By Matthew Henry

SYDNEY: Blu-ray disc technology has touched down in Australia after Sony launched the first product to enter the country featuring a Blu-ray disc drive earlier today – the Vaio AR18 notebook computer.

Blu-ray’s Australian debut comes hot on the heels of rival high definition optical disc format HD-DVD, which was launched in Australia by Toshiba last week, with its Qosmio G30 entertainment notebook featuring an HD-DVD drive.

With support from consumer electronics and IT manufacturers divided between the two next-generation optical disc technologies, a format war reminiscent of the Beta/VHS stouch of the 1980s looks likely to unfold in the coming years.

The Qosmio G30 and the Vaio AR18 are both priced at RRP $5,499, however, Sony claims the honour of launching the first high definition optical disc drive with recording capability. The AR18 will playback and record high definition video on recordable and re-writeable Blu-ray discs, while Toshiba’s Qosmio is for HD-DVD playback only.

Although doubt exists about the immediate appeal of high definition optical disc technology to consumers, Sony is confident the market is ready for Blu-ray, particularly given the penetration of high definition televisions which is expected to reach 18 per cent of Australian homes by the end of the year.

“We believe Australia will embrace Blu-ray just as they did DVD, because like DVD it is a demonstrable leap in quality. We expect to see mass market adoption of Blu-ray within the next decade,” said Sony Australia deputy managing director, Carl Rose.

Demand for high definition optical disc storage is also expected to be given a boost as consumers adopt HD camcorders, which Sony predicts will account for seven per cent of the consumer camcorder market this year and 20 per cent with the next few years.

Recordable Blu-ray disc media (BD-R) will be available for $34.95 for a single-layer 25GB disc, which according to Sony is comparable to the launch of CD-R in 1988 at $20 and DVD-R in 1997 at $35. Blu-ray re-writeable discs will retail for $42.95.

The Vaio AR18 notebook PC features twin 80GB hard drives for high definition video editing on the included Adobe Premiere Elements software, a 17-inch LCD screen with 1920×1200 resolution for high definition viewing, and an Intel Core Duo 2.16GHz processor.