The Future of Audio/Video Content Storage?

Last week, Sony and computer storage company Western Digital announced that they will form a strategic partnership to co-develop a new hard-disk drive (HDD) for consumer audio and video applications. According to the announcement, prototypes of the AV HDD will be developed and tested for verification of basic technologies by the end of March 1999. Commercialization of the AV HDD is being targeted for the year 2000.

With the advent of digital broadcasting and communications and the convergence of AV and information technology, the companies expect that users will require an environment that allows personal computers and various digital AV appliances to be interconnected and interoperated in an integrated home-network system. In this scenario, users will need products such as home servers that are capable of securely storing large amounts of digital AV data received from digital broadcasting (cable, satellite, DSL) and the Internet.

If household networks really take off, the home server will play an important role, allowing access to digital content through appliances such as televisions and personal computers. Sony and Western Digital have recognized the need for a new HDD architecture with the ability to handle multiple streams of AV data along with the large storage capacity, high transfer rates, and data-protection features of today's disk-based magnetic storage devices.

The collaborative agreement calls for Sony to develop the interface, architecture, and protocol for AV applications, while Western Digital will be responsible for developing the mechanical and electronic components and firmware of the HDD. Sony will contribute in the areas of digital video and audio processing, while Western Digital will focus on HDD design and manufacturing technology.

According to Yoshihide Nakamura of Sony's Computer Peripherals & Components Company, "Our partnership with Western Digital is a strategic one, and it allows us to combine their hard-disk technology with our expertise in AV technology. We hope to provide users with various new possibilities and forms of enjoyment in AV home entertainment." Chuck Haggerty of Western Digital adds that "The time has arrived for the practical application of hard-disk technology in consumer electronics, transcending traditional HDD markets. The demand for storage capacity and performance consumption in these markets will be huge."

In related news, startup companies ReplayTV and TiVo have both announced hard-disk-based audio/video recorders that are intended to replace VCRs and offer consumers the ability to customize program viewing. Both companies are expected to begin trials for their products in the next few weeks.