a Disc cannot.
    Reply
  • pschmid
    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
    Reply
  • gorehound
    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
    Reply
  • Tindytim
    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 blurayYou 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.
    Reply
  • Botia
    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.
    Reply
  • theuerkorn
    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.
    Reply
  • tenor77
    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.
    Reply
  • Tindytim
    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.
    Reply
  • @ Tindytim

    His 'upsampling' unit comes with accelerated auto photoshopping features. Any lack in detail is replaced with computer generated details :P
    Reply
  • dheadley
    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.
    Reply