For the relatively well-heeled, AR18 is the first product in India, that can allow one to enjoy high definition video
TRUE DYNAMIC EXPERIENCE: A single density Blu-ray disk stores two hours of high definition movie content.
JUST ONE month ago, this column took note of the emerging high definition (HD) options in optical disk media and reported that the world's first portable personal computer with a HD disk system had just been launched (`DVD dichotomy: the end game is here'; IT Trends; The Hindu, June 22).
Today The Hindu is able to share with its readers a first-hand experience with this machine the Sony Vaio AR 18GB notebook computer incorporating the Blu-ray DVD drive which has just become available in the Indian market.
The Blu-ray standard for HD TV and video has been adopted by a number of companies including Panasonic, Sharp, Pioneer, TDK and Hitachi who can all be expected to offer blank media and playing systems based on it. Dell and Apple have announced that their PCs will support Blu-ray. Among the major Hollywood film studios, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney, Twentieth Century-Fox, Warner Brothers and MGM are known to have lined up a considerable catalogue of Blu-ray DVD titles.
Hedging their bets
That is not to say that some of these players might not hedge their bets and also provide recorded or blank media in the rival HD-DVD format; but it is sensible to first size up the adherents of any one camp if one is going to buy a player or a PC that comes with an optical drive for one of the two high definition formats.
The Vaio AR18 has obviously been optimised to exploit its ability to support the HD format: It comes with a 17-inch LCD screen the largest currently available in a laptop computer. It is fuelled by Intel's latest dual core `Duo' chip, which clocks at 2.16 GHz and has two processors working in tandem on a single slab of silicon.
The memory is large for a portable computer 1 gigabyte of SDRAM and the hard disk consists of two drives of 80 GB each, working in a `RAID 0' configuration, that is, Redundant Array of Independent Disks. This is usually used in what is known as `RAID 1' configuration which means the two disks are mirrors of each other and one will pitch in to provide uninterrupted service if the other drive conks out.
But for owners of the AR18, `RAID 0' means some clever software divides the data and delivers it to the two drives, so that they can work in parallel and do the computation that much faster... particularly graphics applications like 2-D and 3-D video editing and rendering, which in a conventional single hard disk system, are the most tedious processes in digital content creation.
Two tiny lasers
The graphics card that comes with the notebook is the very recent GeForce 7600 GT from nVidia, and it is HD compatible.
Opening the DVD drive immediately reveals two tiny lasers: one blue, for the HD application and the other red, as in current CD and DVD drives (so that older disks can also be played). Sony currently offers two types of blank Blu-ray media in India, a write-once type for Rs 1,000 and a rewriteable type for Rs 1,250.
It may sound like a lot of money till you recall that one single density Blu-ray disk can store up to 25 GB of data that is over five times what a 4.7 GB DVD can do today.
It can also store 2 hours of HD movie content, which for the technically minded means a 24 MBPS bit rate and the ability to record sound in a quality equal to Dolby 5.1.
Software tools provided
The machine allows the user to capture HD video, using DV Gate Plus software; edit it using Vaio's own Edit tool or a standard application like Adobe Premiere; burn a HD disk using Ulead's special Disk recorder for Vaio and play back on the notebook screen using Intervideo's WinDVD BD software for Vaio.
All these software tools specially created for a Blu-ray system are provided. One can also use the High Definition Multifunction Interface (HDMI) cable to connect the drive to a High Definition TV set and a 5.1 home theater sound system. Indeed, that might be the way to enjoy the true richness of HD video. But even on the native 17-inch screen of the notebook, random playback from the demo Blu-ray disks provided by Sony make for an awesome experience. The screen has a resolution of 1920 by 1200,which is better than the 1920 by 1080 pixels mandated by the HD TV standard.
A simple calculation will show that standard HD uses over 2 million pixels compared with the less than half a million that come with the PAL TV standard that India follows (768 by 576).
This is why the HD picture is so much sharper and more colourful. HD products often carry a logo that says `Full HD: 1080.' This only means the screen has at least 1080 scanning lines.
The Vaio AR 18GP costs just under Rs 2 lakhs in India. Sony's national Product Manager in India for Vaio and IT products, Kent Tanigaki, who enabled me to try out the product extensively, concedes that at this kind of price, the company is not looking to sell thousands of pieces but it wants to tell Indian customers that they are important; that it will make available here, its top line products simultaneously with its biggest markets.
And who are these Indian customers? At centres like Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore, where top players in the India-based digital cinema and animation industry are based, the AR18 is already being seen as a handy device to carry one's HD creations and showing to potential clients.
Expected global hunger
And for the relatively well heeled, this is the first product in India, that can allow one to enjoy the true dynamic experience of HD video.
Already this year, Indian filmmakers have begun using HD cameras to create cinema that can cater to the expected global hunger for products exploiting the new viewing standard.
The first HD-enabled machine in the Vaio range is `a thing of beauty' alright. Whether it remains `a joy forever' depends on how fast and how affordably, the infotainment products to exploit its capability become available.
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