All about the Blu-Ray format...

Origins

The information density of the DVD format was limited by the wavelength of the laser diodes used. Following protracted development, blue laser diodes operating at 405 nanometers became available on a production basis. Sony started two projects in collaboration with Philips[8] applying the new diodes: UDO (Ultra Density Optical),[9] and DVR Blue (together with Pioneer),[10] a format of rewritable discs that would eventually become Blu-ray Disc (more specifically, BD-RE). The core technologies of the formats are similar.

The first DVR Blue prototypes were unveiled at the CEATEC exhibition in October 2000 by Sony.[11] A trademark for the "Blue Disc" logo was filed February 9, 2001.[12] On February 19, 2002, the project was officially announced as Blu-ray Disc,[13][14] and Blu-ray Disc Founders was founded by the nine initial members.

The first consumer device arrived in stores on April 10, 2003: the Sony BDZ-S77, a $3,800 (US) BD-RE recorder that was made available only in Japan.[15] But there was no standard for prerecorded video, and no movies were released for this player.

Hollywood studios insisted that players be equipped with digital rights management before they would release movies for the new format, and they wanted a new DRM system that would be more secure than the failed Content Scramble System (CSS) used on DVDs.

On October 4, 2004, the name "Blu-ray Disc Founders" was officially changed to the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), and 20th Century Fox joined the BDA's Board of Directors.[16]

The Blu-ray Disc physical specifications were completed in 2004.[17]

In January 2005, TDK announced that they had developed an ultra-hard yet very thin coating polymer for Blu-ray Discs; this was a significant technical advance because a far tougher protection was desired in the consumer market to protect bare disks against scratching and damage compared to DVD, while technically Blu-ray Disc required a much thinner layer for the denser and higher frequency blue laser.[18] Cartridges, originally used for scratch protection, were no longer necessary and were scrapped.

The BD-ROM specifications were finalized in early 2006.[19]

AACS LA, a consortium founded in 2004,[20] had been developing the DRM platform that could be used to securely distribute movies to consumers. However, the final AACS standard was delayed,[21] and then delayed again when an important member of the Blu-ray Disc group voiced concerns.[22] At the request of the initial hardware manufacturers, including Toshiba, Pioneer, and Samsung, an interim standard was published that did not include some features, such as managed copy.[23]

Launch and sales developments

The first BD-ROM players (e.g. Sony BDP-S1) were shipped in mid-June 2006, though HD DVD players beat them to market by a few months.[24][25]

The first Blu-ray Disc titles were released on June 20, 2006: 50 First Dates, The Fifth Element, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, Underworld: Evolution, xXx (all Sony), and MGM's The Terminator.[26] The earliest releases used MPEG-2 video compression, the same method used on standard DVDs. The first releases using the newer VC-1 and AVC formats were introduced in September 2006.[27] The first movies using 50 GB dual-layer discs were introduced in October 2006.[28] The first audio-only albums were released in May 2008.[29][30]

The first mass-market Blu-ray Disc rewritable drive for the PC was the BWU-100A, released by Sony on July 18, 2006.[31] It recorded both single and dual-layer BD-Rs as well as BD-REs and had a suggested retail price of US $699.

Competition from HD DVD

The DVD Forum, chaired by Toshiba, was split over whether to develop the more expensive blue laser technology. In March 2002, the forum approved a proposal endorsed by Warner Bros. and other motion picture studios that involved compressing HD content onto dual-layer standard DVD-9 discs.[32][33] In spite of this decision, however, the DVD Forum's Steering Committee announced in April that it was pursuing its own blue-laser high-definition video solution. In August, Toshiba and NEC announced their competing standard, Advanced Optical Disc.[34] It was finally adopted by the DVD Forum and renamed HD DVD the next year,[35] after being voted down twice by DVD Forum members who were also Blu-ray Disc Association members—a situation that drew preliminary investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice.[36][37]

HD DVD had a head start in the high-definition video market, as Blu-ray Disc sales were slow to gain market share. The first Blu-ray Disc player was perceived as expensive and buggy, and there were few titles available.[38]

The appearance of the Sony PlayStation 3, which contained a Blu-ray Disc player for primary storage, helped turn the tide.[39] Sony also ran a more thorough and influential marketing campaign for the format.[40] 2006 also saw the launch of AVCHD camcorders, whose recordings can be played back on many Blu-ray Disc players without re-encoding, but not on HD DVD players.

By January 2007, Blu-ray Discs had outsold HD DVDs,[41] and during the first three quarters of 2007, BD outsold HD DVD by about two to one. At CES 2007, Warner proposed Total Hi Def—a hybrid disc containing Blu-ray on one side and HD DVD on the other, but it was never released.

In a June 28, 2007 press release, the Twentieth Century Fox cited Blu-ray Disc's adoption of the BD+ anticopying system as key to their decision to support the Blu-ray Disc format.[42][43]

On January 4, 2008, a day before CES 2008, Warner Bros. (the only major studio still releasing movies in both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc format) announced that it would release only in Blu-ray Disc after May 2008. This effectively included other studios that came under the Warner umbrella, such as New Line Cinema and HBO—though in Europe, HBO distribution partner, the BBC, announced it would, while keeping an eye on market forces, continue to release product on both formats. This led to a chain reaction in the industry, with major U.S. retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart, and Circuit City and Canadian chains such as Future Shop dropping HD DVD in their stores. A then major European retailer, Woolworths, dropped HD DVD from its inventory.[44] Netflix and Blockbuster—major DVD rental companies—said they would no longer carry HD DVD.

Following these new developments, on February 19, 2008, Toshiba announced it would end production of HD DVD devices,[45] allowing Blu-ray Disc to become the industry standard for high-density optical discs. Universal Studios, the sole major movie studio to back HD DVD since its inception, said shortly after Toshiba's announcement: "While Universal values the close partnership we have shared with Toshiba, it is time to turn our focus to releasing new and catalog titles on Blu-ray Disc."[46] Paramount Studios, which started releasing movies only in HD DVD format during late 2007, also said it would start releasing in Blu-ray Disc. Both studios announced initial Blu-ray lineups in May 2008. With this, all major Hollywood studios supported Blu-ray.[47]

Future prospects and market trends

According to Media Research, high-definition software sales in the US were slower in the first two years than DVD software sales.[48] 16.3 million DVD software units were sold in the first two years (1997–98) compared to 8.3 million high-definition software units (2006–07).[48][49] One reason given for this difference was the smaller marketplace (26.5 million HDTVs in 2007 compared to 100 million SDTVs in 1998).[48][49] Former HD DVD supporter Microsoft has stated that they are not planning to make a Blu-ray Disc drive for the Xbox 360.[50]

Shortly after the "format war" ended, Blu-ray disc sales began to increase. A study by The NPD Group found that awareness of Blu-ray Disc had reached 60% of U.S. households. Nielsen VideoScan sales numbers showed that for some titles, such as 20th Century Fox's Hitman, up to 14% of total disc sales were from Blu-ray, although the average Blu-ray sales for the first half of the year were only around 5%. In December 2008, the Blu-ray Disc version of The Dark Knight sold 600,000 copies on the first day of its launch in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.[51] A week after the launch, The Dark Knight BD had sold over 1.7 million copies worldwide, making it the first Blu-ray Disc title to sell over a million copies in the first week of release.[52]

According to Singulus Technologies AG, Blu-ray is being adopted faster than the DVD format was at a similar period in its development. This conclusion was based on the fact that Singulus Technologies has received orders for 21 Blu-ray dual-layer machines during the first quarter of 2008, while 17 DVD machines of this type were made in the same period in 1997.[55] According to GfK Retail and Technology, in the first week of November 2008, sales of Blu-ray recorders surpassed DVD recorders in Japan.[56] According to the Digital Entertainment Group, the total number of Blu-ray Disc playback devices (both set-top box and game console) sold in the U.S. had reached 28.5 million by the end of 2010.[54]

Blu-ray faces competition from video on demand[57] and from new technologies that allow access to movies on any format or device, such as Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem or Disney's Keychest.[58] Some commentators have suggested that renting Blu-ray will play a vital part in keeping the technology affordable while allowing it to move forward.[59] In an effort to increase sales, studios are releasing movies in combo packs with Blu-ray Discs and DVDs as well as digital copies that can be played on computers and iPods. Some are released on "flipper" discs with Blu-ray on one side and DVD on the other. Other strategies are to release movies with the special features only on Blu-ray Discs and none on DVDs.

Ongoing development

Although the Blu-ray Disc specification has been finalized, engineers continue to work on advancing the technology. By 2005, quad-layer (128 GB) discs had been demonstrated on a drive with modified optics[60] and standard unaltered optics.[61] Hitachi stated that such a disc could be used to store 7 hours of 32 Mbit/s video (HDTV) or 3 hours and 30 minutes of 64 Mbit/s video (Cinema 4K). In August 2006, TDK announced that they had created a working experimental Blu-ray Disc capable of holding 200 GB of data on a single side, using six 33 GB data layers.[62]

Also, behind closed doors at CES 2007, Ritek revealed that they had successfully developed a High Definition optical disc process that extends the disc capacity to ten layers, which increases the capacity of the discs to 250 GB. However, they noted that the major obstacle is that current read/write technology does not support the additional layers.[63]

JVC has developed a three-layer technology that allows putting both standard-definition DVD data and HD data on a BD/(standard) DVD combination. If successfully commercialized, this would enable the consumer to purchase a disc that can be played on DVD players and can also reveal its HD version when played on a BD player.[64] Japanese optical disc manufacturer Infinity announced the first "hybrid" Blu-ray Disc/(standard) DVD combo, to be released February 18, 2009. This disc set of the TV series "Code Blue" featured four hybrid discs containing a single Blu-ray Disc layer (25 GB) and two DVD layers (9 GB) on the same side of the disc.[65]

In January 2007, Hitachi showcased a 100 GB Blu-ray Disc, consisting of four layers containing 25 GB each.[66] Unlike TDK and Panasonic's 100 GB discs, they claim this disc is readable on standard Blu-ray Disc drives that are currently in circulation, and it is believed that a firmware update is the only requirement to make it readable to current players and drives.[67]

In December 2008, Pioneer Corporation unveiled a 400 GB Blu-ray Disc (containing 16 data layers, 25 GB each) that will be compatible with current players after a firmware update. Its planned launch is in the 2009–10 time frame for ROM and 2010–13 for rewritable discs. Ongoing development is underway to create a 1 TB Blu-ray Disc as soon as 2013.[68]

At CES 2009, Panasonic unveiled the DMP-B15, the first portable Blu-ray Disc player, and Sharp introduced the LC-BD60U and LC-BD80U series, the first LCD HDTVs with integrated Blu-ray Disc players. Sharp has also announced that they will sell HDTVs with integrated Blu-ray Disc recorders in the United States by the end of 2009. Set-top box recorders are not being sold in the U.S. due to fears of piracy. However, personal computers with Blu-ray recorder drives are available.

About Blu-Ray in detail: Blu-ray Disc (BD) is an optical disc storage medium designed to supersede the DVD format. The plastic disc is 120 mm in diameter and 1.2 mm thick, the same size as DVDs and CDs. The name Blu-ray Disc refers to the blue laser used to read the disc.

Conventional Blu-ray Discs contain 25 GB per layer, with dual layer discs (50 GB) being the industry standard, the major application of Blu-ray Discs is for video such as feature films.

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