High-Def Discs and Tapes

Okay, I know I shouldn't gloat. But I told you so. In a keynote speech at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual convention a year ago, I warned that if the broadcast and cable industries didn't get their act together when it came to putting high-definition signals out there in a big way, high-def programming would be provided by other means. If a packaged HDTV medium became available, I predicted, its breathtaking, commercial-free imagery would persuade people to watch less broadcast and cable TV, something those viewer-strapped media could ill afford. That new medium has arrived.

But it wasn't announced at January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). There the focus - literally and figuratively - was on blue-light lasers, which can be focused onto a far smaller spot than a normal DVD player's red laser, thereby making high-data-density HDTV recorder/players possible. At CES, some companies exhibited operating prototypes of such machines, while others showed only some crucial internal parts. Panasonic showed just its blue laser. It didn't look like much on the outside, but it turned out to be the most interesting device of all.

I always love it when a new consumer-electronics device is based on a fundamental physical process - that's what "technology" is all about. The last time this occurred with a recording system was when the faint magneto-optical Kerr effect - in which the polarization of a light beam is very slightly altered by reflection from a magnetized surface - was exploited with enormous success by the MiniDisc format. Panasonic's new blue laser exploits another nonlinear optical effect, second-harmonic generation (SHG).