Consortium set to begin Blu-ray Disc licensing

Devices based on the Blu-ray Disc format will get a step closer on Monday when the nine companies behind the advanced optical disc technology begin licensing.

License agreements, which will take the form of ten-year renewable contracts, will be available to cover both the format and copy protection system. Player makers will have to pay US$20,000 to license Blu-ray while the content-protection system license will carry a $120,000 annual fee and additional charge of $0.10 per player. Media makers will pay $8,000 annually and $0.02 per disc for the copy protection system, which is licensed from developers Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic), Sony Corp. and Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV.

The beginning of licensing comes almost a year to the day since the nine companies, led by Sony and Philips Electronics, unveiled their solution for a next-generation optical disc-based video recording system.

Compared to CD or DVD systems that are based on red lasers, Blu-ray uses blue lasers that, because of their shorter wavelength, require a much smaller piece of disc space to store each bit of information. Combined with several other technologies, it means a 12-centimeter disc can hold up to 27G bytes compared to DVD's 9.4G-byte maximum capacity.

The technology is being targeted as a consumer format for recording of high-definition digital television and each disc can hold around two hours of such content.

Licensing of the technology follows on from the disclosure of technical specifications and details of the format, which began in June last year when Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV began providing details to potential equipment makers in return for a $5,000 charge.

While the beginning of licensing and the earlier disclosure of technical specifications both represent steps towards commercialization of the system, there are still questions over whether consumers need the system. High-definition television is yet to take off in many countries and even where there is broadcasting it is generally limited to a single or small handful of channels.

The six other companies with a hand in the technology are Hitachi Ltd., LG Electronics Inc., Pioneer Electronics Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Sharp Corp. and Thomson Multimedia SA.

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Martyn Williams.

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