This week Sony launched its first Blu-ray recording device for the masses, the Sony BWU-100A, a standard 5.25-inch, half-height internal box with a parallel ATA connection that writes and reads a variety of media types, including all DVD and CD formats.
(You may want to check out this refresher (http://www.blu-ray.com/info) on Blu-ray if you're not familiar with the technology.)
The real treat from this US$750 MSRP baby appears when using BD (Blu-ray Disc) media that can store as much as 25GB. If that's not enough, double-layer discs extending the capacity to 50GB are expected to be along shortly.
The previous sentence is definitely the storage-geek view of Sony's BD, much like describing the Mona Lisa by spouting the square footage of its canvas.
Without dismissing the exceptional capacity -- five times larger than a DVD -- that could come in handy for backing up and archiving data, another way to look at and appreciate the BWU-100A -- hey, Sony, how about a friendlier name? -- is its capability of storing hours of high-definition movie clips on BD discs.
The BWU-100A comes with drivers for Windows (2000 and XP) and is bundled with Cyberlink, a suite of applications to ease backups and restores. I haven't tested its speed yet, but Bob DeMoulin, marketing manager of the optical storage division at Sony, wraps it up like this: "It's a 2x burner for Blu-ray. That acquaints to 9MBps sustained; so for a 25GB media, it will be 30 minutes for a full disc."
If 50GB per disc doesn't seem much for backups, consider that the Blu-ray specs will allow you to push that capacity to 200GB, although we may not see that for a couple of years, DeMoulin says.
Without a doubt, professional moviemakers are Sony's main Blu-ray recording target, but could this intriguing device also fit the consumer market?
It just might: If you are considering making your own DVR box, the BWU-100A could be used to permanently store HD and other movies. Expensive, yes, but so is everything else labeled HD that you can buy for your home (or office) theater.
I can't help asking DeMoulin's opinion on HD-DVD, a rival technology to Blu-ray. "That format has a capacity limited to 15GB for single-layer [media] and 30GB for double-layer, but unfortunately there is no recording ability today -- it's just playback," he says, adding that a recordable HD-DVD device will probably emerge in the future.
For a point-to-point comparison of the two technologies, scroll down to the end of this FAQ (http://www.blu-ray.com/faq). I have a penchant for Blu-ray, but if both technologies remain, it's no big deal in my view. I like variety, and optical storage has plenty of it.
In fact, there is more emerging in the optical space that just those two formats, as I was reminded during a conversation with Rich D'Ambrise, director of technical marketing at Hitachi-Maxell.
If the name Maxell rings a bell, it's probably because it's printed on some of your media, be it CD, DVD, or any tape format. "We are also a technology company," D'Ambrise adds. "We pump back anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of our operating profit into R&D."
Maxell should start shipping BD-R and BD-RW media in Q3 or Q4 of this year, but the company is looking ahead also at some interesting applications of holographic storage. Long-term archiving is one of the first applications expected to exploit the capacity and speed of holographic storage, D'Ambrise explains. A first generation of holographic products (http://www.tvtechnology.com/features/news/2006.06.14-n_InPhase.shtml) from InPhase Technologies will work with Maxell Tapestry 300GB WORM media.
That's good news for archiving because data stored on Tapestry should have a minimum archival life of 50 years. "Our company tends to be conservative with those estimates," D'Ambrise notes.
There is more brewing in the fascinating world of optical storage, but I'll save that for another column. Until then, give some thought to that HD-capable, home-built DVR project -- maybe we can compare notes.