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News in Brief

IN the first two years following their introduction in the US market, high-definition DVD players are selling at the same rate as standard DVD players did over the same period, but high-def software sales are lagging behind by about 50%, Adams Media Research says in a new report. Introduced in 2006, high-def discs moved 8.3 million units up to the end of last year compared to 16.3 million standard units in the equivalent period up to the end of 1998, according to the analyst.

SHARP will start mass production of new blue-violet laser diodes on April, which will be powerful enough to burn dual layer Blu-ray Discs at the 6x speed. There will be two variations of the new diode: the GH04P25A4G features a proprietary facet structure and its compact dimensions (3.3mm diameter) make it suitable for use in notebook BD drives. The other model (GH04P25A2G) features a diameter of 5.6mm and can be installed in desktop BD drives. The supported power output of 240 mW makes possible high-speed 6X recording on dual-layer Blu-ray Discs (BD). The diodes are priced at ¥50,000.

TAIYO Yuden, Mitsubishi and Maxell have all announced new Blu-ray discs that use an organic dye for recording, according to three Japanese news sources. The discs announced are all 25GB BD-R single layer, with 1x to 2x write speed. The advantages of using organic dye include a simpler manufacturing process and the ability to replicate using existing CD and DVD coating facilities, thus doing away with high cost of building new production lines specifically for Blu-ray disc. Instead, existing CD-R and DVD-R coating facilities just need minor adjustments, thus making it possible to mass produce Blu-ray discs at low cost.

VINPOWER Digital Announces the World's First 6X Speed Blu-Ray Manual Tower Standalone Duplicator
Vinpower Digital announced the latest innovation in the Blu-ray duplication market with the world’s first 6X speed manual tower standalone duplicator as part of the SharkBlu series. Using the LG model #GGWH20L 6X Blu-ray writer drive(s) combined with the exceptional performance of the SharkBlu duplicator series provides reliable high quality copies of Blu-ray master disc(s) with a faster turnaround time.

ACER will "push" Blu-ray notebooks this year. Acer, who was signed up to both next-generation formats, has predicted that the sales boost of Blu-ray drives will first be seen in notebooks rather than standalone players. Scott Lin, president of Acer, has revealed the company is planning to launch BD-capable notebooks in the second quarter of this year. The reasoning behind the notebook push is since most homes do not yet have Full HD (1080p) ready TVs, a notebook with a Blu-ray disc drive and full HD panel will have more advantages over a stand-alone player, said Lin. One of the two new notebooks will apparently boast an 18.4-inch screen and the other will be a 16-inch offering, both will support HD quality images.

GIGASTORAGE, a second-tier Taiwan-based maker of blank optical discs, has been fully utilizing its production capacity for DVD+R/-R discs during the first quarter of 2008, according to industry sources in Taiwan. Optodisc Technology, another second-tier maker, on the other hand, is set for a corporate restructuring to deal with tough times. Gigastorage has been successful in tapping emerging markets in Southeast Asia and Latin America, with orders received already booking up production capacity for blank DVD+R/-R discs at its plants in Taiwan and Thailand for the first quarter. In contrast, Optodisc has obtained a court approval for its application for corporate restructuring. Optodisc used to be among the global top-five makers of DVD+R/-R discs, according to industry sources.

DESPITE the fact that the HD DVD standard exits the market, there are several hundred movies available on such discs, many of them are exclusive to HD DVD. As of mid-February, over 380 HD DVD titles have been released in the USA, over 210 Japanese HD DVD titles have been released and there are hundreds of HD DVD titles available in Europe with tens more incoming. HD DVD fans have at least one more high profile release to look forward to, as German distributor Kinowelt is prepared to release Terminator 2: Ultimate HD-Edition on 20 March. Produced by HDi (and Blu-ray) pioneers Imagion AG this release includes the director's cut of the film, with DTS-HD 7.1 audio and more than four hours of bonus material in a high quality SteelBook case. This is expected to be the triumphant example of HD DVD's advanced features and capabilities.

THE United Kingdom is the video-on-demand leader in Europe with revenue of $677 million forecast for 2012 as the VOD business moves to top $10 billion in that year. A new report by Informa Telecoms & Media says that 909 million homes – about 78% of the globe's TV households – will be able to access VOD or something similar by 2012. VOD is on the minds of the US studios and television stations around the world with VOD windows being built into contracts as a means of combating illegal downloads. Informa says that North America will take about half of the VOD revenue by 2012 because while the Asia Pacific market will have 50% of VOD homes by then it will account for less than 12% of revenue.

BROADCOM has acquired Sunext Design Incorporated, the US arm of Taiwanese company Sunext Technology which specialises in the manufacture of chips and architecture for optical drives, for $48 million. Sunext's single chip front-end technology will complement Broadcom’s already strong back-end offering, and the company is expected to begin marketing a total Blu-ray chipset solution at a price which should ultimately bring down the total cost of players. Currently, Broadcom chips are employed in the majority of Samsung's Blu-Ray players, as well as in LG and Philips players. Philips also has had dealings with Sunext for optical drive semiconductors. It will be one of the first companies likely to see the benefit of this acquisition.

MULTIMEDIA Intelligence research outfit predicts that Blu-ray DVD players and recorders will represent the largest segment of Internet Protocol (IP) enabled consumer electronics. The connected DVD equipment segment will reach nearly 50 million units by 2012. These BD device volumes are in addition to Sony’s BD-enabled PS3 videogame consoles. Adoption of IP interfaces is progressing across a variety of consumer electronics devices, including video game consoles, TVs, DVD equipment, audio equipment, as well as cable, telco, and satellite set-top boxes. Total annual shipments of IP-enabled consumer electronics devices reached 64 million units in 2007. Currently video game consoles represent the largest segment. However, next generation Blu-Ray DVD equipment is already integrating Internet connectivity to enhance interactivity and online applications.

SAMSUNG will halt its plans to release the combination HD DVD/Blu-ray player, the BD-UP5500, introduced in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. Samsung issued a statement last week saying that though the product "remains a practical solution...the window of opportunity is smaller than it was before. In light of recent announcements, Samsung will not introduce the BD-UP5500 Duo HD Player."

WHILE insisting that flat panel displays remain central to its business, Pioneer’s decision to stop making its own screens has been attributed to the financial burden of competing with some of its competitors' huge production plants. “We have judged that maintaining the cost competitiveness of plasma display panels at projected sales volumes will be difficult going forward. Accordingly, we have decided to terminate in-house plasma display panel production, procuring them outside. Ithe company will switch focus to in-car electronics and Blu-ray players.

POLICE in Manitoba, Canada, have shut down what they call a sophisticated CD and DVD pirating operation that has long been a thorn in the side of the Canadian music industry. One man was arrested after the raid at the Winnipeg production shop for, which the RCMP allege ships thousands of illegal discs around the world every month. Officers hauled away more than 200,000 CDs and DVDs along with other equipment, including disc burners that could, according to police estimates, produce 11,500 discs a day. A 31-year-old man from Winnipeg has been charged, and police are investigating three others.

MICROSOFT Xbox 360 may soon be equipped with an internal Blu-ray drive, according to Sony Electronics President and COO Stan Glasgow. The revelation comes just two weeks after Microsoft stopped manufacturing its Xbox 360 HD-DVD player add-on and began offering deep discounts on the HD-DVD peripheral. Talking with the Financial Times, Glasgow said his company is talking with both Microsoft and Apple to add Blu-ray drives to their hardware. Such a move would earn Sony royalties on every Xbox 360 sold, a first for the game industry. But not so fast, says Microsoft.

AS put it “the dead [HD DVD] format has managed to rise from the grave and muster enough energy to raise a pair of rotting fingers to Blu-ray.” Nielsen VideoScan’s results for the week of 24 February showed that the HD DVD release of American Gangster was the number one selling high-definition release. The other titles in the top ten were Blu-ray.

DREAMWORKS has announced that they will not release any more HD DVD titles. That announcement was long in coming, as the company had previously said it was Toshiba's call to stop releasing titles and they were standing by their agreement. This announcement does not mean, however, that they are going to immediately start releasing Blu-ray titles. Industry sources report they will not be releasing any titles until the summer.

NET profit of Bertelsmann, the fifth largest media group in the world and parent of Arvato, fell to $640 million from $1.56 billion. It is the results of a write-down of $654 million on Direct Group, which is having problems with book, record and DVD clubs in the United States. Bertelsmann finance director Thomas Rabe said the unit's future was under consideration. CD sales would be terminated and the rest of Direct Group North America would be sold, a process due to begin "in the coming weeks." For 2008, Bertelsmann, a private company held by the family of its founder, forecast net profit of at least double the 2007 level and sales growth of between one and two percent, Rabe said.

SONY DADC has announced plans to invest more than $100 million in its Terre Haute, Indiana plant. The facility is used for Blu-ray disc production, and Sony is budgeting for at least 65 more workers, $101 million in new equipment and $7.4 million in property improvements. The plant is mostly staffed by hourly workers, but Sony plans on 15 of those 65 positions to be salaried.

AARON Greenberg, group product manager for Xbox 360, squashed rumors that Microsoft is in talks with Sony, and plan to integrate Blu-ray into the console. Microsoft stopped with making an HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360, but now focuses on the console's online service. Xbox Live allows users to rent hundreds of movies, including ones in high-definition. "We're the only console offering digital distribution of entertainment content," Greenberg said.

CUBA’s new president, Raul Castro has shown he is moving to improve Cubans' access to consumer goods by allowing the unrestricted sale of computers and DVD players according to a report from Reuters. Only foreigners and companies can buy computers in Cuba at present, while DVD players were seized at the airport until last year, when customs rules were eased. Now Cubans will be able to buy them freely, paying for them in hard currency. "Based on the improved availability of electricity, the government at the highest level has approved the sale of some equipment which was prohibited," the report said.

RELEASE of The Hitman BD title from Fox includes a standard edition Digital Copy and will be available day and date, making it the first such BD title. "Digital Copy was an obvious choice for Fox given the increased consumer interest in portable media over the past couple of years,"says Sven Davison, vice president, worldwide product development and production, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

BECOMING the first major studio to issue an extensive next-gen price cut, Fox has announced it is discounting 22 of its top Blu-ray catalog releases. Effective immediately, the studio will reduce the list price of 22 Blu-ray titles by $10, from $39.98 to $29.98. Fox is reported to say the price reduction does not represent an across-the-board change in the studio's standard Blu-ray MSRP of $39.98.

INTEREST from consumers in next-generation packaged media format Blu-ray rose slightly last month following the end of the format war with rival HD DVD, according to a study by The NPD Group. Interest among standard DVD consumers likely to buy HD packaged media increased to 10.8% for the week that ended 20 February, compared to 9.4% for the previous week and 8.9% for the week of 6 February. HD DVD interest, not surprisingly, dropped to 8.8%, from 10.6% (13 February) the week before and 10.9% the prior week. HD DVD continues to generate sales, with select consumer electronics retailers selling the Toshiba HD-A30 player for $129.