In a move that could undercut top Japanese consumer electronics makers, Taiwanese companies are gearing up to introduce a new generation of optical disc players for high-definition video that will be priced about US$150.
The new players are based on a disc format developed in Taiwan called Forward Versatile Disc (FVD). They will be launched in the US at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, according to Sigma Designs, which is supplying media processors used in some FVD players.
FVD was developed by researchers at the Industrial Technology Research Institute's (ITRI's) Optoelectronics and Systems Laboratories in Hsinchu, Taiwan. It supports Microsoft's Windows Media Video 9 for high-definition video content and uses red lasers, rather than the blue lasers used in other high-capacity disc technologies such as Blu-ray and High-Definition DVD.
Blue lasers offer one significant advantage over red lasers: blue light has a smaller wavelength. This means that blue lasers can read smaller marks on a disc, allowing more such marks representing data to be squeezed onto a disc's surface.
The drawback is that blue lasers cost more than the red ones, which have long been used in DVD players and CD-ROM drives. This in turn means higher prices for end-users.
Sharp's first Blu-ray recorder is set to hit store shelves in Japan next month with a price tag of $US3095, for example. Similar products on offer from Panasonic and Sony will set users back about $US2900.
By comparison, FVD players were expected to retail for about $US154 in Taiwan and US$121 in China when they hit store shelves next month, Sigma Designs said. The company said the players would also be available in other markets.
Several Taiwanese hardware makers have lined up to support the introduction of FVD. Ritek, CMC Magnetics, Prodisc Technology and U-Tech Media will manufacture the discs, including recordable and rewritable versions. LiteOn Technology, BenQ, Mustek and Quanta Storage will manufacture the players.
It remains to be seen whether users in Asia and elsewhere will be willing to pay a premium of almost 2000 percent for a Blu-ray system over a cheaper FVD player.
FVD and Blu-ray are close enough in their specifications that a battle could be in the offing. For example, both formats offer enough capacity to store a high-definition movie on a single disc. The first generation of FVD discs have a capacity of up to 6GB for single-sided discs and 11GB for double-sided discs. That's far short of Blu-ray's capacity of more than 23GB, but still enough space to store 135 minutes of high-definition video, according to ITRI.
When it comes to prerecorded content, FVD has an edge over Blu-ray. About 20 FVD titles would be made available next month, climbing to more than 500 by the end of next year, Sigma Designs said, although it did not indicate which titles would be released.
There is no prerecorded content available for Blu-ray, which has been positioned primarily as a technology for recording high-definition video. HD-DVD is the blue-laser format that is focused on prerecorded content, and the first HD-DVD players are expected to become available next year from companies including Toshiba.