Written by Roy Turse
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Topics: TV, Video, blu-ray, HD DVD

Sunday, 15 February 2009

image for Format Wars: Blu-Ray superseded by Ultomato
Ultomato disc shown actual size

If you were considering updating your DVD player to one of the new Blu-Ray High Definition players, you may want to hold off for a few months. A new format system is just about to be launched which makes Blu-Ray look positively old hat.

Ultomato is the new system being hailed as 'the best video system ever - bar none'. Originally conceived by the Chinese Huawei company for use with professional presentation equipment and video conferencing systems, Ultomato has been developed in a joint venture between Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Pioneer, Goodmans, JVC, Hitachi and Philips, ensuring that it will become a de-facto standard for the next generation of video devices.

The new system differs from conventional DVD and Blu-Ray devices in that it doesn't use a laser to read the recorded digital information. Instead, microscopic needles in the reading head fit into tiny grooves on the disc's surface and as the disc rotates they pick up information from variations in the surface texture.

And what a difference the new system makes. Whereas DVD and Blu-Ray players display a picture which is made up of pixels with gaps between them, Ultomato creates pixels which overlap each other, allowing completely solid coloured surfaces to be seen on a domestic TV for the first time. It also incorporates a sound system called Dilbert KX Theatre which produces perfect audio using a 12.4.4 three dimensional output format. However, because of the digital signal processing method used, only a single speaker is required.

But this is just the beginning. For built into the format is a set of capabilities that, although not available in the first versions of the player, will be downloadable as free firmware upgrades in the future. These include Scentorama, the olfactory stimulator that adds the dimension of smell to the images and sound, and Moodz, a system that uses ultra low frequencies to affect viewers' thought patterns. And naturally there will be 'glasses free' 3D video in only a few months time.

Ultomato will of course play all your old formats of music and video. CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, SADC, MP3, iTunes, Laserdisc, VHS, cassette, 8-track, 78, 33, 45 and wax cylinder formats are all supported, although there is not yet a decoder for Betamax. It can also convert all these to Ultomato format, and can then either write them to Ultomato disc or store them in its four terabyte internal memory.

The US launch of Ultomato is planned for August with availability in the rest of the world before Christmas. Although each manufacturer will release their own Ultomato players, they are all expected to fit a similar specification in that they are roughly the size of an iPod Nano and will be able to run on battery for up to a year. New technology often demands a premium price, so expect these initial units to be around $110 at launch.

This article was originally published in 'WTF-HiFi' Magazine.

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