Processors use polylcarbonate in molding the high-definition DVD, and until recently, they've also relied on PC to manufacture the competing Blu-ray Disc, or BD. But at the recent Media-Tech Expo in Long Beach, Oerlikon Balzers Coatings and GE Plastics demonstrated that advanced-format BD substrates can be molded using a GE Noryl polyphenylene oxide.
As the format competition between BD and HD DVD heats up, it is creating opportunities for materials, technology and equipment firms seeking to develop that market, as well as posing problems for all involved and confusing consumers. Meanwhile, another optical format, the VMD - versatile multilayer disc - has emerged, and it, too, hopes to find a market niche.
At Media-Tech, the coatings arm of OC Oerlikon Corp. AG of PfÃ¤ffikon, Switzerland, used the Noryl PPO to make more than 25,000 dual-layer 50-gigabyte BDs on an Indigo line that included a Netstal e-Jet press. Oerlikon launched its Indigo replication line at last year's Media-Tech.
Using the Noryl PPO eliminates three processing steps - back-coat sputtering and hard-coat coating and curing - from the seven routinely required in molding advanced-format discs of PC, the companies said.
The GE concept has a 1.1-millimeter-thick Noryl substrate and a 0.1mm cover layer of ultraviolet nano-functionality silica from Wilton, Conn.-based Momentive Performance Materials Inc. - the former GE Advanced Materials, now under the ownership of Apollo Management LP. Saudi Basic Industries Corp. recently agreed to buy GE Plastics for $11.6 billion.
GE's material solution reduces equipment costs while increasing yields, said Gordon Van Dyke, GE Plastics' global technical manager for media. Van Dyke also manages GE's optical media development center in Pittsfield, Mass. Compared with optical-grade PC, the new material has low moisture absorption and swell, high material stiffness and lower specific gravity, which translates into 12 percent less material used per disc, Van Dyke said at Media-Tech, held May 15-17.
At the show, Netstal-Maschinen AG of NÃ¤fels, Switzerland, debuted its newest all-electric e-Jet subsystem, equipped for injection molding HD and Blu-ray discs. Netstal has scheduled its e-Jet for trial runs lasting four to five months at five European production sites. The press maker began developing the all-electric square-platen single-cavity machine in late 2004. It weighs less and has a smaller footprint than its twin-cavity e-Jet.
``With the new formats, as pit sizes get smaller, there is more need for accuracy,'' said Rick Shaffer, president of the Netstal unit in Devens, Mass.
Netstal began commercial e-Jet production in early 2003, moving beyond the capabilities of its hydraulic Discjet line for replicating optical media.
Coping with broadband downloading was a recurring theme at Media-Tech.
Walt Disney Co. is analyzing electronic-delivery methods as sales of DVDs begin to slow. That technology will ``not pay the bills in the next five years, [but] if it takes off in less than five years, we are prepared,'' said Benn Carr, vice president of new technology with Walt Disney Studios, the studio entertainment segment of Burbank, Calif.-based company.
Both the BD and HD DVD formats seek to succeed DVD technology, which emerged in 1996, and the competition between the Tokyo electronics firms is posing problems. Sony Corp. is pitting its BD against an HD DVD consortium that includes developer Toshiba Corp. Market reports indicate shipments so far are neck and neck - about 1 million BDs to about 990,000 HD DVDs.
``We have to serve our customers' needs,'' said Peter Schaper, chief technology officer with replicator Sonopress LLC, which has U.S. production in Weaverville, N.C.
``We support both formats. It is difficult.''
Eisuke Tsuyuzaki said: ``We are in the early stages. Things will shake out. One format will prevail.'' Tsuyuzaki is vice president of corporate development and general manager of the Blu-ray Disc Group for Secaucus, N.J.-based Panasonic North America.
Bill Mandel said: ``No one wanted a format war. It is scaring customers off. ... A hybrid [machine] like LG (Electronics Inc.) may help.''
LG's hybrid player is compatable with BD and HD DVD formats. Mandel is vice president of broadband technology with Universal Studios, which has publically backed the HD DVD format. The studios in Universal City, Calif., are part of GE's NBC Universal business segment.
For consumers, the equipment is very expensive. ``The end user is confused,'' said Joachim Stiller, president of Singulus Molding AG in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, a unit of Singulus Technologies AG.
On May 15, Panasonic began selling a next-generation Blu-ray Disc player at a retail price of $599.95 and including five pre-selected movie titles. Toshiba's HD-A2 model player is available for $395.99, minus a $100 rebate and options for free discs or an extended warranty.
In January, South Korea-based LG launched its Super Multi Blue player, the BH-100, which is based primarily on BD technology but also can handle some HD DVD functions. Price: as low as $1,189. ``No combo or hybrid format has succeeded,'' Sonopress' Schaper observed.
Singulus and Sony expect in late summer to introduce a new jointly developed dual-layer BD production line. The technology will provide independent disc manufacturers with in-line production capability quickly. Sony's aim is to build capacity for the new disc's production.
Singulus said it sold several Spaceline and Skyline replication lines and two of its newly developed in-line CrystalLine mastering systems.
Marubeni Corp.'s U.S. subsidiary said the Blu-Ray Disc Association's lab issued a verification certificate in April for a Marubeni 50-gigabyte read-only-memory Blu-ray Disc line at the Olyphant, Pa., site of major optical disc replicator Cinram International Inc.
The line is the first commercial 50GB Blu-ray replication line in the market, said Mitsuyasu Matsubara, president of Marubeni Disc Systems Inc. in Irvine, Calif.
Meanwhile the VMD optical format from New Medium Enterprises Inc. of London, seeks its market niche using a compressed HD version of the red-laser technology now in DVDs.
In the red-laser arena, the VMD may compete with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows media video/high-definition, the Taiwan government-based forward versatile disc and China's holographic versatile disc and HD video disc.
New Medium is collaborating with replicator Planet Optical Disc Ltd. of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. As well, NME and a Dutch vendor have agreed to supply 12 VMD lines over three years to replicator Bars Media Group in Kazan, Russia.