Singulus Technologies will begin selling machines for mass producing read-only Blu-ray Discs next year.

German firm, Singulus, will supply machines that make the discs, called BD-ROMs, by the end of 2005, according to a spokesman from Sony, one of the disc format's backers.

Read-only discs are used for prerecorded content, such as movies, and the Singulus equipment will enable disc makers to produce 25GB and 50GB discs. That's enough space for a high-definition version of a movie.

Mass market move

Sony sees the move as a major step toward enabling mass production of BD-ROMs, said spokesman Taro Takamine. Mass production of BD-ROMs requires the use of a template-like master disc and equipment to mass produce the copies. Sony has its own BD-ROM mastering technology, and Singulus will make the copying equipment and sell it to optical disc makers, Takamine said.

Higher-capacity technology is needed to replace DVDs for the storage of high-definition video. The ability to mass produce the Blu-ray Discs is important to promote the format in this market, where the main competitor is likely to be the HD-DVD (High Definition/High Density-DVD) format.

The Blu-ray Disc format is backed by a group of companies including Dell, Panasonic, Philips and Samsung. The competing HD-DVD format is backed by NEC, Toshiba, Sanyo and optical disc maker Memory-Tech.

Cost is critical

Costs of discs and players are cited by protagonists as one of two critical issues that will decide whether Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD will win the unfolding standards battle.

The announcement by Singulus will help disc makers produce BD-ROMs at nearly the same cost as DVDs, said Takamine.

Memory-Tech makes similar claims for the cost of producing HD-DVDs.

The company is already capable of mass producing HD-DVDs and is completing its sixth HD-DVD production line, said Masato Otsuka, general manager of Memory-Tech's engineering department. Each of these lines will be able to produce about 700,000 HD-DVD discs per month. Mass production should start next year, he said.

The cost claims by either camp can't be verified until after actual mass production of both formats begins, said Yasusuke Suzuki, a research manager for storage at IDC Japan.

"Right now, it seems that Blu-ray is more difficult to produce. I think that HD-DVD has the lead (on cost)," he said.

Another important issue is the availability of content, particularly from major Hollywood studios.

On Monday, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema and HBO said they will release titles on the HD-DVD format. So far, only Sony Pictures has backed Blu-ray.