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By Don Labriola  |  Posted 2004-06-25 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Sony BW-RU101 Professional Disc for Data

If you still havent forgiven the DVD industry for subjecting us to its endless format wars, you may want to stop reading now. After years of anticipation, next-generation blue-laser optical recorders are finally poised to begin shipping in this country. But competing industry groups have already announced several incompatible blue-laser formats, and even more are on the way.

This is particularly disturbing, because the technology has so much to offer. The shorter wavelength of blue lasers lets them write data at much greater densities than the red lasers used to record conventional DVDs. A blue-laser disc the size of a DVD can store tens of gigabytes of data in a single recording layer (as opposed to 4.7GB per layer of traditional DVDs).

The first blue-laser DVD technology out of the gate was the consumer Blu-ray format developed by the Blu-ray Disc Association. Blu-ray discs can pack up to 27GB of data onto one piece of single-layer media. Blu-ray discs will initially be used to distribute ultra-sharp High Definition prints of Hollywood movies. Drives are at least a year off in this country, but Sony has already shipped a $2,700 Blu-ray home recorder in Japan, where HD content is far more common. Variations like BD-ROM, BD-RW, and BD-R, as well as dual-layer and double-sided media, are all on the Blu-ray roadmap.

Blu-rays biggest competitor is the DVD Forums tentatively named (and totally incompatible) HD-DVD format. The HD-DVD 1.0 specification, which defines 15GB single-layer and 30GB dual-layer media, was just recently approved, but HD-DVD products probably wont hit the shelves until sometime in 2005. Like Blu-ray, HD-DVD is expected to spawn an entire family of specifications similar to those that define the various types of DVDs.

If all this isnt enough, Sony has developed a pair of non-consumer blue-laser formats based loosely on Blu-ray technology. The companys XDCAM Professional Disc format will be used in products designed for broadcasters and professional A/V studios, and first shipped last winter in a handful of high-end camcorders and editing decks.

Sonys other blue-laser offering is the Professional Disc for Data (ProData for short) format, which makes its debut in several internal and external recorders. We tested the Sony BW-RU101, a USB 2.0 external drive. ProData discs have the same 23GB capacity as Blu-ray and Professional Disc media, but are incompatible with any other type of blue-laser format and are marketed solely for commercial data-storage and archiving chores, such as server backups. Sonys Pro-Data roadmap promises capacities of 100GB per disc.

Single-sided, single-layer ProData discs (which reside in cartridges to protect the media) are now available for about $45—roughly half the cost of 9.1GB magneto-optical media. And at about .2 cents per megabyte, you get the price of tape storage but the random-access and 50-year claimed life of an optical solution. The ProData solutions go head-to-head with M-Os successor, UDO (Ultra Density Optical). Developed by HP, Plasmon, and Sony (which subsequently withdrew to pursue blue-laser DVD technology), UDO, too, uses blue lasers to increase cartridge capacity, in this case from 9.1GB to 30GB. The UDO roadmap (www.udo.com) shows capacities doubling to 60GB per cartridge in 2006 and doubling again to 120GB in 2008.

Our early production test unit of the Pro-Data solution boasted rock-solid construction and remarkably easy USB 2.0 installation. Because the BW-RU101 is intended for commercial applications, the only software bundled with our test unit is a small utility that let us format discs and drag files to and from rewritable media. Sony plans to add a NovaStor system-backup program to the bundle.

Sony claims that the BW-RU101 delivers sustained 11MBps (megabyte per second) read and 9MBps write throughput, which would put it in a class with the best SCSI magneto-optical drives. We restored a 12.5GB collection of 282 files in just under 20 minutes, which equates to sustained throughput of 10.5MBps—right in line with Sonys specs. It took less than five seconds to erase or format a disc.

Sonys blue-laser offering is intriguing. Factor in the drives inexpensive, high-capacity media and the BW-RU101 begins to look like a logical migration path for those who have outgrown tape or magneto-optical technology.

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