High-capacity DVDs based on blue laser technology are still a ways off for consumers, but video professionals may soon get their hands on the new storage technology. Sony expects to release its blue laser rewritable DVD drives in the US in June.

The company demonstrated its drives at the recent National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. Other vendors, including Pioneer, TDK and Hitachi also showed prototypes of drives or media based on blue laser technology.

The drives will use discs that hold 23GB of data, and should cost about $2500 (around £1400) for the internal version and $3000 (£1650)0 for the external version, according to Robert De Moulin, marketing manager for Sony's optical storage group. The internal model has a SCSI-3 interface, and the external version works via SCSI and USB 2.0. Media (both write-once and rewritable varieties) should cost about $45 (£25), De Moulin adds. These drives have been available in Japan since late last year.

Although these drives use blue laser technology, they are based on Sony's own Professional Disc for DATA (Pro Data) format. Consumer high-capacity DVD devices will likely use the Blu-ray format (which hold about 25GB per disc) or the HD-DVD format (about 20GB per disc). Unfortunately, none of these formats interoperate.

Because DVD recordable drives and living room recorders based on today's red laser technology are only now gaining ground, many industry experts believe consumer-level blue laser-based devices won't be in the mainstream until 2006 or 2007. That's when high-definition content, which would require these much more capacious discs, should become truly widespread. The first such devices, however, may appear as early as the end of year, according to Andy Markham, a spokesperson for media manufacturer Verbatim.

Double standard

June will also see the first double-layer write-once DVD drives and media. Sony's internal DRU-700A drive should sell for $230 (£130), while the external 700UL should sell for $330 (£180).

These drives will support the DVD+R format (one of two major write-once DVD formats in the market). The new 8.5GB discs (up from 4.7GB) should be compatible with most of the drives and players already in use, because many commercial movies already come on DVD discs with two layers.

The drives will write double-layer discs at 2.4x, so it should take about 45 minutes to record a full disc, says Sony's De Moulin. While your video or data file may not need the full capacity, the format requires you to burn an entire disc, he says. Software solutions will likely help fill the unused space.

Philips also expects to release its own drives mid-year.

Verbatim will be one of the first companies to offer double-layer discs. Such discs will likely sell for less than $10 (£6), at least initially, according to Verbatim. But media will be in short supply until later in the year.

Although the first double-layer drives on the market will be DVD+R, rival format DVD-R will also have its own double-layer drives. Because the format has not yet been approved by the DVD Forum, the drives may not appear in the market until year's end or the beginning of 2005, according to Andy Parsons, Pioneer Electronics' senior vice president of advanced product development. These drives will likely record double-layer discs in 2x speeds.