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Sony ramps monthly GaN laser volumes to 1.7m

Already reckoned to be the world's biggest volume manufacturer of semiconductor lasers, Sony readies for mass production of high-power devices used in high-definition DVD recorders.

Sony says that it has increased its monthly capacity of GaN-based blue semiconductor lasers to 1.7 million.

The Japanese electronics giant, whose subsidiary Sony Shiroishi Semiconductor actually manufactures the chips, has just released two versions of a high-power GaN laser that emits 170 mW at 405 nm.

Those MOCVD-produced lasers will cost up to ¥5000 ($42), while Sony will follow up their release in June with a couple of much cheaper low-power lasers for playback-only applications costing around $8 each.

Then, in November this year, Sony will release a pair of 240 mW lasers also priced at up to ¥5000.

Rivals Sharp and Nichia both revealed details of their own high-power GaN laser developments in recent weeks (see related stories).

"There has been a rapid increase in blue-violet laser diode demand," Sony said. "To meet this demand, Sony had already installed front-end wafer process equipment capable of producing 5 million [playback-only] blue-violet laser diodes."

Sony will now increase its back-end assembly capacity at the Shiroishi fab when there is sufficient demand to justify such a move.

Laser diode chip fabrication at the Shiroishi subsidiary has now surpassed 2 billion units since the first such device, a 780 nm emitter for early CD players, rolled off of its production line back in 1986.

It took until 2001 before the facility passed the 1 billion laser mark, but the widespread popularity of DVD players and recorders since then has driven chip fabrication to the 2 billion milestone in rapid time.

GaN-based blue laser diodes only represent a tiny fraction of that total so far, but Sony is expecting a rapid acceleration in market demand over the coming five years.

The Japanese company s internal survey of the sector suggests that the entire laser diode market consumed 1.1 billion chips in 2006, and that production will reach 1.4 billion chips in 2010.

Demand for Blu-ray Disc and high-definition DVD recorders, as well as high-end games consoles, will ensure that GaN lasers are a major component of that market growth, believes Sony.

Its internal figures suggest that unit shipments of blue laser diodes will grow from just 6 million in 2006 to about 26 million this year, and on to 110 million in 2010.

Sony reckons that it has a global market share, counted in terms of laser diodes shipped, of just over 25 percent. 650 nm emitters, which are used in DVD recorders, represent the biggest single application, although Sony also makes large quantities of dual-beam laser chips for CD/DVD applications.

Its engineering team has also developed a triple-wavelength laser diode structure, in which a 650/780 nm chip is mounted on top of a blue-violet laser diode.

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