Dot.life - where technology meets life, every Monday
By Paul Rubens
How quaint... an MP3 player that will store your entire record collection. The inexorable demand for more memory means we will soon be storing thousands of feature films in our pockets, and that's just for starters.
Depeche Mode: Enough, no more
I've just realised that Depeche Mode must have been singing about disk space in their 1981 classic I Just Can't Get Enough.
Not so long ago I bought a tiny MP3 music player with 64Mb of storage space which was pretty much the last word in cool. The average MP3 song is probably about 4 or 5MB, so it could store about twelve or so songs - about an album's worth of music.
Then came the Apple iPod with a staggering 5Gb (that's about 5,000Mb) of storage space on a tiny hard drive, and suddenly the idea of choosing an album to load on to my MP3 player for the day became laughable. Five "gigs" is a huge amount of storage space - enough for 1,200 songs or about 100 albums. With one of these babies I could carry around every album I owned. So I bought one.
And that should have been the end of the story. But it turns out Depeche Mode were right. When it comes to data storage you really never can get enough. That's because each time you get a little bit more, it enables you to do new things, and these new things leave you needing even more.
Here's what I mean: with 64MB you can carry around an album, and with 5Gb you can carry around the equivalent of several milk crates of albums. Suddenly the concept of carrying around every piece of music you like doesn't sound so crazy.
There are plenty of legal music download services from which you can get free or paid for mp3s, and, of course, many people also swap mp3s with friends illegally.
8Gb storage cards. Pah! Child's play
So 5Gb is fine for the average CD collection, but when you include all the extra music that's easily available it begins to look rather mean. Manufacturers have cottoned on - they now make 15, 20 and 40Gb mp3 players to cater for consumers' rapidly expanding music collections.
But hold on a minute. 40Gb! That's a lot of storage space. Why stop at music? A feature film on a DVD takes up about 5gb of storage, but when compressed using DivX (a format which is rapidly becoming to films what MP3 is to music) it can take up as little as 600Mb without any significant loss of quality.
Enter a new breed of consumer gizmo - the personal media player. These little devices, which are just beginning to hit the market, are smaller than a paperback book and include a colour screen and 40Gb of storage space to hold music, photographs and 50 or so movies.
Next step, the petabyte
But hey, ho. Haven't we been here before? Fifty films is great, but what about all those movies you can download off the internet ? What about movies you've filmed with your video camera and lovingly edited on your laptop. Episodes of Eastenders you've recorded from the TV? Classic football matches? What about carrying around every movie you could ever want to watch?
When you put it like that, 40Gb suddenly doesn't seem so big after all. What's really needed is a terabyte of storage. That's about a thousand gigabytes - enough for your favourite 1,000 films, with space left over for a quarter of a million or so of your favourite tunes and a multi-media encyclopaedia or two.
Box of flicks - a new media player
But then a terabyte isn't that big when you think about it... you need a good two terabytes to carry around a decent research library, so with your movies, songs, and a few other odds and ends that you want with you at all times, it would probably be wise to future-proof your media player purchase by going for a petabyte model - that's about 1,000 terabytes to you and me.
Of course there's no such thing as a petabyte iPod, but the good news is that we may not have too long to wait for one. Hitachi Data Systems already sells a product called the TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform which can manage up to 32 petabytes of storage for the very largest corporations, so you'd have to conclude that a pocket-sized consumer version isn't out of the question in a decade or so.
Now 32 petabytes - that really is a serious amount of storage. A 32 "pet" media player could hold about seven billion MP3s or roughly 50 million movies - surely that would be enough for even the most avid cinema buff or music nut?
If I've learned anything from Depeche Mode and my old 64Mb player, it's that 32 petabytes probably won't be enough. So it must only be a matter of time before the exabyte, zettabyte, yottabyte and finally the brontobyte media player appears on the market.
A brontobyte is million million petabytes, enough to store everything that's ever been filmed, taped, photographed, recorded, written, spoken, and probably even thought. Still, it would probably be wise to wait for the 10 bront model, just to be on the safe side.