Frost & Sullivan: Blu-ray battles for top spot

Dec. 1, 2004
Competition is heating up between Blu-ray and high-definition digital versatile discs (HD-DVD) as they battle it out to become the next standard optical storage format for DVDs.

LONDON, ENGLAND—Competition is heating up between Blu-ray and high-definition digital versatile discs (HD-DVD) as they battle it out to become the next standard optical storage format for DVDs. A new Technical Insights analysis from Frost & Sullivan surveys the current data-storage technology terrain with a heavy emphasis on the Blu-ray optical recording format and examines the prospects of key competitors, including HD-DVD, flash memory, holographic storage, magnetic tape technology, and network storage.

"The winner of this conflict could go on to become the biggest data storage medium in the market, and early signs in the industry forecast a slight tilt in favor of Blu-ray," says Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Rajesh Kannan.

According to Kannan, Blu-ray is expected to derive its success from the impressive growth in optical data storage systems as the preferred choice for archival storage. With its high-density capabilities, Blu-ray is at the vanguard of optical disc recording technologies. Although this is good news for Blu-ray proponents, being positioned as the next-generation optical storage format leaves the technology open to intense competition. Newer technologies touting better capabilities are likely to emerge. In fact, a number of new devices intended for large-capacity archival system applications are already under development. These include holographic optical discs, 3-D fluorescent multi-layer optical media, and near-field optical recording among others.

"Though these technologies are still in embryonic stages of development, Blu-ray needs to establish itself quickly in the mass market before the feasibility of a more advanced technology is proven," Kannan says.

Storage capacity is an area where Blu-ray faces the danger of losing out to competing technologies. This is specifically pertinent for massive corporate storage applications where Blu-ray's capacity of 50 gigabytes is considered insufficient. Even assuming the existence of laser diodes operating at 200 nm to increase the storage capacity, the difficulty in obtaining low-cost optics limits progress on this front.

Moreover, a variety of alternatives offering better storage capabilities place the bargaining power in the hands of the Blu-ray consumers. Prices remain extremely high, creating further doubts regarding Blu-ray's acceptance in the mass market. Sony Corporation's Blu-ray DVD recorder released in early 2004 was priced at $4000 and Matsushita's follow-up was also considerably expensive at $2780. Since existing generic alternatives start at $100, Blu-ray needs to lower the cost of production to enable mass market uptake.

Despite the competition and technical challenges, Blu-ray has gained support from industry heavyweights in the field of films and personal computers, placing it in the top slot as the next-generation DVD format. Blu-ray is banking on the support from Dell and Hewlett-Packard to become the next PC DVD format; meanwhile, Sony's acquisition of MGM studios is playing a crucial role in endorsing the Blu-ray format throughout Hollywood. Citing increasing demand for high definition pay-per-view content on cable and satellite channels such as HBO and Showtime, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment will launch all its new titles on Blu-ray disks by early 2006.

"Hopefully, this pent-up demand for high-definition content can ensure Blu-ray's mass-market success from the outset," concludes Kannan.

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