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Streaming Media
Blu-ray Disc, HD DVD, and the DVD Duplication Business
Posted May 24, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1

While the transition to dual-layer has done little to spark demand for duplicators, next-generation blue laser media should allow manufacturers to recapture some of that excitement from a few years ago and drive new business based on upgrades to this larger-capacity format. "We have an opportunity forthcoming with these format changes, to either HD DVD, Blu-ray, or both," says Vin Bruno, managing director of ProCon. "New format changes always create wonderful business opportunities."
     A perfect example of these new opportunities can be found in the potential for blue laser to introduce a new paradigm for physical media. "There's a whole component to Blu-ray and HD DVD that a lot of people in our industry haven't considered," says Chuck Alcon Jr., VP of sales and marketing for Condre. "For the last ten years, many people in our market have tried to position the 120mm optical disc as a legitimate storage medium versus an interchange medium, but by and large discs haven't been used for long-term storage of critical data. We look at Blu-ray and HD DVD as an opportunity to change that paradigm."
     The reality is, though, that blue laser is a ways off from being the dominant optical format for a number of reasons, most notably the simple lack of demand. "We're getting no requests for blue laser, primarily because there really is no penetration yet of playback devices in the market," says Tony van Veen, EVP of sales and marketing for DiscMakers.
     Additionally, with the cost of blank blue laser media projected at $30-40 per disc (and not expected to ship in volume until well after the first drives reach the market), that really lessens the feasibility of blue laser duplicators in the near-term. "If you fill up one of our machines with a full throng of discs, you're talking about 300 times 30 or 40 dollars, and that's a very pricey proposition," says Rimage CTO Dave Suden.

The lack of blue laser playback penetration, the high cost of media, and the fact that video production hasn't yet made the transition to an HD world all indicate that it will be a while before blue laser really hits the mainstream. "We're starting to get some questions on blue laser, but I don't think that's going to develop for some time," says Mark Strobel, VP of sales and marketing for Primera Technology."It's more curiousity than any pent-up demand waiting for those formats to come out."

In terms of the format wars, there have been a few announcements regarding Blu-ray-capable duplicators in recent months—and none whatsoever for HD DVD-based systems--but for the most part the manufacturers don't really care which format wins out. As a result, they'll pursue whichever format customers demand more. "Our stance has been kind of an inverse field of dreams: if they need it, we'll build it," says John McGrath, east coast sales manager for MF Digital.

All of these factors have led some customers to hold off on purchasing duplication equipment until after this all plays out, which certainly makes sense in an atmosphere of uncertainty, but isn't necessarily the only viable approach. "I'm telling my customers not to wait," says ProCon's Bruno. "Whatever format prevails we'll be able to provide them with a kit to upgrade their machines to HD-DVD or Blu-ray. It'll just be a matter of an instructions packet, the number of drives the customer requires, and perhaps a new controller, and that's it." And most duplicator manufacturers are already designing the infrastructure into their systems to handle the larger datasets with an eye towards easy upgrading to blue-laser capabilities. 

While the current status of blue laser may seem muddled, its future adoption by mainstream markets does appear rosy, especially if historical trends for physical media continue with this next-generation format. "This is the third iteration of formats. First you had CD, then DVD, and now HD. This time around with blue laser, though, the price of the recorders right out of the chute is dramatically lower than for either of the other two," Suden explains. "The first CD recorders were literally tens of thousands of dollars, the first DVD recorders were thousands, but the first blue laser recorder will be under a thousand dollars. The media's still pretty expensive," he adds, "but even still it's about the same price point that these other formats came out at."  

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