Double-Layer DVDs: Missing in Action

NEW YORK -- Got discs? If you're talking about the new breed of double-layer DVD discs, chances are the answer is no. But that may be about to change, says disc manufacturer Verbatim, speaking at the DV Expo East show here. The company plans to increase its manufacturing capacity, making more of these elusive, high-capacity (8.5GB) discs available soon.

Drives that can write to the double-layer DVDs are becoming widely available, but the supply of discs remains pretty thin on the ground. And when you can get them, they're expensive: a single DVD-R double-layer disc will cost you around $15, while the more common single-layer media is available for less than $2.

But help is on the way.

"We are definitely increasing our [manufacturing] capacity, and the aim is to try and get multipacks of media into the retailers," says Tim Clatterbuck, product manager for DVD media at Verbatim. He anticipates that these packs of 3 discs will start appearing in major retailers within a few weeks, priced at around $35--a slight drop in price, but still much more expensive than their single-layer cousins. Previously, the discs had only been available in single packs or in packages with one double-layer disc and multiple single-layer media.

Expensive Discs

In the long term, Clatterbuck sees the price of double-layer discs remaining significantly higher than single-layer ones. "You're always going to be paying a premium over single-layer, but our goal is to get double-layer discs down to less than twice the cost of single-layer. Will we ever get it down to a dollar a disc? I don't know, but I'd guess that's a very long way away."

He also does not expect to see the double-layer media becoming available in bigger packs for some time. While you can buy single-layer media in packs of 20, 50, or even 100 discs on a spindle, that isn't likely to happen with double-layer discs. "The 10- or 20-pack spindles are going to be tough for this year; I'd say they would be out probably early next year," Clatterbuck says.

IDC analyst Wolfgang Schlichting agrees, anticipating that most manufacturers will focus on smaller packages of discs and on trying to keep up with the faster drives as they come out. Virtually all rewritable DVD drives will support writing to double-layer discs at 16X (the fastest writing speed possible for DVD) by 2005, and it's only then that the manufacturers will start to focus on the price of the discs, he anticipates.

Low Yields, High Prices

Part of the reason for the low supply is that double-layer discs are difficult to make, Clatterbuck claims. Each disc has two dye layers that hold the data sandwiched together. The manufacturing process is far more complicated than that of single-layer discs, so the yields (the percentage of usable discs that are produced out of the total) are still low.

"A typical single-layer DVD yield is typically 90 to 92 percent; the double-layer (yield) right now is probably around 50 percent," says Clatterbuck.

In other words, manufacturers end up throwing away around half of the discs they produce because they aren't up to snuff. "And the thing that you are throwing away is more expensive than a single [layer disc] because you have more dye and have had to put more technology into producing it."

4X Media On The Way?

Meanwhile, Pioneer Europe has announced a new drive that can write to double-layer DVD+R media at 4X speed. That's nearly twice as fast as the existing drives. Double-layer 4X DVD+R media is not yet available, although Clatterbuck does not expect it to be any more difficult to make than the existing media.

"It's not a big leap in manufacturing terms to go from 2.4X to 4X," he says.

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