JUNE 2002 IN

New Optical Disk Formats

Even as DVD is catching on as the primary format for movies and CD as the new standard for computer backups, hardware manufacturers are making plans for a newer, more efficient optical disk. A wide range of disk formats are being considered.

Some manufacturers say they are trying to make a better DVD. Their prototype “second-generation DVD” formats are the exact same size as a DVD or CD, but have a higher capacity, generally between 20 and 30 gigabytes, compared to about 7 gigabytes on a typical DVD.

Others are more interested in making a smaller CD. A disk 2.5 or 3 centimeters across — about the size of a U.S. quarter — could hold the same amount of data as a CD, or slightly more, while weighing only about a gram.

Probably only one or two of the new disk formats will catch on with the general public, so engineers are competing with each other to show that their companies’ disk formats are the best designs.

The disk prototypes have several things in common. They use blue lasers, which have a shorter wavelength than the red and infrared lasers used for current optical disks. It is the shorter wavelength that allows the increased data density. All the proposed disk standards will be made in three types, like CDs: injection-molded mass-produced disks for published material, and recordable and rewritable disk types based on dyes. The disks will be, at least in principle, as easy to manufacture as CDs and DVDs. And they are, engineers and analysts say, about two years away from the initial wave of product introductions.

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