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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 10:41 GMT
Disk drives take on the living room

By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor in Las Vegas

Hard drive platter, Eyewire
Home hubs could soon be holding your movies, images and music
The hard drive is not something that is seen as a common household item.

But it could soon become part of the living room, as disk drives make their way out of the computer and into consumer products.

The number of hard drives in consumer electronics gadgets is set to jump from 17 million last year to 55 million in 2006, according to analysts.

"The hard drive is moving from the computer room to every room in the house, to the car, even to your pocket," said Gary Gentry, Vice President of Seagate, best known for making computer disk drives.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a myriad of companies were touting the idea of digital entertainment hubs.

The description covers a wide range of products, but they all have one thing in common - a hard drive at the heart of the device.

Higher profile

The idea behind the devices is to have one place which can store TV shows, films, music or photographs.

"Hard drives have never been seen as sexy," said Nick Sprittle, head of Toshiba's hard disk drive business in Europe.

"But recent innovations have raised the profile of the device," he told BBC News Online.

At last week's show in Las Vegas, Panasonic and Pioneer showed off combination DVD digital video recorders, which record TV shows digitally on a hard drive instead of a tape.

On the computing side, chip maker Intel put on view an entertainment PC that resembled more a VCR than a computer, and was operated by a remote control.

It is just further evidence of the blurring of the lines between the computing and the consumer electronics industry.

Family listening to the wireless in 1947, BBC
Living rooms have lots more hardware nowadays
The proliferation of disk drives has been fuelled by advances in storage technology which has pushed down prices and boosted storage capacities.

Mr Gentry highlighted how the amount of data that could be stored had grown by 400% in the past three years, while costs per gigabyte had fallen by 80%.

Already there are dozens of gadgets like digital music players or video cameras equipped with disk drives.

"The technical side of storage is irrelevant to the consumer," he said.

"The technology needs to be transparent, the storage needs to be invisible. The storage is usually visible when something bad happens."

Anyone who has had problems with a computer disk drive will be familiar with the agony involved when something goes wrong.

But those in the storage industry are confident that their products will meet the challenge of moving from the computer room to the living room.

"All these devices have an expectation of ruggedness," explained Mr Sprittle.

"In any case, the loss of data from a PC is more critical than losing 100 MP3 files," he said.

"In the home the worse case scenario is that you have lost a copy of Mission Impossible"


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