Sony Announces Dual-Wavelength Laser

Last month, at HI-FI '99 in Chicago, Telarc's Bob Woods dismissed fears of a format war between the Super Audio Compact Disc---a format developed and promoted by Sony/Philips---and DVD-Audio. "Someone will make a universal player," he promised.

He must have been plugged into gossip from Sony's R&D department, because that's just where the Japanese giant is headed. On Tuesday, June 8, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., the division of Sony Corporation responsible for the popular PlayStation game machine, announced that it had developed a laser capable of reading both CDs and DVDs. The laser can switch between the longer wavelength needed to read the pits and lands on CDs, and the shorter wavelength needed to read the smaller pits and lands on DVDs.

The breakthrough is another indication that the electronics industry is headed toward convergence in a big way---and at a price most consumers will find very comfortable. Current DVD players can play both types of discs, but they use a separate laser for each medium. Sony's not-yet-on-the-market, backward-compatible SACD player uses a dual-laser assembly to play Super Audio CDs, which include a standard CD layer and a high-density layer, which requires a short-wavelength laser.

Whether single- or dual-format, laser subassemblies are among the most expensive and delicate components of any optical disc player. A dual-wavelength laser could reduce production costs and retail prices on a new generation of players and increase the players' reliability. Sony claims the new device is also suitable for DVD-ROM drives. An updated PlayStation with the dual-wavelength laser will be out this holiday season.