Friday, December 14, 2007

Blu-ray Disc - History

In the mid 1990s, commercial HDTV sets were finally starting to enter a larger market. However, there was no good, cheap way to record or play back HD content. Indeed, there was no media that could store that amount of data, except JVC's Digital VHS and Sony's HD Betacam.[4] However, it was well known that using lasers with shorter wavelengths would enable optical storage with higher density. When Shuji Nakamura invented practical blue laser diodes, it was a sensation, although a lengthy patent lawsuit delayed commercial introduction.[5]


Sony started two projects applying the new diodes: UDO (Ultra Density Optical) and DVR Blue (together with Pioneer), a format of rewritable discs which would eventually become Blu-ray (more specifically, BD-RE).[6] The core technologies of the formats are essentially similar.

The first DVR Blue prototypes were unveiled at the CEATEC exhibition in October 2000.[7] Because the Blu-ray Disc standard places the data recording layer close to the surface of the disc, early discs were susceptible to contamination and scratches and had to be enclosed in plastic cartridges for protection. In February 2002, the project was officially announced as Blu-ray,[8] and the Blu-ray Disc Association was founded by the nine initial members.

The first consumer devices were in stores on April 10, 2001. This device was the Sony BDZ-S77; a BD-RE recorder that was only made available in Japan. The recommended price was US$3800.[9] However, there was no standard for pre-recorded video (BD-ROM) and no movies were released for this player. The Blu-ray standard was still years away, since a new and secure DRM system was needed before Hollywood studios would accept it. Nobody wanted to repeat the failure of the Content Scramble System for DVDs.

Competition from HD DVD

The DVD Forum (which was chaired by Toshiba) was deeply split over whether to go with the more expensive blue lasers or not. In addition, the proposed Blu-ray disc with its protective caddy was both expensive and physically different from DVD, posing several problems.[10] In March 2002, the forum voted to approve a proposal endorsed by Warner Bros. and other motion picture studios that involved compressing HD content onto dual-layer DVD-9 discs.[11][12] However, in spite of this decision, the DVD Forum's Steering Committee announced in April that it was pursuing its own blue-laser high-definition solution.[13] In August, Toshiba and NEC announced their competing standard Advanced Optical Disc.[14] It was finally adopted by the DVD forum and renamed HD DVD the next year,[15] after being voted down twice by Blu-ray Disc Association members, prompting the U.S. Department of Justice to make preliminary investigations into the situation.[16][17] Three new members had to be invited and the voting rules changed before the vote finally passed.[18][19]

In the mean time, Sony spun off Professional Disc for DATA from the Blu-ray project. It was essentially Blu-ray with higher-quality media and components. The devices were too expensive for the consumer mass market. Instead, it was aimed at the professional data storage space market as a replacement for their line of 5.25" MO drives. It was announced in October 2003, with the first devices shipping in December of the same year.[20][21]

Attempts to avoid a format war

The costs of a format war are large, both for consumers and for the industry. In an attempt to avoid starting one, the Blu-ray Disc Association and the DVD Forum attempted to negotiate a compromise in early 2005. One of the issues was that the Blu-ray camp wanted to use a Java-based platform for interactivity (BD-J), while the DVD Forum was promoting Microsoft's "iHD" (which became HDi).[22] A much larger issue, though, was the physical formats of the discs themselves; the Blu-ray member companies did not want to risk losing billions of dollars in royalties as they had done with standard DVD.[23] An agreement seemed close, but negotiations proceeded slowly.[24]

At the end of June 2005, Sun announced that the Blu-ray Association had chosen the Java-based BD-J interactivity layer instead of Microsoft's HDi. This was based on a BDA board vote favouring BD-J 10 to 4, despite a technical committee previously favouring HDi by a vote of 7 to 5.[25] At the same time, Microsoft and Toshiba jointly announced that they would cooperate in developing high-definition DVD players.[26] In a top-level meeting in July, Microsoft's Bill Gates argued that the Blu-ray standard had to change to "work more smoothly with personal computers". The Blu-ray Disc Association's representatives defended the technology.[27]

On August 22, 2005, the Blu-ray Disc Association and DVD Forum announced that the negotiations to unify their standards had failed.[28] Rumours surfaced that an "unnamed partner" had pressured Toshiba to stick with HD DVD—in spite of Blu-ray's strong support among Hollywood studios and some analysts saying that HD DVD's days were numbered—but these rumours were denied by the parties involved; instead, the same reasons of physical format incompatibility were cited.[23][27] At the end of September, Microsoft and Intel jointly announced their support for HD DVD.[29]

Hewlett-Packard (HP) made a last attempt to broker a peace between with Blu-ray Disc Association and Microsoft. The company demanded that the Blu-ray association adopted Microsoft's HDi instead of its own Java solution, and that Blu-ray adopt a mandatory managed copy feature. If the demands weren't met, HP threatened to support HD DVD instead.[30] In a research report, Gartner analysts Van Baker, Laura Behrens and Mike McGuire wrote that if HP's proposal was accepted, Blu-ray would become the winner of the format war.[31] However, the Blu-ray disc group did not accept HP's offer.[32]

Blu-ray Disc format finalized and launched

The Blu-ray physical specifications were finished in 2004.[33] In January 2005, TDK announced that they had developed a hard coating polymer for Blu-ray discs.[34] The cartridges, no longer necessary, were scrapped. The BD-ROM specifications were finalized in early 2006.[35] AACS LA, a consortium founded in 2004,[36] had been developing the DRM platform that could be used to securely distribute movies to consumers. However, the final AACS standard was delayed,[37] and then delayed again when an important member of the Blu-ray group voiced concerns.[38] At the request of Toshiba, an interim standard was published which did not include some features, like managed copy.[39]

The first BD-ROM players were shipped in the middle of June 2006, though HD DVD players beat them in the race to the market by a few months.[40][41]

The first Blu-ray Disc titles were released on June 20, 2006. The earliest releases used MPEG-2 video compression, The same method used on DVDs. The first releases using the newer VC-1 and AVC codecs were introduced in September 2006.[42] The first movies using dual layer discs (50 GB) were introduced in October 2006.[43]

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

HD DVD had a head start in the high definition video market and Blu-ray sales were slow at first. The first Blu-ray player was perceived as expensive and buggy, and there were few titles available.[44] This changed when PlayStation 3 launched, since every PS3 unit also functioned as a Blu-ray player. By February 2007, Blu-ray discs had outsold HD DVDs,[45] and during the first three quarters of 2007, BD discs outsold HD DVDs by about two to one.[46]

Target Technology lawsuit

In May 2007, Target Technology sued Sony, claiming that Blu-ray technology infringed on their patent on reflective-layer materials for optical discs.[47]

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