Exec Tech : Demystifying Blu-ray

Technology comes loaded with some strange names that are spelt as if new-age parent with mid-life crisis was given the responsibility. There is however, often sensible rationale behind it beyond marketing that gives meaning to the comic-book titles.
Take Blu-ray. The name comes from the underlying technology, which uses blue-violet laser to read and write data, as opposed to the red laser found in DVDs and CDs. The name is combination of ‘blue’ (blue-violet laser) and ‘ray’ (optical ray). According to the Blu-ray Disc Association the spelling is not mistake (good to know) – the character ‘e’ was intentionally left out so the term could be registered as trademark.
Trademarks aside, the name refers to next generation optical disc format jointly developed by the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) – group of the world’s leading consumer electronics, personal computer and media manufacturers (including Apple, Dell, Hitachi, HP, JVC, LG, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, TDK and Thomson).
The success of Blu-ray (backed mainly by Sony) only came about after bloody and protracted format war with another high definition DVD format – HD DVD (backed by Toshiba). The struggle mirrored the 1980s’ bout for domination between Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS, but in this case was brought about by the development of high definition (HD) tele­vision and video.
Sony lost out on Betamax but won with the Blu-ray format, which was developed to enable the recording, rewriting and playback of HD video (HD), as well as storing large amounts of data. In February 2008 Toshiba announced it would “no longer develop, manufacture and market HD DVD players and recorders”, six years after the Blu-ray specification was officially announced in 2002.
Blu-ray works by using shorter wavelength (405nm) than red laser (650nm) or CDs (780nm). This means that more data can be stored in the same amount of space through the smaller ‘spot size’ limiting diffraction. Different analogies have been used to explain how this works, from visualising how torch beam reacts as you move it away from surface; to hyper-curved, zoomed-in pair of spectacles.
The main things to note are that the blue-violet laser is more powerful, the Blu-ray disc thinner, and the data stored closer to the surface of the disc (which is why it needs such hard, protective coating). The result – robust form of media that can store increased amounts of data, including high definition.

What products contain Blu-ray technology?
Sony PlayStation 3

Your teenager’s (or your) Sony PlayStation backed Blu-ray in the format wars, which at the time got gaming writers uptight about the cost when compared to Microsoft’s Xbox and the Nintendo. The entertainment division however, always planned to include this functionality as part of future proofing. More than just gaming device the PS3 houses grunty powerhouse that enables users to game, watch Blu-ray discs and connect to social gaming community called Home. Its processing has been put to good use as part of Stanford University project examining folding proteins. Called Folding@home, users download piece of software that allows them to donate their processing power to the project. In February it became the first ‘supercomputer’ to exceed five native PetaFlops (an extraordinary number).
The new PS3 CECH-2000A was released as this issue went to press, boasting 120GB hard disk drive (HDD) as opposed to the first PS3 model’s 60GB and slimming down by two-thirds in both weight and size.
The new PS3 retails at $629.95 and Sony has announced it will reduce the process price of its current model.

Panasonic Blu-ray disc recorder

With the size and robustness of Blu-ray discs it makes sense to use them to record your CEO interview on Campbell Live (or the rugby) for prosperity. Panasonic’s recently released offering allows you to do this in full HD. Available from September it is the first Blu-ray recorder on the market to integrate twin HD digital tuner. This is important as New Zealand will be switching from an analogue to digital signal when household take-up reaches 75 percent, or by 2012 – whichever occurs first. This means you’ll have to have some sort of set-top box (like Freeview, Sky, this or others) to be able to watch television from that time onwards.
The Panasonic recorder lets you record full HD, with the option to simultaneously record two HD programmes to its 500GB hard drive. The quality of the picture and sound is impressive (with all the tech stats to back it up) and the recorder is compatible with Viera Cast (so you can access YouTube and Picasa through your television).
Estimated retail price is around $1999, although the final figure is still to be confirmed.

Technical jargon/Blu-ray benefits

•Offers more than five times the storage capacity of traditional DVDs.
•Can hold up to 25GB on single-layer disc, 50GB on dual-layer disc, 500GB on 20 layer disc (Pioneer).
•Uses blue-violet laser (shorter wavelength of 405nm) to focus the laser spot with even greater precision.
•Numerical aperture of 0.85.

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