Ceatec: DataPlay is back

One of the most talked-about and anticipated optical storage formats of 2001 is back.

One of the most talked-about and anticipated optical storage formats of 2001 is back.

The DataPlay disc, a postage-stamp sized disc capable of holding 500Mbytes of information, broke onto the scene at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2001 when it won a "Best of Show" award.

The rest of the year saw hardware player deals, agreements to make discs, and content distribution contracts but then things went wrong. The high cost of a nationwide launch forced original developer DataPlay into bankruptcy in late 2002.

However, the DataPlay technology did not die. In 2003 the intellectual property relating to the system was purchased by DPHI, which is now promoting it as a cheap, high capacity, long-lasting and secure way to store digital content.

Some small South Korean and Chinese companies are already working on DataPlay-based devices and the technology is being evaluated by some of the region's largest electronics companies, said company executives in an interview at the Ceatec Japan 2004 show this week.

The basic disc is unchanged from before and can hold 500Mbytes of data. But some things are new.

The reliance on a proprietary file system is gone in favour of the industry-standard FAT (file allocation table) file system, said Dave Davies, chief technology officer of DPHI. This means devices with DataPlay drives are recognised as USB mass storage devices when connected to PCs and they work on Windows, Apple and Linux systems without the need for special device drivers.

In addition to its size and storage capacity, another feature is a disc-based security system that supports file-level specification of security attributes such as the number of generations of copy permitted and an expiry date for the data.

"It's the exact reason why we used DataPlay," said Fukiko Shinsato, CEO of FKDigital, which was launching a DataPlay-based media storage unit at the show.

"We needed something that was portable and very secure. We initially thought of making our own [format] but then came across DataPlay and it was exactly what we needed. The key points are its 100-year lifetime, durability, cost and security. Especially the ability for file-level encryption," she said.

FKDigital's first DataPlay-based product allows users to insert an SD (Secure Digital) memory card and transfer its contents to a DataPlay disc with the press of a button.

The device is aimed at digital camera users, especially those who do not own personal computers, who want to empty the contents of a memory card to a cheaper storage media and continue using the card. It can also be connected to cameras via USB for download and can be connected to a television to enable viewing of the stored images.

The 500Mbyte DataPlay discs will be sold in Japan for ¥500 (£2.55).

The company is also looking at higher-capacity versions. A disc capable of holding 750Mbytes of data is already available in sample quantities to device makers and a commercial launch is anticipated around the end of this year or in early 2005, said Bill Almon, president and CEO of DPHI.

"So much format is out there designed to fit on a CD," he said. "There are lots of DiVX movies on the Iiternet that are designed for that capacity."

Because its capacity is similar to CD, Almon said, he sees this new disc as being suitable for use in portable digital media players and the company has produced a video-player reference design for customers to work with. A major Korean electronics maker is integrating the DataPlay drive into such a player that will be announced soon, he said.

The company is courting a large potential market. With the success of digital music players like Apple Computer's iPod, many device makers are looking at developing portable video players; but the very success of the iPod is also working a little against the DataPlay disc.

"Everyone sees the success of the iPod and thinks you need a hard disc to be successful," he said. "But with a hard disc there is no opportunity to publish [prerecorded content]. Everything has to be downloaded."

Looking ahead, DPHI is also working on a 2Gbyte version that is expected to be available in late 2005 or early 2006, said Davies. Further ahead still, the company is considering a blue-laser-based version that will be able to hold 7Gbytes of data.

Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service

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