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With the cinema industry developing at a tremendous pace in the last years, it is no wonder there’s so much talk about the battle of optical disc formats which even concerns people outside the computer world. The CD once seemed so capacious and unrivalled, but it eventually passed the baton to DVD format with all of its pluses and minuses (in the abbreviations, I mean). And now even DVDs aren’t satisfactory. A full-size movie in High Definition video format cannot fit even on a dual-layer DVD that offers 8.5GB of storage.

The development of new optical media and drives began back in 2002 when a group of major companies (Hitachi, LG Electronics, Matsushita – Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Thomson Multimedia, and a lot of others), which later formed the Blu-ray Disc Association, introduced their revolutionary format of new-generation discs called Blu-ray Disc.

What’s the difference between Blu-ray and the traditional CD and DVD formats? First, it employs a laser, which is in fact blue-violet rather than exactly blue, with a wavelength of 405nm whereas CD and DVD formats use red lasers with wavelengths of 780nm and 650nm, respectively. Blu-ray makes use of different data reading and processing algorithms than those employed in the DVD, and they provide for a high flexibility of the physical structure of the medium. A pit can be 138, 149 or 160nm deep, so the resulting capacity of a single-layer recordable disc is up to 27 gigabytes. Dual-layer discs with a capacity of 50GB have been released, too, and this is not the limit since Blu-ray disc manufactures are willing to introduce multi-layer media with capacities up to 200GB. That’s impressive indeed, isn’t it? Blu-ray comes in three flavors: BD-ROM (read-only media for distribution of movies, games and other data), BD-R (recordable media) and BD-RE (rewritable).

Who’s interested in promoting this new format in the optical media market? Movie companies are in the first place because Blu-Ray discs have downright paranoid copy protection options. The CSS protection implemented in DVD was cracked and gave way to piracy, but it’s all different with Blu-ray. The new format uses 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption with a change of the key after each 6KB of data. As a result, deciphering one key gives you access to only 6KB of data. To get access to all the content on a disc, you’ll need to be cracking it all your life and more, at least with the current level of technology.

The downside of the Blu-ray disc is that its protective layer is only 0.1mm thick. This reduces the distortion of the laser ray and lowers the access time, but there is a higher risk of scratches, dust and other surface damage. For that reason manufacturers of blank BDs would put them into special cartridges at first, but then alternative protective coatings were developed that wouldn’t mind your fingerprints on the disc surface.

Why am I talking about Blu-ray at all, you may be wondering? Just because we’ve got the world’s first notebook equipped with a drive that supports such discs. It is the VAIO VGN-AR series from Sony and, quite expectably from that manufacturer, it is full of other surprises as well.

In the following sections I will give you an all-around description of the VAIO VGN-AR series notebook – VGN-AR11SR - and will test it in comparison with the ASUS W2Jc which has recently been tested in our labs and has a hardware configuration similar to the Sony (for details see our review called ASUS W2Jc Notebook: Mobile Digital Home Solution).

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