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HD VMD production line up and running

New Medium Enterprises, developer of the high-definition versatile multilayer disc (HD VMD), the red laser-based hi-def disc format alternative to blue-laser HD DVD and Blu-ray, demonstrated the first commercial multilayer HD VMD replication line at the VDL-ODMS plant at Eindhoven last week.

This “Global HD VMD Day” gave NME the opportunity to show the entire production chain in operation. “My work is done,” said Dr Eugene Levich, Chief Technology Officer and the father of the HD VMD format, with dozens of patents to his name. “Commercial production is now a reality.”

The technology breakthrough for the multilayer disc was made possible through NME’s own patented ‘2p’ process method of bonding disc layers with a resulting high yield. “This process is colour-blind, applicable to HD DVD and Blu-ray, notes Levich. DVD Intelligence understands that Toshiba has already contacted NME.

The HD VMD disc conforms to the DVD specs. The 4-layer disc – the current commercial product being promoted – is akin to a single-sided DVD-18, offering a capacity of over 20GB. NME has already successfully tested a 20-layer disc. The discs pressed at Eindhoven for the demonstration were 3-layer discs (15GB) which so far accommodate all the HD VMD titles already available.

Schematically put, the replication line for the hi-def format is made up of two DVD-9 lines joined by a sort of bridge where multilayed bonding is executed. So, can existing DVD lines be upgraded for HD VMD, the same way they can be currently upgraded for HD DVD? They can, but the procedure is more complex, thus more expensive, an engineer manning the machine told DVD Intelligence.

Altogether, the cost of making existing DVD lines HD VMD-ready might fetch around €400,000, more than the €40,000 an HD DVD upgrade costs, but less than a €2-million Blu-ray line. Installing from scratch an HD VMD line is more cost-effective though, and, like an HD DVD-ready line it can be used to replicate DVD discs.

At hand were representatives from NME’s technology partners, such as Netstal, Datarius, AWM, dr.schenk, Plasmon, Planet Optical Disc and Scanavo (that is manufacturing the distinctive HD VMD disc packaging). “It is no small achievement that it took only three months from the assembly of the line in July to the certification awarded in October,” boasts Sanjay Khar, Director and Head of NME Optics.

It was up to Alexander Bolker-Hagerty, Executive VP Business Development, to explain the market road map. Limited access to content has been seen by NME critics as the Achilles Heel of the hi-def format. If the initial batches of titles were rather obscure and deep catalogue material, of late, NME managed to strike deals with various regional distributors of A-titles such as Babel, La Vie en Rose, The Queen, Apocalipto, Lord of War, The Constant Gardner, amongst others.

According to Bolker-Hagerty, the HD VMD format is already reaching the shores of Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, the USA and India. One-billion population India and the Indian diaspora are certainly the prime markets for a next-generation technology considerably less expensive than the blue laser alternatives. In fact, NME has already secured wide-ranging content deals from Indian movies distributors, the world’s most prolific film industry.

The company executive says he is in talks with the major Hollywood studios. “They want to see our first-semester figures before committing to the format,” thus, NME’s “strategic decision” not to enter the Germany and Benelux market first.

In the US, the HD VMD hardware is sold as the “best cost-effective up-converting DVD player,” rather than entering in frontal competition with HD DVD and Blu-ray engaged in a bloody battle. The players are now available on

Now that Toshiba has cut drastically the price of its HD DVD players to the level at which the HD VMD hardware is priced, as the HD DVD format is losing momentum in the wake of Warner’s decision to go Blu-ray only, has NME a Plan B? Reminding that the basic HD DVD player only offers 1080i whereas the HD VMD player provides full 1080p, Bolker-Hagerty says: “We are still proceeding with Plan A.”

Story filed 28.01.08

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