Consumer electronics driving hard disk innovation

The increasing use of hard disk drives in consumer electronics products is beginning to play an important role in development and support of new drive technology. Smaller and quieter drives are being demanded and the consumer market may also help increase demand for drives based on new technologies such as Serial ATA and help push research into new recording methods, an executive of a leading drive manufacturer said.

"In the past the hard drive in the home has been located in the PC but today we see the hard drive expanding to become useful in many more areas in the home," Seagate Technology's director of global consumer electronics marketing, Rob Pait, said.

"The single place we find the most action around product development and sales is in the TV space," he said.

Once the exclusive domain of the analog VHS tape format, personal video recorders (PVRs) based around hard disk drives are making inroads into living rooms alongside other hard drive-based devices such as Microsoft's Xbox games console and various audio jukebox or MP3 player products.

Shipments of hard drives for consumer electronics products totalled 5.8 million units in 2002, according to Thomas M. Coughlin, president of storage market analysis company Coughlin Associates.

Coughlin expected the market to hit 18.2 million units this year and expand to 84.4 million by 2008 with personal video recorders accounting for almost half the market.

At that level consumer electronics drives would account for around 20 per cent of the entire drive market in 2008, according to projections.

While the capacities of drives used in consumer electronics products may be similar to those found in personal computers, typically ranging from 40GB to 160GB, there were several requirements that demand companies such as Seagate develop new drive technologies, Pait said.

"Right after the first PVR, we had more of a focus on acoustics," he said. "With the advent of WebTV we began to pay attention to what happens when a device like a hard drive is in the den or bedroom."

If it is constantly recording, the last thing consumers want is to be kept awake by hard drive noise, he said.

The drives also have to be optimised to work best with video streaming rather than the random access that is typical with a computer. That means turning down the amount of error checking the drive does because a constant stream of video data is more important than a perfect bit-for-bit flow.

Consumer drives which deal with long sequential files usually had slower rotation speeds than PC drives, Pait said.

"If you put [consumer hard drives] in a PC you might be disappointed with their performance," he said. "In the consumer electronics market space too much error checking can be harmful to the system. In a video streaming application you are looking for a smooth stream going from the hard drive through the system to the television. If the drive spends too much time looking for errors then it can interrupt this process and cause a blank screen on the TV."

Until recently, this lower error correction has been accomplished by a number of proprietary methods but the industry recently agreed on a standard way to do this, called T13, which is included in the latest version of the ATA specifications.

While reduced error checking technology is of little use to PC or enterprise storage users - an imperfect flow of data can cause programs to crash or applications to misbehave - demands of users to store more data or high-definition video could help push up demand for drives based on new technologies and that could lead to lower prices for all users.

An application such as high-definition television, already available commercially in the U.S. and Japan, involves a much faster data stream than conventional television and Pait said that could help drive set-top box makers to adopt Serial ATA interface drives in products.

The need to store more data is also spurring research and development.

Seagate was looking into several future technologies including perpendicular recording, where the magnetic bits were stood upright rather than laid flat to reduce the amount of space they took up on the disk surface and thus enable more bits to be crammed on the disk, Pait said.

The company is also looking at a technology in which a laser beam is used to warm up magnetic bits just before they are written to so that they become more stable and hold data more reliably.

Consumer electronics customers were also demanding smaller drives in capacities of 2.5 inches and smaller, he said.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?