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Sharp readies blue laser for mass production

15 Mar 2007

One of the world's key volume suppliers of red and infrared laser diodes reveals that its high-power blue emitter is about to enter mass production.

Sharp Corporation, the Japanese company that pioneered the development of infrared- and red-emitting semiconductor lasers for applications in optical data storage, is about to enter the blue era.

Volume production of high-power GaN-based lasers at Sharp will begin in May, following a short period of device sampling during April.

The laser that Sharp has developed produces 105 mW in continuous-wave mode and 210 mW in pulsed mode, with the firm claiming that the latter figure makes it the highest-power GaN laser available today.

For consumers, that higher power will translate into faster recording speeds in dual-layer Blu-ray and high-definition DVD technology. At the 210 mW output rating, the laser will be suitable for 6x recording on either format.

The lasers will not come cheap: the quoted sample price is ¥50,000 ($430). However, that price should drop once Sharp’s overall production of blue-violet lasers is scaled up to 250,000 units per month.

Sharp has a distinguished history in the development and manufacture of laser components for optical data storage applications. In 1982, it developed the first 780 nm devices for CD applications, and followed this up in 1998 with the first 635 nm, 30 mW red lasers.

The company typically uses MBE to manufacture these infrared and red lasers. Other companies such as Nichia and Sony have been faster to market with blue lasers based on MOCVD-produced GaN, but problems with their manufacture has contributed to the delayed launch of important products such as Sony’s PlayStation 3 games console.

Sharp says that the market for high-definition disc recorders is expected to "take off in earnest" this year, sparking a ramp in demand for the blue lasers.

Its aim is to build a production capacity that can respond rapidly to fluctuating market demand.

Sharp's research wing in Europe has steadily improved GaN laser characteristics since fabricating the first such device using MBE back in early 2004 (see related stories).

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