DataPlay shows breakthrough storage media

DataPlay's optical technology crams as much as 500MB of data onto a disk about the size of a postage stamp -- enough space to store several albums worth of music. The disks are expected to retail for as little as $US5 to $US10 when they begin shipping in the second half of this year, and could offer a low-cost alternative to the flash memory cards widely used in portable gadgets today.

Prototype devices on show in DataPlay's booth here included a 3-megapixel digital camera from Toshiba and digital music players from SonicBlue (formerly known as S3) Rio division, Samsung Electronics, Ritek and others. The products include a special bay to accommodate DataPlay's disks, and for the most part will start shipping in the second half of this year, representatives from those companies said.

DataPlay, has also attracted the attention of the recording industry, and boasts the Universal Media Group among its investors. As well as allowing consumers to store data on the disks themselves, DataPlay's storage format will allow recording companies to preload their music on the disks, which DataPlay hopes will pave the way for some compelling applications.

For example, a user might buy a disk with five albums by a particular artist on it, but pay for only one of those albums at the time of purchase. If the user likes the album, he or she could pay to "unlock" the other albums stored on the disk by making a transaction over the Internet, saving them the trouble of going back to the store, DataPlay officials said. The disks include built-in copy protection using the SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative).

"Besides other music, you could also unlock music videos or interviews," said Raymond Uhlir, vice president of marketing at DataPlay. "You're not going to be getting a CD with just music on it anymore."

For users that don't have DataPlay-compatible devices, Imation announced a product here at CES that will allow users on the road to transfer data from compact flash cards onto a DataPlay disk. Called the DiskGo, the product is expected to be available in the fourth quarter priced between $US200 and $US300, an Imation representative here said.

DataPlay will face several challenges, not the least of which will be marketing a new and largely unheard of product to consumers. In turning its new technology into a mass market product, the company will also depend heavily on the continued support of its manufacturing partners. The company will also need to keep its costs down, although it expects to be able to offer its microdrive to manufacturers for less than $US100 said Steve Volk, DataPlay chairman and chief executive officer.

DataPlay's disk can also be used for storing text in electronic books or as a stand-alone product for offloading music and video files on a PC hard drive. Other financial backers for the company include the likes of Samsung, Creative Labs and Toshiba.

"We have significantly higher capacity and significantly lower pricing than our competitors," DataPlay's Uhlir said. "It is so affordable that you can fill up a disk and then just use another disk for the rest of your needs."

The DataPlay product will compete with a raft of alternatives including SD (Secure Digital) memory cards from Panasonic, Toshiba and SanDisk; Sony's MemoryStick; Iomega's Clik drive and IBM's new MicroDrive. Nonvolatile flash memory cards typically retail for about $US3 per megabyte, and the cards aren't expected to reach 256K bytes until later this year. Iomega's Clik drive is slightly larger than DataPlay's technology and is priced at $US10 for a 40MB card.

e.Digital was the first company to make a working media player device based on DataPlay's technology. e.Digital also helped Toshiba and Samsung on their respectively branded media players. Like DataPlay, e.Digital uses its proprietary technology to get devices running faster and taking up less space.

A number of companies have already started using e.Digital's MicroOS and MicroCAM (compressed audio manager) technology. The MicroOS provides device makers with a tight operating system capable of managing data files as well as codecs, integrating security systems for content protection and handling the uploading and downloading of files from PCs.

The MicroCAM technology stands as a way to manage the myriad audio compression and decompression formats in a single device.

e.Digital's DataPlay-enabled portable jukebox on display at CES includes a 10GB hard drive capable of storing more than 3,000 CD-quality songs in a unit about the size of a deck of cards. Known as Tréo, the device should appear in the US for under $US400 by the end of the first quarter of this year.

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