CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW: CNET editors cover the Next Big Thing
Storage that defies boundaries
By Felisa Yang
(December 15, 2004)
Back in January at CES 2004, double-layer optical drives were the big story. Sony introduced a prototype double-layer drive, and starting in mid-2004, most of the major manufacturers started rolling out the first double-layer drives. With single-layer drives already maxing out write speeds, expect to see double-layer write speeds ratcheting up at CES. Also, we'll probably see more standalone DVD burners that don't require a PC and that connect directly to a camcorder or a VCR.
In 2004, we also watched storage capacities balloon as the price of memory plummeted. Suddenly, storage wasn't limited to PC-attached hard drives or optical drives. With the proliferation of downloadable music and video, huge storage capacity became a hot selling point, showing up in everything from personal media players to mini flash drives to watches. At CES 2005, we expect to see manufacturers trying to distinguish their flash and hard drive storage products with extra features, as well as increased storage capacities in areas outside the SOHO arena, such as media servers in the living room.
Everyone said it last year, but this time it's true: the real star of CES 2005 will be blue-laser technology, namely the rivalry between the DVD Forum-backed Blu-ray standard and the NEC-Toshiba sponsored HD-DVD format. Though consumer products are still available only in Japan, there are hints that 2005 will see blue-laser products in the U.S. retail space, albeit at prohibitive prices. Consumers in the United States probably won't be able to get their hands on blue-laser devices until late 2005, but that won't stop the two sides from pushing their designs at CES. What's the difference? The Blu-ray format focuses on capacity: a single-layer ROM will hold about 25GB of data and a double-layer ROM will hold about 50GB. But the HD-DVD camp believes that its strength is backward compatibility: the HD-DVD discs are physically more like current DVDs (single-layer HD-DVDs will hold 15GB and double-layer discs will hold 30GB). This means that the manufacturers of DVD media and drives should be able to produce HD-DVD media and equipment with minimal fuss, and consumers will be able to have HD-DVD drives that can also read CD and DVD formats.
But the cost of this new technology will be too high for the masses for a few years. Additionally, most people will want to wait to see how the format war shakes out before committing. The industry is waiting to see which way Hollywood turns, as this will probably determine the format that succeeds. It's unlikely that this duel will end as peacefully as the +R/-R wars did with combo drives. Industry analysts believe that the two sides will be forced into an agreement over standards or one side will drop out before any major products are announced.
Optical drive speeds
Sixteen-by-sixteen DVD burners are old news now--everyone's making them and selling them for cheap. Although there are whispers of 18X/20X single-layer drives, most agree that 16X is the upper limit of the speed vs. quality trade-off. The new headliner is the double-layer drive, despite the fact that, so far, only the early adopters seem interested. Sky-high media prices and compatibility problems between computer-burned DL discs and set-top players mean that most people will wait before adopting the new technology. Despite the fact that DL burners aren't exactly flying off retail shelves, manufacturers continue pushing double-layer write speeds. We're seeing 4X DL drives filter into the retail market right now. Expect to see 8X +R and 4X -R DL drives in 2005. Though they probably won't be available to consumers immediately, they'll be all over CES. Will manufacturers push past the 8X barrier into 16X DL burners? The same speed vs. quality trade-off will determine the answer to this question.
Also new is HP's LightScribe technology, which uses the same laser that burns data onto the disc to burn images and text on the opposite side. Instead of sticky labels or Magic Marker scrawls to help you identify your media, you can use LightScribe to burn professional-looking images and text right onto the disc. After the disc data is burned, the software will prompt you to flip over the disc. The downside is the extra time the disc has to stay in the burner while being inscribed. HP plans to include LightScribe with its CD/DVD drives, and the technology is available for licensing by other manufacturers. We'll probably see this technology demonstrated at CES, but whether it catches on remains to be seen.
With the spread of home networks came the rise of network-attached storage, or NAS, devices. With multiple home computers sharing data, all of the PCs need to be able to access the data. But wireless is the buzzword these days. Already, Iomega has a NAS with Wi-Fi that serves as a wireless access point. The next step is likely to be wireless NAS devices. These devices connect wirelessly to your network, distributing data to all of the other devices on your wireless network. But this begs the question: why do you need your NAS to be wireless? You probably won't be moving it around much, as you would a laptop. What's wrong with having a NAS device wired to a router? Regardless, everyone wants wireless, so wireless is what we'll get.
USB flash drives keep plugging along
At CES 2004, USB flash drives littered the show floor, and they've already become relatively mainstream--the new floppy disk, if you will. Rumor has it that a large mass retailer plans to carry USB drives for less than $10 next year, ensuring that even your grandma will have one attached to her keychain. At CES 2005, we expect to see greater storage capacities (yawn), but more exciting than that, manufacturers will probably be packing these little carryalls with extra features that allow you to protect your data and passwords.
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