The photograph shows the far-field pattern of the world's first gallium nitride (GaN) nonpolar blue-violet laser diodes. The bright spots illustrate clear lasing modes. Photo courtesy of UCSB Solid State Lighting and Display Center
The highest capacity optical storage devices and DVD recorders all use blue lasers -- and offer only poky write times in the range of 2X to 4X. New high-powered blue lasers could change that in a hurry

Nichia Corp. of Japan has broken the speed record for writing Blu-ray discs.
The company has announced a new blue-violet laser that can fill up a 54GB double-layer disc at more than 10X record speed. Currently-shipping Blu-ray and HD-DVD format disc recorders are mostly of the 2X variety, though a few can boast 4X speed.

The difference from today’s 2X record times to 10X, based on future availability of the high-speed lasers, will be remarkable, according to blue laser expert Steven DenBaars, professor of materials and co-director of the Solid-State Lighting Center at the University of California Santa Barbara. As an example, today’s 2X blue-laser-based DVD recorders require about 50 minutes to write a disc containing a full-length DVD movie, DenBaars said, while a 10X laser could accomplish the task in about 10 minutes.

The key to faster write times lies in the power of the laser, according to DenBaars. Nichia’s new blue-violet semiconductor laser diodes can reportedly operate at 320 mW (milliwatts), while the average consumer grade blue laser devices commercially available today are in the range of 20mW. “Writing speed is totally dictated by the output power,” DenBaars said. “The more power you have, the faster you can spin the disk.” Higher power lasers take less time to burn microscopic areas of the disc, creating the digital ones and zeros that are the building blocks of optical data storage. Faster burn times allow the disc to be rotated at a higher speed. A 2X device can sustain a write speed of only 8.99 Mbps, while a 10X laser disc recorder can achieve a writing velocity of 44.9 Mbps, DenBaars said.

While the new high speed lasers will eventually improve the usability of blue laser storage, making applications such as archival storage on the devices more feasible, DenBaars described the innovation as more “evolutionary” than revolutionary. DenBaars was part of the team of UCSB researchers that recently announced another breakthrough in blue laser technology that could increase power even further.

The UCSB team, led by blue laser inventor and former Nichia Corp. researcher Shuji Nakamura, recently demonstrated the world's first nonpolar blue-violet laser diodes. According to DenBaars, the technology could eventually produce blue laser diodes that operate in the range of 500 mW. However, commercial availability of the nonpolar blue lasers is still two to four years away, he said.

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