Vendors plot video future for hard disks

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Vendors plot video future for hard disks

Development of the next generation of hard disks is focusing on faster performance and video storage.

"Drives now offer almost more capacity than the average user needs," Currie Munce, director of advanced technology at IBM storage systems division said, referring to a new breed of hard-disk drive that offers capacities exceeding 100Gbytes of storage space.

People are starting to focus on performance," Munce added. He sees a greater emphasis in the near future on measures such as the disk speed (a faster disk means data can be read and written in a shorter time and this performance can be increased) and also the physical size of the drive, especially in notebook computers where use of a 1.8-inch drive can enable manufacturers to reduce weight and computer size compared with today's standard 2.5-inch drives.

IBM, like other major hard-disk makers, has already begun exploring high-performance drives and has several examples in its server drive line-up. The company's Ultaastar range features a 36Gbyte drive with a disk speed of 15,000 rpm and a 73Gbyte drive with a disk speed of 10,000 rpm. Both are significantly faster than today's most popular desktop hard disk drives that have rotational speeds of either 5,400 rpm or 7,200 rpm.

However the development of hard disks is also likely to be affected by the emergence of video recorders that use hard disk drives.

Popularised by the Tivo and Replay TV boxes on sale, many major consumer electronics makers are now coming out with their own devices. The units work like a conventional VCR but use a hard disk to store video data. This has several advantages including the ability to instantly access anything stored anywhere on the drive, the ability to simultaneously record one show while watching a previously recorded show and an innovative function that allows users to "pause" live television.

These devices use about 1Gbyte of storage space per hour and, because the drives are not removable, require a lot of storage space if users are to be kept from constantly juggling files to make room for new recordings.

"I would suggest that a 200Gbyte drive would seem small when you get into digital television," said Munce. "200Gbytes will be like a 2Gbyte drive is today (on your computer). We will see capacities of 500Gbytes when we get to digital video and data."

The market for such drives is currently small, but growing fast, according to a report released this week by market research company InStat/MDR. The company said it sees the number of hard disk-based video recorders jumping from 1.2 million units in 2001 to over 6 million in 2003 and expects revenues from sales of these recorders to jump from $550m (£379m) to $2.3bn (£1.6bn) in the same two year period.

"We will see lots of data in the home," Munce said. "It's hard to imagine in five years that most TVs won't be sold without a hard-disk drive inside and a pause button on the remote control."

IBM is not the only hard-disk drive maker with such a vision. For several years Japan's largest drive makers have been working on a new class of device: AV (audio visual) hard-disk drives. These are designed for use with multimedia files, which tend to be larger and stored as one continuous file on the drive, unlike computer data which is often in thousands of small files scattered across the disk.

Companies are also looking at a removable hard-disk drive system that would enable users to be able to pull a drive from their video recorder and slot it into a personal computer or other device. In March, eight of Japan's largest electronics companies detailed their plans for just such a system.

The companies have developed a system called IVDR (Information Versatile Disk for Removable Usage). Physically, the IVDR cartridge is little more than a conventional 2.5-inch hard-disk drive in a plastic case, with a new connector. But around the system a consortium is developing protocols and file systems that will enable the drive to be taken in and out of devices while they are switched on and accessed by a wide number of products.

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