Sony's not one to rest on its laurels. Blu-ray has been on the market for a couple of years, and although it's in this stagnant economy it needs to get us all on to the next consumer electronics device. So, today the Japanese giant has announced exclusively to CNET UK its new format -- microBD.
The discs are very similar in structure to Blu-ray discs, but they are the same size as the company's UMD gaming format. Like both Blu-ray and UMD, the microBD discs are multi-layered. The new format also uses the same ISO structure as Blu-ray, which should simplify the mastering process for microBD movies.
microBD discs are read by a 375nm laser, which is slightly shorter in wavelength than the 405nm laser in Blu-ray players. This new laser assembly means that quite substantial amounts of data can be written to a disc that's considerably smaller than a Blu-ray. In fact, although the discs are less than half the physical size of Blu-ray media, they can hold up to 75GB of data on two layers. A theoretically possible, but untested, third layer could take capacity to 100GB.
It's not clear yet if the discs will be caddied, as they are in UMD. Either way, the new discs won't be compatible with Blu-ray players. It is thought, however, that microBD players will be able to accept both formats somehow -- adding to the credibility that these discs won't come in a caddy, and will be similar to 6-inch DVDs.
During our brief chat with the Sony spokesman it emerged that the company would be deploying this new format in the next-generation PSP. Speaking to us more informally at the end of our interview, our source, who we won't name, claimed that the next-generation portable console was a direct response to Nintendo's DSi. "The addition of HD movies to the PSP could really help us shift the kind of numbers Nintendo somehow manages, and perhaps even generate one of those massive stock shortages that helps push up demand even more," he said. We also managed to find out that the new PSP will come with mini HDMI out, for connection to a high-definition TV.
There is one problem with the new Sony format: it was developed mainly out of the company's computer division, SCE, which suits its use in the PSP2 -- and eventually the PlayStation 4. It's likely to cause some problems with the consumer electronics and home entertainment divisions, however, who are keen to stick with Blu-ray discs for a few more years.
When we asked Sony how the two formats would co-exist, a spokesman told us that they expected Blu-ray and microBD to fight it out, and whichever format proved most popular with consumers would be the one the company would back long-term. And you thought format wars were over?