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Next-gen storage, online and offline

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Next-gen storage, online and offline

I know we've all been hoping that the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD next-generation format wars will subside soon, and maybe they will, but two completely new high-density optical formats may muddy the waters a bit for some consumers.

First up from the Inquirer is a short piece on a new Ricoh optical disc format that stores 200GB and may be on the market by 2008. (For reference, Blu-ray discs hold 25GB per layer, with two layers being the current max but four- or eight-layer discs possibly in the works for 2008. HD-DVD clocks in at 15GB/layer, with a three-layer disc currently in the works.) The Ricoh format uses eight lasers to read data, which means that drives will be expensive. However, it's possible that the drives may be able also to read Blu-ray and/or HD-DVD discs.

Even more promising is a roughly DVD-sized, 300GB disc that will go on sale in 2006. The disc uses holographic memory technology, and was developed by Lucent spinoff InPhase Technologies. Hitachi/Maxwell will help manufacture and market the discs, so that means you should be able to get your hands on them. The drive uses a single laser to write the discs, so it might end up being relatively inexpensive.

Neither of these two optical formats has anything like the industry backing of Blu-ray or HD-DVD, so at first they're going to be proprietary, niche items. In fact, I imagine that they'll start out somewhat like the Iomega Zip drive, but hopefully one or both formats will meet with a little more success.

Finally, for those of you who're just too "Web 2.0" for plain old offline storage, here's a short round-up of three online storage startups that are offering networked storage for users. You can upload files (in at least one case up to 1GB) and access them from any Internet connection. The companies are developing APIs for accessing the storage, and they're all trying to come up with a good business model for this using value-added services of various types. Right now, the overall plan seems to be something like, "think GMail, but for any kind of file you like."

Openomy, OmniDrive and AllMyData - Online Storage Just Got Interesting!

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The Chinese are mad as hell and they aren't going to take it any more. What aren't they going to take? Why, DVD licensing fees, of course. Xinhua, the country's official news source, describes the problem this way:

"China produced about 70 percent to 80 percent of the world's DVD players. However, Chinese manufacturers need to pay licensing fee[sic] to overseas patent holders in the DVD industry."

To keep the People's yuan from flowing into the pockets of Western capitalists, the government of the Middle Kingdom has launched their own salvo into the next-gen DVD format wars. The People's One True Format (not its real name) will allegedly feature better sound, better picture, and better content protection than either Blu-Ray or HD-DVD. That's a lot of "better" for an unnamed, undeveloped technology, but with the weight of the Chinese government behind it, who knows?

We at the Orbiting HQ want to believe, but China's track record in these matters ain't so hot. Who remembers WAPI, China's homegrown Wi-Fi spec? Or EVD, the Red alternative to DVD? Yeah, that's what we thought. Both technologies have floundered and all but disappeared (WAPI is on indefinite hold, while almost no EVD players were ever produced).

On the other hand, this time around the Chinese are working with the DVD Forum to have their new system blessed as an official next-gen technology in the same league as Blu-Ray or HD-DVD. The Forum has given them the go-ahead to begin preliminary work on a feasability study of the new format, which is based on HD-DVD but is incompatible with it. The plan is to produce disc and players in 2008. With HD-DVD and Blu-Ray on the horizon next year, this makes China's proposal look more like a "next next generation" system. By the time it appears, will it still be relevant?

The $64,000 question, of course, is whether the studios will support another, Chinese-only format? Given China's track record with piracy and IP issues, it seems doubtful unless the new format truly is locked down tight. On the other hand, given the possibility of making no money (by not releasing any discs) or the possibility of making some money (even with an insecure platform), studios might very well choose the latter route.

China to develop own DVD format

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