Philips shows off coin-size optical drive

Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV is using the Ceatec 2002 exhibition to give a recently developed miniature optical disc and drive its first major public showing and the company couldn't be happier with the reaction from the Japanese public.

The discs, called small form factor optical storage or SFFO, are intended to replace memory cards in future generations of mobile electronics products and so have to be very small. In the case of Philips' prototype system, the discs are 30 millimeters in diameter, or about the size of a 2 euro coin, but can hold up to 1G byte of information.

"Usually Japanese companies come to Europe and show us their miniaturized technology but here we are showing them ours," said a beaming Jos Bruins, marketing director of the company's DVD and Super Audio CD products, as attendees made good use of magnifying glasses supplied by Philips to allow them to examine the prototypes.

Philips announced development of the system earlier this year but Ceatec marks the first time it has been widely displayed.

It is based on blue laser technology of the same type now being developed by Philips and other major electronics companies for use in optical disc-based video systems that are expected to replace DVD. Blue lasers have a shorter wavelength than the red lasers used in DVD or CD and so use a much smaller space on the disc to store data. This is how Philips is able to squeeze 1G byte, or roughly 50 percent more data than the maximum capacity of a CD-ROM, onto a disc the size of a large coin.

Looking ahead, Bruins said that in addition to further technical development work, Philips is also going to start investigating applications for the disc.

"We are going to have to look at what you can do with this," he said, adding the company sees many potential uses including as a medium for prerecorded content. One of the first tests Philips undertook in the lab was to record and play back MP3 audio from the disc, the company said.

With its announcement and unveiling at Ceatec, Philips enters an area of the optical disc industry in which there are few competitors. With most companies concentrating on high end systems based around 12 centimeter discs for consumer video and computer data applications, little research has been announced regarding such a small form factor.

An exception to this trend is the miniature optical disc technology already developed and commercialized earlier this year by DataPlay Inc. in the U.S. The DataPlay disc is a doubled-sided optical disc with a capacity of 250M bytes per side. Peripherals supporting the format are available from a number of companies, but the discs can only be written to once, like a CD-recordable, and unlike Philip's SFFO discs.

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