Fast Mac connections mean new business

Apple has opened a whole new market by offering built-in support for high-speed FireWire connections in its new computers.

Apple Computer has opened a whole new market by offering built-in support for the high-speed connection technology called FireWire in its new computers.

A slew of companies at Macworld Expo this week announced plans to ship everything from slim hard drives that use FireWire technology for the high-speed transfer of large amounts of data from peripherals such as digital camcorders to a computer.

FireWire was invented by Apple in the early 1990s. In 1995 it was adopted as an industry standard (called IEEE 1394), but the computer industry as a whole has been slow to adopt the technology.

With the introduction of its newest Power Mac G3 systems, all of which come standard with FireWire ports, the company is looking to move its customers to next-generation peripherals more rapidly as it phases out slower SCSI connections, which have been the traditional means for connecting external hard drives, scanners, and other devices to a Mac.

"The iMac did a great job of jump-starting the USB [peripheral] market. We want to do the same thing for FireWire," said Kendall Luck, a product manager with Apple. Peripheral makers are already responding.

Apple said 4 million FireWire-enabled digital video cameras are on the market. And, with prices falling below $1,000 on some models, the company expects more customers to start to edit broadcast-quality video on their systems.

With this market in mind, Newer Technology introduced the FireStorm AV and FireStorm DV conversion boxes that will allow users to hook up VCRs, camcorders, and digital video recorders to Macs with FireWire connectors.

"This enables us to bring high-end video-capture capabilities to the mass market," said Eric Dahlinger, communciations manager for Newer.

Various data types can be mixed into computers with FireStorm. However, analog VCRs are capable of sending more data than most hard drives are capable of recording, so most customers are likely to initially purchase the DV version of the product. DV cameras send data in a compressed format that computers can more easily manipulate.

FireStorm AV and FireStorm DV are expected to ship in the second quarter, with retail prices estimated at is $179 for FireStorm AV and $199 for FireStorm DV.

VST Technologies, a well-known maker of storage products and peripherals for Mac notebooks, said it is planning a line of FireWire hard drives, some barely larger than a checkbook, that can store anywhere from 4GB to 14GB of data. Drives with fast connections to the computer are needed to store the huge amounts of data being pumped in by devices such as digital cameras, something current external SCSI drives cannot handle.

"The fact that Apple has pushed everyone to use FireWire has given us the opportunity to do [this product]," said Vince Fedele, founder and chairman of VST Technologies. He said he expects his company to be the first to bring such drives to market, with products expected by the late second or early third quarter.

Castlewood Systems is targeting the market for removable storage. The company announced a FireWire version of its "Orb" drive, which can store up to 2.2GB of data.

Apple's decision helped Castlewood move up plans to develop its FireWire drives, said David Swanson, director of marketing and original equipment manufacturer sales for the company. Castlewood is angling to get its drives into consumer electronics devices such as digital receivers and digital VCRs, so it was already looking to incorporate FireWire technology, but most of those products are only in the prototype stage. With Apple's Macs, the company will have a larger market.

Other companies announcing FireWire products include: Epson, which showed a printer connected via FireWire to a G3 Mac; a photo scanner from Fujifilm Microdevices; a tape drive from Indigita; a CD recorder and hard drive from La Cie and MacTell, several digital video cameras, and a digital audio mixer from Yamaha.