DataPlay: 21st Century Storage Medium?

Earlier this year, at the Spring Internet World 2000 conference in Los Angeles, I decided to attend an unveiling of a new portable digital storage media, dubbed “DataPlay.” The concept sounded intriguing enough: an affordable, multi-use optical medium about the size of a quarter, which can hold up to 500MB of data — obviously something that desperately wants to give Sony’s “Memory Stick” a run for its money.

These tiny discs, when used with devices that support them, can store videogames, digital music, e-books, movies, photos, wireless info and any other computer-based data. They will ship in two formats: pre-recorded with content or purchased as blank media, with the latter option as cheap as $5 to $10 each — but these are one-time write-only disposable media (unlike CD-RWs).

With blank DataPlay discs, users can record up to four hours of CD-quality audio (copied over from a PC), then play it back on a Walkman-like device. Or how about buying a full semester’s worth of university textbooks, carrying around thousands of images of your sweetie(s) or storing two full Hollywood movies — all of which could be viewed on a color PDA?

There’s also a clever e-commerce application for DataPlay’s pre-recorded media, aka “ContentKey” technology. Say a gamer purchases Tomb Raider VI on a DataPlay disc next year; the first five Tomb Raider games may also be embedded on the disc. The content is already stored on the media, which can only be unlocked once a credit card is given out to the DataPlay site or other supported websites.

Early strategic partners include Samsung, Panasonic, Universal Music Group, Toshiba and Diamond Multimedia/S3 Corp. Time, of course, will tell if this promising media can deliver, but the applications for DataPlay discs seem virtually endless.

We here at Daily Radar wanted to learn more about this emerging technology, so we interviewed DataPlay’s President and CEO, Steve Volk, in a recent email interview.

Daily Radar: What does DataPlay’s technology offer that Sony’s memory stick can’t?

Steve Volk: DataPlay Digital Media is able to offer consumers an affordable, universal and portable solution for consumer electronic devices. Priced at between $5-10 each, the DataPlay Digital Media disc offers 500MB of permanent memory. Flash memory is much more expensive, while offering only a few MB of space. In addition, DataPlay Digital Media is masterable and permanent, unlike Flash. Flash and DP are complementary technologies, not competing, though.

DR: Because it is “spinning” technology and not skip-free such as Flash cards, how will DataPlay devices ensure a smooth-running portable experience?

SV: DataPlay is skip-free. This advancement is achieved through improved data compression ratios from those of CD technology. On a CD, the compression ratios require the disc to spin constantly, raising the possibility of noticeable skips. DataPlay’s higher compression ratios require that DataPlay Digital Media discs spin only about 1/60th as often as CDs. In other words, CDs must spin for one minute for every minute of music played, but DataPlay Digital Media spins for one second for every minute of music played.

The music transferred in that second resides temporarily in buffer memory, where several minutes of music at a time can be stored. The result for the user is that there are no skips. The transfer quality can be compared quite favorably to Flash memory.

DR: Lastly, what are some of the most practical applications for DataPlay’s technology? Digital music players? Digital cameras? Game Boys?

SV: All of these are practical applications. DataPlay is pursuing the music market first, and will aggressively pursue other forms of digital content entertainment in the near future.