Friday, January 05, 2007

Blue over Blue

I received an interesting e-mail from someone yesterday who is much smarter than I am.

[I know. It's a big club. You'd need the Rose Bowl for your annual meeting. Har. Remember, I'm not just IN the making-fun-of-me-club, I'm its first member.]

He e-mailed me about gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductor research and some of its offspring. Here's what he had to say (I had to edit in places to preserve anonymity for both him and his source):
GaN research led to blue light emitting diodes. The "high power" version of these are the same blue lasers (laser LEDs basically) that Sony (and everyone else, really) can't make enough of.

...the technique to make these "high power" laser diodes is not really "scalable". In other words, there is no way to mass produce them in the way that memory or CPU chips are made. And the problem isn't in the processing of the diodes, but rather the substrates themselves. So they can't mass produce the material to make the diodes on. As an analogy, imagine if all of the semiconductor technology was developed, but they couldn't make the silicon wafers to fabricate the chips onto! That's the problem the GaN folks are facing. And the yields from the material they have are horrendous (possibly in the single digits).

This is a problem that both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD people must be dealing with, only for Sony it's preventing them from making their prized Playstation 3 in quantity. I'm not sure what each of the diodes cost, but probably their cost won't go down soon. Hopefully most of the cost of these machines is in the other components, so that their markets can develop.

Also, another problem that may show up in the next 6 months to 1 year: nobody has any idea about the long term durability of these lasers. By design, they are being used at the limits of their performance. It's possible that we'll be seeing large failure rates for these devices (the next gen DVD players, and the PS3).

Those are very interesting comments, and it's a problem that both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray are facing. So it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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