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NEC demos first next-gen DVD drive with one red, blue head

Compatible with today's DVDs

NEC has built the first optical storage drive to support not only today's DVDs but tomorrow's High Definition blue-laser technology-based discs, the company said today.

The machine uses a single optical head that contains one lens fed by two semiconductor lasers: a red one for backward compatibility with current DVD technology and a blue one for HD DVD.

NEC has something of an advantage here: its blue laser technology, co-developed with Toshiba, was recently voted to form the basis for the next generation of DVD technology by the standard's governing body, the DVD Forum.

Sony has already begun shipping its rival blue-laser optical storage format, which it calls the Professional Disc for Data (PDD) format. However, while Sony is initially pitching the product at high-end storage applications, NEC and Toshiba have their eye on the next generation of DVD-ROM and recordables.

While the Sony system encases each 23GB disc in a cartridge, NEC/Toshiba HD DVD discs do not - just like today's CDs, DVDs, and DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW discs. Crucially, NEC said, that will make it easier to build the technology into consumer electronics devices and computers, particularly notebooks.

Don't hold your breathe, however. NEC will be demonstrating its drive at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month, but it doesn't expect to be shipping it until 2005. The first units are likely to be PC-oriented products. Consumer products may take longer - NEC acknowledged that the timing of the technology's release into the mass market depends on how quickly content producers support the format.

Two HD DVD format specifications are currently being promoted for standardisation. One is the ROM disc with 15GB of storage capacity on a single layer and 30GB on dual-layer media, and the other is a rewritable disc with 20GB of storage capacity. In November, the DVD Forum's steering committee approved the proposed HD DVD-ROM format in version 0.9. ®

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