Pioneer gives BD room to grow with 20-layer 500GB disc

Pioneer has announced demonstrations of Blu-Ray discs with 20 layers, capable of storing 500GB of data on a single disc. Commercial players and discs are currently confined to two layers. HangZhou Night Net

The multilayer rush began with video DVDs. Each DVD data layer holds only 4.7GB, making storing a complete movie at high quality impossible. Resolving this had drives reading two layers of data from a disc, the second layer underneath the first, with reading lasers passing through the translucent first layer to reach the second. The technology was expensive, and did not come to consumer drives for a number of years after its wide deployment in commercial movie pressing. Multilayer CDs were never commercially released.

Blu-Ray has had dual-layer availability since its inception, but plans for adding more layers are not clear. HD DVDs with three layers were demoed before that format's demise, but technical problems made manufacturing expensive. Fundamentally, each layer is an optically active interface, and accurately reading data through multiple layers is complicated by increasingly complex echo patterns or light bouncing through the layers. This interference gets worse as the number of layers increases, and provides the main technical barrier to heavier multilayer technology.

Pioneer claims to have made a breakthrough in mitigating these issues. They say that by using alternating layers of two different thicknesses, this "optical crosstalk" can be minimized. This and other, proprietary, technologies allow Pioneer to read accurately from no less than twenty layers of BD data. With BD at 25GB per layer, this means a single disc would hold 500GB of data. This improves on an announcement of 16 layers holding 400GB last month.

The usefulness of such a capacity is not immediately clear. The format's inherent limitations on bitrate and such prevent its use to drive ultra-high-resolution video, and portable computer storage at this level is a niche market. If the discswith very long shelf life can be developed, they might replace tape as backup for someapplications. The biggest potential impact of this technology, though,is to allow the size of Blu-Ray discs to scale massively without fundamentally altering the technology involved. As needs expand, new BD formats can be launched with increased sizes, relying on fundamentally the same technology.

Since Pioneer claims the new demo involves proprietary technology, it is very unlikely current BD players can read 20-layer discs, even with new firmware. New players and drives will have to be distributed, but if the technology pans out, BD can scale to be more and more heavily multilayer for a goodly number of years. Longevity as a technology is desirable, because economies of scale and entrenchment will lower prices and increase quality over time. Giving BD room to expand is a very good thing, and Pioneer seems to be leading the way.

Lenovo S10 Subnotebook: 2133 features at a Cloudbook price?

Lenovo has announced it's launching a new netbook, the Ideapad S10. The S10, in evident homage to the Thinkpad line Lenovo inherited from IBM, will compete with other subnotebooks. It will run Windows XP and launch in September starting at $400. HangZhou Night Net

Hardware-wise, Gizmodo reports, the S10 is fairly standard for its ilk. It runs Intel Atom processors on a 945GSE chipset with GMA950 graphics, and has a 10" 1024×600 LED-backlit screen. Wireless options include WiFi and Bluetooth, but a 3G or WiMAX option is notably lacking. An ExpressCard slot is available to provide it, though. Lenovo claims battery life of three hours with a 3-cell battery or six hours with an expanded 6-cell battery, in league with the X10s subnotebook rivals. Card reader and webcam are standard. The S10 weighs only 2.4 pounds, but will use standard DDR2 and 2.5" hard disks; purchasers will have the choice of 512MB and 80GB for $400 or 1GB and 160GB for $450.

Cosmetically, the S10 has something to offer. Lenovo will offer it in white, black, and red, and the clean lines and choice of colors should be quite appealing. While significantly cheaper than the HP 2133, probably its greatest competitor, the S10 sports very similar hardware. Customers who balk at paying $750 for a fully-specced subnotebook may find $450 a lot more palatable, even if the screen is larger, its resolution smaller, and the keyboard not quite as large. While the 2133's keyboard is 92 percent full-sized, the S10's keyboard is only 85% full-sized, which could make typing difficult for ham-fisted users.

It's difficult to anticipate the S10's level of success in the subnotebook market. Its hardware and aesthetics closely match those of other subnotebooks, with subtle differences, and its low price may serve as a draw given this. However, the large screen, small keyboard, and lack of onboard mobile broadband may serve as deterrents. We've yet to see how much difference will be made by the muscle of a major laptop force like HP or Lenovo, but it's clear a new entrant like ASUS can meet with success. The subnotebook shakedown is upcoming.