As I walked through many of the digital entertainment exhibits at the Consumer Electronics Show, a couple of common themes running through many of the products just became very apparent. First, systems need higher storage capacities—this applies across all types of systems, from optical storage for movies as we move from standard definition to high-definition content, to the digital video recorders, to the memory cards inside digital cameras and cell phones. And second, such products need longer-lasting energy sources so they can play longer on a single charge.
These developments, and more, were easy to spot as you walked through the aisles at CES. In the storage arena, the biggest noise was raised by the battle between Blu-ray and High Density (HD) DVD optical storage systems, both of which are now competing to be the next standard for optical storage. The HD DVD employs the same basic disk structure as a standard DVD—two 0.6 mm-thick polycarbonate disks bonded back to back, which should make it much easier for HD DVDs to achieve backward compatibility with DVDs.
Storage capacities for the HD DVD range from 15 Gbytes for a single-layer disk to 45 Gbytes for a three-layer disk, while the Blu-ray capacities start at 25 Gbytes for single-layer disk and increase to 50 Gbytes for a dual-layer disk. A four layer disk that can hold 100 Gbytes is currently in development as well. Such large amounts of storage will be needed to hold the high-definition movies and all the multilanguage support, scene manipulation capability, background information and other material that the content suppliers plan to include on the optical disks.
There are now close to 20 companies that expect to offer Blu-ray DVD players and media, although only a few actually demonstrated a working player (LG Electronics, Paasonic, Pioneer, Royal Philips, Sony and Samsung). One of the companies, Pioneer, plans to offer both a stand-alone player and a computer drive that can read the 25 and 50 Gbyte-capacity disks. The computer drive will also be able to record on the recordable Blu-ray disks, which will initially offer capacities of about 25 Gbytes for computer data, storing home videos, music and other material. The BDP-HD1 stand-alone player can deliver 1920 by 1080p high-definition output video and the system will also offer backward compatibility for standard DVDs so consumers can enjoy their existing DVD movie collection as the build their Blu-ray collection (Fig. 1a).
For users that have set up a networked home, the player was designed to work with Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) guidelines. Thus when using the internetwork protocol networking capability, users can access and easily load protected content stored on a DLNA compliant server or Windows XP PC using Windows Media Connect. Additionally the BDP-HD1 can reproduce the new high-resolution audio formats (DTS-HD and Dolby Digital) for a complete HD entertainment experience. It will have a suggested retail price of $1800.
Another Blu-ray player, the BD-P1000 from Samsung Electronics, will let consumers take full advantage of high-definition displays, playing content at native 720p or 1080i video resolutions (not 1080p like the Pioneer unit). Expected to ship in early spring the system is expected to retail for approximately $1000. The BD player includes a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) output, an industry-supported, uncompressed, all-digital audio/video interface on a single cable, allowing users to easily connect the Blu-ray player to their existing home televisions. It will also decode standard multi-channel audio.
Samsung's unique technology that employs one pickup with two lenses allows the system to play standard DVDs and CDs in addition to Blu-ray disks. The supported DVD formats include DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+RW, and DVD+R. Additional features of the BD-P1000 include a memory card reader that handles multiple memory card formats, full audio format support (192 kHz LPCM, Dolby digital plus, MPEG2, DTS, and MP3), pop-up and always-on menu options; a full color high-definition animated button, and improved bitmap and text subtitles.
Sony also plans to release a Blu-ray player in the summer of this year. The BCP-S1 will deliver 1080p resolution video and will read both 25- and 50-Gbyte disks. It will also provide standard DVD playback with upscaling to deliver 1080p images. Also in the works is an aftermarket external Blu-ray disk drive for computer systems. This drive will also support the 25 and 50 Gbyte media and will write to Blu-ray BD-R/RE formats as well as DVD+/-R/+/-RW, and CD-R/RW recordable media. Initial write speed will be 2X, max, for BD recording. The Blu-ray drives will also be incorporated into Sony’s forthcoming Playstation 3 game console.
Competing with Blu-ray-based players will be the HD DVD systems like the players offered by Toshiba Corp., the HX-XA1 and HD-A1 (Fig. 1b). Both models are expected to ship in March of this year with prices starting as low as $499.99. They will offer high-definition video playback, high-quality audio, and enhanced functionality delivered by such features as advanced navigation using iHD. Toshiba also demonstrated an audio/video notebook computer in its Qosmio family that include an HD DVD ROM drive. Pricing for the notebook system will be released later this quarter. Both Microsoft and Intel are also supporting the HD DVD standard and Microsoft is incorporating HD DVD drives in its Xbox360 game consoles.
Hard-disk and flash memory storage subsystems are also gaining capacity. Perpendicular recording technology is finally making its way into several commercial products—Toshiba demonstrated a 10-Gbyte 0.85-in. hard drive, while Seagate Technology showed off a 160 Gbyte drive targeted at next-generation notebook computers. Using more traditional recording technology, Seagate also showed off an 8 Gbyte drive in a compact-flash form factor—ideal for many high-end digital cameras. (Fig. 2a).
The Seagate 500 Gbyte externalSATA pushbutton backup hard drive provides external data backup and protection with speeds up to a 300 Mbyte/s or 3Gb/s interface rate – up to five times faster than existing external storage solutions such as USB 2.0 and 1394a. The back-up drives deliver high-speed solutions for desktop systems, entry servers or digital video workstations. With a capacity of 500 Gbytes, the externalSATA drive can hold up to 8330 hours of digital music, 160,000 digital photos, or 500 hours of digital video.
Going after storage arrays and enterprise systems, consumer systems, and desktop computers, Maxtor crafted three drive families with capacities of up to 500 Gbytes. The MaXLine Pro 500 family is optimized for enterprise class applications, while the QuickView 500 is optimized for streaming applications such as encountered in digital video recorders. The DiamondMax 11 series drives are targeted at desktop computers for both business and gaming applications. The drives come in a 3.5-in. half-height package with a 7200 rpm spindle speed, 16 Mbytes of buffer RAM, native command queuing, and either a 3 Gbit/s SATA II or ATA/133 host interface (Fig. 2b). The suggested retail price for the desktop 500 Gbyte drive is $349.95.
To back up the large amounts of data such large drives can store, Maxtor also showed a new family of Maxtor OneTouch III external storage and backup with capacities rangning from 100Gbytes to 1 Tbyte. The systems provide easy-to-use, automated backup and restore capabilities for PC and Mac users. New software tools, including the ability to synchronize data between two or more computers and a System Rollback feature that helps return PC systems to a healthier state after a damaging spyware attack, are also integrated into the OneTouch III family. A 1 Tbyte system with RAID 0 or 1 capability, the OneTouch III Turbo edition, has a suggested retail price of $899.95.
The OneTouch III systems include a triple interface that consists of FireWire 800, FireWire 400, and USB 2.0 interface. Lower cost versions offer dual interfaces (FireWire 400 and USB 2.0), or a single USB 2.0-only interface for basic file-level backup capabilities. Built to last, the OneTouch III family keeps the noise to very low levels, and incorporates an inner disk drive casing and shock mounts for additional durability and drive protection. All Maxtor OneTouch external storage and backup systems come with an added data security feature called Maxtor DriveLock, which provides a password protection option to safeguard contents if the drive is ever lost or stolen.
Although flash-based storage is a long way from delivering 500 Gbyte capacities, improvements in the flash memory chips from companies such as Samsung and Toshiba now permit individual chips to store 16 and 8 Gbits, respectively, with even higher density devices now on the drawing boards. These chips will, in turn, be used in the next-generation USB drives, which will offer storage capacities of up to 8 Gbytes in 2006, such as unveiled by M-Systems in its DiskOnKey product family (Fig. 3a). The DiskOnKey USB drives offer 24 Mbyte/s read speeds and 14 Mbyte/s write speeds. Additional high-capacity devices include the Cruzer Micro and Cruzer Titanium retractable Flash drives from SanDisk, which offer top capacities of 4 and 2 Gbytes, respectively. The Titanium version gets its name from the titanium metal case that protects the drive from dents and crush forces of up to 2000 lbs (Fig 3b). Lexar’s latest product, the JumpDrive Mercury, includes a novel integrated capacity meter that helps users solve the common problem of knowing how much storage space is available on the drive. The easy-to-read externally-readable gauge saves users time by letting them quickly and easily know exactly how much storage space is left on their USB drive without even plugging it into a computer (Fig. 4a). Based on Electronic Paper Display (EPD) technology created by E Ink Corp, the display is a paper-thin, shatter proof form that is easy to read, and does not rely on power to maintain capacity information. Versions of JumpDrive Mercury with the meter will be available in capacities of 1- and 2 Gbytes. In addition to its new JumpDrive products, Lexar is upgrading several existing models to reflect customer needs in terms of design, speed, efficiency, and capacity. Lexar’s award-winning premium flash drive, the high-capacity JumpDrive Lightning will feature increased performance of 150x write speed and will be available in a new 4 Gbyte capacity version. Lexar defines "x" within its speed-rating system as equivalent to a minimum sustained write speed capability of 150 kbytes/s.
Lexar will also increase capacity in its JumpDrive TouchGuard product to 1 Gbyte. The TouchGuard is a USB flash drive family with an integrated biometric fingerprint sensor to authenticate a user’s identity and provide easy access to secured files and password protected web sites (Fig. 4b).
Although designers have done an excellent job of reducing power consumption in many portable systems, improved power sources are critical to getting more use from a system before having to recharge or replace the batteries. Improved nickel-metal-hydride rechargeable batteries and single-use lithium batteries are now able to deliver more power, thus increasing the number of photos you can take on a digital camera or the number of hours your MP3 player can operate. Energizer, for example, just released AA and AAA size NiMH rechargeable batteries with ratings of 2650 and 1000 mAh, respectively. Available in 4-packs, the AA size will sell for $11.99. The company’s previous families of AA and AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries were also upgraded from 1700 mAh to 2000 mAh, and from 850 to 900 mAh, respectively. Depending on the mAh rating, the batteries can be charged up to 100 times, thus providing a better value than single-use alkaline cells.
Single-use lithium batteries such as Energizer’s e2 Lithium brand claim they can last seven times longer than the leading alkaline batteries in digital camera applications. Additionally, they weigh in at only 2/3 the weight of the alkaline cells, thus reducing the weight of the camera or other portable product you are carrying.
Longer life batteries are a start, but the industry is also turning its attention to fuel-cell technology to achieve a more environmentally friendly high-energy solution. At CES at least three vendors demonstrated fuel-cell options for portable systems. Matsushita Battery Industrial Co. Ltd., has crafted a new fuel supply method for fuel cells designed to power portable devices. The approach allows them to reduce the fuel cell size by almost 50% vs existing designs. The Direct Methanol Fuel Cell system employs a stack technology that combines high-power lithium-ion battery and battery management system with the fuel cell (Fig. 5a).
To make it work, the company has developed a new fuel supply scheme that delivers the precise amount of fuel needed by the fuel cell stack is delivered at the appropriate time. To do that, Matsushita developed a power-generation feedback technology that monitors the stack output and communicates the amount of fuel needed, and a fuel metering system that provides highly accurate delivery of the proper amount of fuel. Approximately 400 cc in volume (about the size of a soda can), and weighing in at about 1 lb (without fuel), the fuel cell can deliver an average power output of 13 W and a peak power of 20 W. A laptop using such a fuel cell could run for close to 20 hours on 200 cc of methanol before the cell has to be recharged (Fig. 5b).
Also targeting high-power portable devices such as professional video cameras, the NABII fuel cell power system from Jadoo Power Systems Inc., employs a cylindrical power pack cartridge (N-Stor) and a hydrogen fueling station subsystem (Fig. 6a). The cartridge comes in two sizes—a 130 Whr (Watt-hour) capacity that measures 4.5-in. high and 2.5-in. in diameter, and a 275 Whr capacity that is 8-in. high and also 2.5-in. in diameter.
The cartridges slip into a power subsystem that attaches to the camera and converts the electricity into the desired 12-14.4 V level to power the camera. The 275 Whr N-Stor cartridge can power a video tape recorder for up to 11 hours. When the cartridge is drained, it can be inserted into the small Fillpoint refill station, which can refill multiple canisters in less than an hour using readily available industrial grade hydrogen (Fig. 6b).
For lower-power requirements, Medis Technologies Ltd. offers a disposable fuel-cell-based portable power pack in a pocket-sized module (80 by 55 by 35 mm and less than 150 grams when full) that includes the power management and dc-to-dc converter logic (Fig. 7). Based on a sodium borohydride fuel-cell technology, the power packs are non-flammable and non toxic and generate no heat thanks to their 85% conversion efficiency rating. Targeted at PDA, cell phone, and other low-power portable devices, the Medis Power Pack can deliver 20 to 30 hours of talk time on a cell phone by recharging the cell phone’s battery 5 to 6 times, or it can greatly extend the operating time of other hand-held devices, such as an Apple iPod, which could deliver up to 60 hours of music.
The Media Power Packs have a long shelf until activated; however once activated they can deliver energy for up to three months, depending on the energy usage. They can thus serve as an emergency power pack when you can’t get to an AC outlet to plug in your usual charger. And at a retail cost of about $20, they provide an economical and light-weight alternative to carrying multiple battery packs.