China pushes its own blue-laser optical discs

Labels including Warner Bros. will sell films in the format, a competitor of Blu-ray Disc.

Chinese manufacturers hope to sell hundreds of thousands of optical disc players for a locally developed next-generation disc format this year, a spokesman for an industry group promoting the format said Friday.

At least 100 movies from labels including Warner Bros. will be available by the end of the year in the China Blue High-Definition (CBHD) format, a competitor to Blu-ray Disc, said Lu Da, vice director of the Optical Memory National Engineering Research Center at Tsinghua University.

CBHD players cost 2,000 yuan (US$293), about half as much as a Sony Blu-ray Disc player in China. Sales of players and films started this week in 10 major Chinese cities, said Lu, whose center helped design the format.

Like Blu-ray Disc, CBHD uses a blue laser. Its light has a shorter wavelength than that of the red lasers used to read DVDs, enabling it to detect smaller and more tightly packed tracks holding the information on the disc. The extra capacity of discs designed to be read by blue lasers allows them to store high-definition films a DVD could not.

But unlike Blu-ray Disc, CBHD has a physical disc structure similar to that of a DVD. CBHD and DVD discs are made of two layers 0.6 millimeters thick, stacked to form a disc 1.2 mm thick. A Blu-ray Disc has the same total thickness but consists of a 1.1 mm disc beneath a protective layer 0.1 mm thick.

That structure could give CBHD an advantage over Blu-ray Disc since DVD makers could easily upgrade their equipment to produce discs in the Chinese format, Lu said.

But neither format is likely to take off soon in China, where the HDTVs needed to display high-definition content are rare.

About 10 million HD-ready flat screen TVs were sold in China last year, but the number of people actually watching high-definition content was probably below 100,000, said Michael Qiang Zhang, an analyst at In-Stat.

The handful of HDTV stations in China are also too expensive for most viewers, Zhang said.

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Owen Fletcher

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