BDXL Takes Blu-ray To 100+GB Territory, Backwards Compatibility Is Out

When it comes to storage and media, "big enough" never really is. With the amount of 1TB and 2TB hard drives on the market today, it's easy to see that the demand for massive amounts of storage isn't fading soon, and even on the optical media side, there's an unyielding desire to cram more and more data onto the discs that we've used for years. Remember the early HD DVD vs. Blu-ray wars? One of the major fighting points was storage capacity, and Blu-ray had a huge advantage by being able to store 50GB on a dual-layer disc compared to HD DVD's maximum of 30GB.

But just a few years after release, it looks like the Blu-ray Disc you know and love will be seeing an overhaul, and it won't make existing BD adopters very happy. The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) today announced two new media specifications that use Blu-ray Disc technology, and both of them are far larger than today's maximum. The new formats are called BDXL (High Capacity Recordable and Rewritable discs) and IH-BD (Intra-Hybrid discs), both of which are expected to be fully ready "within the next few months."

The BDXL specification, which is targeted primarily at commercial segments such as broadcasting, medical and document imaging enterprises with significant archiving needs, will provide customers with write-once options on 100GB and 128GB capacity discs and rewritable capability on 100GB discs. The discs are able to hold that much space due to added layers, but that will cause serious problems for existing Blu-ray players. Bottom line: current players won't be able to read or utilize these new discs, so there's a broken backwards compatibility link that will no doubt cause lots of debate from those who invested in Blu-ray just a short while ago. A consumer version of BDXL is also expected, particularly in those regions where BD recorders have achieved broad consumer acceptance. If movies begin to ship on both BD and BDXL, we could see digital distribution really taking off; who wants to deal with all of these physical format wars?

The Intra-Hybrid Blu-ray Disc (IH-BD) incorporates a single BD-ROM layer and a single BD-RE layer so as to enable the user to view, but not overwrite, critical published data while providing the flexibility to include relevant personal data on the same physical disc. This allows for consumer specific applications where combining published content with related user data on a convenient, single volume is desirable. Both the ROM and the RE layers on IH-BD discs provide 25GB of capacity. Here's the BDA's take on backwards compatibility:

"Because both BDXL and IH-BD are specially designed formats with specific market segments in mind, newly-designed hardware is required to play back or record BDXL or IH-BD media. However, because the new media specifications are extensions of current Blu-ray Disc technology, future BDXL and IH-BD devices can be designed to support existing 25GB and 50GB Blu-ray Discs."

We'll see how well this goes over with consumers. Something tells us "not well."