It's Beta vs. VHS all over again. This time, however, the fracas is over the new digital video compact disc formats, and the outcome could affect molding machinery manufacturers for the CD industry. In one corner are Sony Corp. and Philips Electronics NV, with a new, high density, multimedia CD able to store about 3.7 gigabytes, or 135 minutes, of data on a single-sided, 31/2-inch disc.
In the other corner are Toshiba Corp. and Time Warner Inc., offering a double-sided, 31/2-inch disc with 5 gigabytes on each side, or 270 minutes of storage capacity.
This potential war between two giants is the talk of the industry and has been highlighted at the annual International Tape Association meeting in March and at the recent Replitech International conference in Santa Clara, Calif. Especially notable at ITA's conference was the absence from the program of representatives of the Toshiba/Time Warner consortium, which backed out of a scheduled conference presentation saying only that ``the timing is not right.''
3M Co. joined Sony/Philips at that conference to present arguments for the single-sided format with a new twist.
3M, in collaboration with Sony and Philips, developed a process called dual-depth configuration, which consists of two layers of information with a semireflector between the layers.
This configuration is similar to today's standard CD, using a polycarbonate substrate for the first layer of information, with 3M semireflective coating laid on top. This is followed by a second information layer, topped with a standard reflector.
Hoss Bozorgzad, vice president of marketing for Philips, said in that company's presentation that the dual-depth configuration will ``meet the demand for higher-capacity'' CDs.
``The 3M/Sony/Philips process will maximize single-sided disc capacity with minimal cost impact,'' Bozorgzad said.
The players involved in developing the format consider two issues vitally important: that the current manufacturing infrastructure can be used and that compatibility with existing CD hardware be maintained.
Teru Aoki, director for Sony Corp., said the dual-depth manufacturing process uses an injection molded polycarbonate single substrate that will minimize problems associated with a double-sided CD, which requires the two sides to be bonded. Additionally, there would be no need for new hardware with auto-reverse mechanisms, Aoki said.
This newest marketing battle has companies taking sides. Personal computer maker Gateway 2000 Inc. has endorsed the Sony/Philips standard. Industry watchers said that because the new disc probably will cut across the film, computing and video game industries, it could become the primary medium for recorded entertainment. Owners of the underlying technical standard - Sony and Philips own the original audio CD format - have the potential to reap billions of dollars in royalties.
One thing is certain, if the double-sided Toshiba/Time Warner format wins out, it will affect molding machine technology for that industry, said Mike Santa, executive vice president for Krauss Maffei Corp. in Florence, Ky.
Specifically, Santa said, theSony/Philips format is more sophisticated and would require more molding equipment engineering changes. The Time Warner/Toshiba format would require only an upgrade of the mold itself.
``To go to an integrated system like Sony proposes means we'd have to go back to the drawing board,'' said Santa.
Krauss Maffei's commitment to the CD market means it must have an alternate plan if the pendulum swings toward Sony.
``We have to be focused on one, but prepared for both,'' Santa said.
Netstal Machinery Inc. of Fitchburg, Mass., unveiled its new CD molding system, the Discjet 600, at Replitech. The system brings the speed substrate molding to 41/2 seconds or less. President Barry Potter said the molding process does not change much, but requires two discs rather than one.
CD manufacturers now mold substrates 0.6 millimeters in thickness, or half the thickness required a few years ago.
``With the new resins and molding equipment on the market, what was impossible then is now a reality,'' Potter said.
Netstal recently placed a Disc-jet at GE Plastics' Mount Vernon, Ind., plant in a shared development effort in high-speed substrate molding. Preliminary tests have been successful.
Potter said downstream equip-ment for the bonding operation in the Time Warner/Toshiba format is simple and available.
``We know more about [the Time Warner/Toshiba] system, but we feel we're in good shape for the Sony system as well,'' Potter said. ``We're positioned to go either way.''