TDK develops tougher DVDs

DVD-Rs coated with TDK’s polymer, billed as armor plated with UV protection, currently cost $5.99 each.

TDK has developed a tough new coating that promises to make scratched DVDs a thing of the past, and will usher in an emerging data storage format with 10 times the capacity of the current standard.

In a test conducted by CNET, a DVD treated with TDK’s coating survived a determined attack with a screwdriver and a Sharpie permanent marker with no effect on playability — a remarkable feat, noted the report, considering how easily standard DVDs can be damaged by children.

Earlier this year, TDK began selling blank recordable DVDs treated with its patent pending polymer. The coating has also been endorsed by the industry group behind the next-generation DVD format known as Blu-ray Disc, which has faced significant concerns over its susceptibility to scratches. Recently, Hewlett-Packard said it would include Blu-ray drives in its PCs starting in late 2005, thanks in part to improvements made possible by TDK’s technology. PC giant Dell is also supporting Blu-ray.

DVD-Rs coated with TDK’s polymer, billed as armor plated with UV protection, currently cost $5.99 each. That’s significantly more than the average $1 price for most standard DVD-Rs. But prices could fall quickly once manufacturing volumes ramp up. Less than three years ago, uncoated DVD-R discs sold for around $6 each.

TDK’s coating could become crucial for the long-term competitiveness of Blu-ray, which can hold up 50GB of data on a dual-layer disc compared with the common 4.7GB DVDs. The format is facing off against rival technology known as HD-DVD, which stores less data — 30GB on a dual-layer disc — but is no more damage prone than ordinary DVDs.

Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD use blue lasers instead of the red lasers used in current DVD technology. Because blue lasers use a shorter light wavelength than red lasers, they can read data that is packed together more closely, boosting storage capacity.

While HD-DVD places the data layer at the same depth as current DVDs, Blu-ray places the data layer much closer to the surface. This allows the discs to hold more data than HD DVDs. But it also renders them more vulnerable to damage, so much so that the Blu-ray industry group stowed its rewritable discs in a protective cartridge, much like a cassette tape.

Blu-ray partners like the storage advantage that it has over HD-DVD as well as the futuristic interactive features proposed for the Blu-ray specification. But the use of cartridges would be a deal breaker for some potential partners.

According to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in September, the TDK process essentially spin-coats two layers onto discs. One is for protection against scratches, and the other protects against stains and oils.

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