Panasonic Unveils Blu-ray Recorder

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Matsushita Electric Industrial will launch a Blu-ray Disc recorder compatible with new dual-layer discs and existing recordable DVD formats at the end of July, the company says.

The Panasonic DMR-E700BD can record 4.5 hours of digital satellite high-definition television when used with 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray Disc Rewritable format discs, says Etsuji Shuda, director of Panasonic's AVC Networks home AV business unit, at a Tokyo news conference.

This extends to 6 hours for digital terrestrial HDTV and 9 hours for standard definition digital satellite TV. Analog television can be recorded for between 10.5 hours and 63 hours depending on the quality mode selected.

Single-layer Blu-ray Disc Rewritable discs with a capacity of 25GB are also supported and offer half the recording time, while DVD-RAM and DVD-R discs can be used to record analog television. Panasonic plans to launch both single-layer and dual-layer Blu-ray discs to coincide with the recorder's launch on July 31.

High Definition DVDs

Blu-ray Disc is one of two formats emerging as a potential replacement for DVD-Video. Consumer electronics companies are looking at new formats because DVD's recording capacity, which is generally either 4.7GB or 9.4GB, is only enough to store around one hour of HDTV. The other format is called HD-DVD and has yet to be commercialized.

Both formats rely on blue lasers to enable the storage of more data on a disc the same diameter as a CD or DVD. Because blue light has a shorter wavelength than the red light used in DVDs, the spot the laser makes on the recording surface is smaller. This means each bit of data needs less space and so more can be crammed onto a disc.

The new recorder will cost around $2780, the 50GB LM-BRM50 disc will cost around $69 and the 25GB LM-BRM25 disc will cost around $32, Matsushita says.

Despite the high cost of the player, Matsushita is hopeful it will find customers thanks to Japan's summer bonus season and the upcoming Olympic Games. Previously such major sporting events have provided a driver for large-screen televisions and video technology and the same is hoped for this year as Japanese public television NHK (Japan Broadcasting) is planning to air around 250 hours of high-definition television coverage from Athens.

"There is a 6-hour time difference between Japan and Greece," says Shuda. "Most live broadcasts will be in the night so people will enjoy the Olympics by recording them."

The vast majority of recorders are not capable of high-definition recording so most owners of HDTV compatible televisions will not be able to enjoy the images at full resolution. Matsushita's Blu-ray recorder is aimed at this audience because it is able to record in high definition.

Product Plans

In launching the player, Matsushita becomes the second company to commercialize a Blu-ray Disc recorder. Sony, one of the main drivers of the format, launched a recorder in April last year. The BDZ-S77 went on sale for slightly more than $4000 and currently costs around $3000. Sony has not announced any sales figures for the machine.

The discs used by Matsushita in its new machine are different to those used by Sony. The Sony recorder uses single-layer discs with a 23GB capacity encased in a cartridge, while Matsushita's discs, in addition to being a different capacity, are in an open cartridge that the company says will become the standard for Blu-ray Disc.

As a result of the differences there are some compatibility issues. While the Sony 23GB discs can be played back and used for recording in the Matsushita machine, using Matsushita discs with the Sony recorder presents some problems.

Sony says its machine is incompatible with the new Matsushita discs. A Matsushita spokesperson says playback of the 25GB discs in the Sony machine is possible although it takes about 90 seconds to recognize the disc. The 50GB discs cannot be used.

Matsushita says it has no plans to launch the DMR-E700BD outside of Japan. Plans for overseas versions will depend on the development of the HDTV market in the respective countries, says Shuda.

Other companies are also planning recorders and have shown prototype models. At the CES show in Las Vegas in January South Korea's LG Electronics said it plans to launch a Blu-ray recorder with built-in hard drive in the U.S. market later this year.

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