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DVD Industry Insider Report - Optical Storage

by The DVD Insider November 14, 2004

Everyone is now delivering 16x DVD burners at unbelievably low prices. Rushing to keep pace, the leading media manufacturers deliver the high-speed +/-R media as quickly as the formats and specifications are approved.

But, according to most senior engineering types we've finally reached the upper performance limit for single-sided 4.7GB media. There are discussions of jumping the speed to 18x/20x but among most content professionals there is always a concern about the integrity of the written data at excessively high speeds. They usually write content at a much slower speed so they maintain the highest possible quality.

While this exploration is going on, the media industry leaders were ramping up Double layer media production, Verbatim lead the pack on delivering the 16x discs. The initial 2x -R and 2.4x +R media has already been certified for 4 and 5x speeds. You have to wonder if the media coatings and processes were so robust at the outset if the media can be expanded to 8x without having to go back to the lab.

Now all of the major disc producers -Verbatim, MKM and others - are delivering 16x media and a few other firms have begun their DL production ramps even though the media even though only product from the two firms mentioned has been certified by the authorization group. The big difference is that the big volume burner producers are shipping 4x and 5x DL units and have already certified Verbatim's DL discs for these write speeds. There is some speculation that the discs were so over designed that it may be possible to write the 8.5GB discs at 8x. That would mean significant savings if they don't have to come up with new dyes, chemistries and processes.

The engineers and chemists are still working to see if they can reliably deliver 16x DL media but we believe people should be focusing more on the quality of the data laid down, not the speed.

One concept that will probably never emerge from the research groups is quad layer discs (15GB). The big challenges would be backward read comparability (probably won't happen) or simply encourage consumers to move on to new players. Of course they could simply put the project on the shelf and focus on the burners and media we'll begin seriously buying in 2006.

The major thing the industry analysts forget --as do the hardware/media manufacturers -- is that people don't immediately jump on every "new generation" or next greatest thing. So those Blu or HD burners may take years to become accepted except with the early adopters (you know those people who have one of every new/obsolete tech toy). Two hours of personal video from a DVD is a lot. 30 minutes of a kid's ballet recital on SVCD is excruciating. 24 hours of music on a single disc is "like way cool!"

We were recently asked - yes again - which had better compatibility + or -R. Honestly, that worry should be behind you. It is only a rounding error of the units that aren't compatible with both media. If there is an edge it is perhaps - and we emphasize perhaps - slightly better compatibility with +R. That's true of PC and TV top players.

DVD burner prices are in the basement. DVR prices - even with some mind-boggling features are right next door. Disc prices - even for quality, name brand media that is all people should buy for irreplaceable personal digital photos and family video memories - has come down dramatically in the past few months.

Even with the rising "no-name" production coming out of China the demand for the two classes of CD and DVD media continues to grow (see disc sales growth chart). The classes? Cheap stuff starting as low as $.10 - $.15 for CDR and not much more for the stuff they call DVDR. Brand media that have the reputation and distribution channels to maintain their lead and modest margins.

The quality media and bottom feeders are making it extremely difficult for those in the middle to survive. Expect to see factories close in both Taiwan and China this coming year when people buy in two categories. First there will be the ultra high speed single layer media and high speed DL (+/-) that will be economical and in volume from the brand name suppliers. Then there will be the slow speed, cheap media that only works in older burners/recorders. The in-between questionable stuff will sell for awhile but without the infrastructure, technology expertise and relationships the middle will painfully disappear even as sales volumes continue to rise.

Best of Both Worlds?

Speaking of discs, If you like CD music and you like DVD-audios, you're going to love the new sandwich that the music industry in LaLa Land has put together for you. Imagine a disc with one side a conventional music CD and the other a DVD-audio. (see display and initial discs)

If you want the disc in your car CD player that's great. But if you want to play the DVD in your home system you'll have pop your trunk and unload your cartridge. We're not certain if we'll keep ours with our CDs or DVDs…tough choice.

Of course the idea of doing something logical like putting two discs in a single jewel case never crossed their minds. Fortunately, the party line from the "sponsors" is that consumer response in the test markets has been "overwhelmingly positive."

If you're not into the idea of buying a second copy for the home or car you can always rip a copy of one or both to CD-R or DVD+/-R media. We don't like that idea but your only option seems to buy another music industry sandwich which doesn't sound appetizing.

Download vs CD Music

If you believe Apple, Sony and Sir Richard Branson, the world is abandoning CD music for single song downloads. Today there are more than 20 online services that allow you to legally or illegally download music to your portable music device. The sound - slightly less quality than CD - seems to be good enough for a lot of people.

While RIAA says that the downloads are killing the music industry the truth is that less than eight percent of the music people enjoy is downloaded. The rest of the digital music is purchased at retail. Jupiter research forecasts that CD sales will continue to dwarf downloads thru the remainder of the decade. They point out that CD player and system sales will continue to dwarf the sale of MP3 and other digital music players.

In that same vane NetFlix and TiVo have joined forces to deliver video-on-demand and more than a dozen other VOD services - including those offering video to cellphones - have emerged. Watching video on a cellphone screen is painful at best. 7-inch DVD player screens are "tolerable."

Once you've seen HD are you going to tolerate the grainy quality of these small screens? Worse yet VOD demands big pipes and so far those only exist in Japan, Korea and a few areas of Europe.

With people now migrating to home entertainment, home theater systems as well as HighDef and rich immersion/surround sound; quality may return to our audio/video content.

DVD Industry Insider Report - Making a Buck With Burners

While brand name "producers" can make a few cents profit on their DVD burners based on their name and reputation, the people who actually assemble the units - BenQ, Lite-On, AOpen, MSI and a few others -- are only able to sell on the basis of price. But most of these Taiwanese producers saw the writing on the wall and were able to make their own DVD recorders (DVRs) and earn a little better margin.

The units without hard drives in them went nowhere so now all DVRs also have hard drives. Consumers, speaking with their credit cards, are saying the more drive capacity the better. In 2004, more than 15 million DVRs have been sold and over 70% contain a HD. While the units started out with 20GB drives, demand quickly dictated that people wanted 40-80GB drives and we're seeing a lot retail action for the 250-300GB HD-based units. HDs continue to be the backbone of most applications.

The great thing is that once people start using a DVR they stay with it. According to Forrester 60% of the people who have these devices use them all the time and (surprise) they skip 92% of the ads.

This entertainment server evolution hasn't gone unnoticed with the PC manufacturers and the first of the year we'll see PCs that look like DVRs with brains, huge memories (500+GB), network capabilities and more. The biggest challenge for these producers is understanding what CE manufacturers already know - you don't leave the unit run all the time (MS solution to the warm-up problem), it has to come on instantly (that means a Linux kernel) and it has to be whisper quiet.

The second challenge for the PC manufacturers will be to resist MS "influence" to ensure the system in the living room is really a PC first. Too many seem to forget that PCs have only penetrated about 50% of the homes and that number has remained relatively constant despite the ready availability of $200 - $300 "computers."

Next Year's Winner

Wonder what the next great storage solution will look like? Here's a big hint - it will be Blue. More specifically Blu!

The Forum, NEC or Toshiba probably won't concede but it certainly appears that if you want to be at the leading edge in your neighborhood you'll be buying a Blu-Ray burner next year. More than 90 firms have climbed aboard the Sony/Matsushita bandwagon - along with HP, Dell, JVC, Samsung, LG, Pioneer, Philips and 90% of the CE manufacturers. (check the initial products)

The association's position - BDA (Blu-ray Disc Association) is that it is the right thing to do for content owners and consumers. You believe that then we've got some swampland we want to sell you.

But when the technology hits the street it will be good for the content owner (Sony and all of its content). Don't pull out your credit card just yet though because the initial burners (now selling in Japan) will be about $2000 and discs (25-30GB) will be $35 apiece. Then too you'll also have to buy a new player and so will all your friends.

Translation…expect DVD to be here for years!

Most Drives Still Spin

Synonymous with timeshifting TV programs, TiVo was the first company to get serious about non-computer use of HDs. Since then home AV use has developed so rapidly that now they are used in everywhere…car navigation systems to the latest cellphones and everything in between. Apple's iPod music player's HD can hold as many as 15,000 individual selections, presuming you have the time and energy to transfer that many tunes from around the globe.

Hard drives come in many sizes, capacities and versions. The recording medium is a metal or glass disk, coated and recordable on both sides. The platters can be as small as 20mm (0.8 inches) and as large as 130mm (the good old 5¼-inch). Most however are 65mm (2.5-inches) or smaller.

Most drives have multiple platters - 2,3,4. In 2003, it was estimated that about 360 million platters of all sizes were produced for about 250 million individual drives (see growth chart). This means the "average" drive contained 1.44 platters.

Much of the development work in disk drives over the past ten years has been in increasing the areal density and improving the magnetic heads that write and read the data. The areal density of a hard drive has jumped from 1GB/sq in five years ago to today's 100-150GB/sq in. Two orders of increase (100 times) is amazing and engineers say they can improve capacities 100 times or more in the next five its easy to see these little suckers aren't going away.

Cheap huge capacity drives will become the home network entertainment solution this coming year - wired or wireless. Think of a small enclosure sitting on top of your home theater with all of your music, photo albums, personal videos, archived TV series and movies stacked up waiting for you go pick and choose your favorite at will.

Possible? Sure.

Under a grand? Wait till CES!!

Billion dollar question is will be can you do it all with the remote or is someone going to "suggest" you continue to use the tired old keyboard?????

Sometimes we tend to listen too much to the "logic" of engineers !!!