The next speed jump for recordable and rewritable DVD drives is expected to come as early as May this year now that two Japanese companies have completed the development of components crucial for faster drives.

As write speeds in optical drives are pushed higher, laser diodes — the components that produce the light beam which is used to read and write data to and from the disc — need to be more powerful. Both Sharp and Mitsubishi have developed such higher-power laser diodes, paving the way for quad-speed DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM and DVD+RW drives, said the companies.

This means data will be written to disc at a rate of 44Mbps (megabits per second), speeding up the time taken to burn an entire 4.7GB DVD to around 14 minutes. Double-speed drives take twice as long and single-speed drives take almost an hour to carry out the same task.

Power was not the only barrier to overcome before the companies could begin selling the devices commercially, said Tetsuya Yagi, manager of Mitsubishi Electric's high-power optical device group. Higher-power laser diodes often have a very short lifespan and both companies had to work on extending it so that the diodes would function form more than a few hours, he said. The laser diode produced by Yagi's group has a life of around 4,000 hours, he said.

The jump to six-speed DVD drives is not expected until sometime in 2003, said Yagi.