New consumer electronic devices equipped with hard drives are encouraging innovations by drive manufacturers.
The new market demands smaller, quieter drives and new drive technologies, confirmed Seagate's director of global consumer electronics marketing, Rob Pait: "In the past the hard-drive in the home has been located in the PC – but today we see it expanding to become useful in many more areas in the home."
"We find the most action around product development and sales is in the TV space," he said. This reflects the appearance of TiVo- and SkyPlus-like devices, Xbox games consolers and a variety of MP3 players, including Apple's iPod.
Hard-drive shipments reached 5.8 million units in 2002, industry analyst Thomas Coghlin said. He predicts the market will reach 18.2 million units in 2003, expanding to 84,4 million units by 2008.
Pait confirmed that Seagate is working to bring higher-capacity drive technologies to market. Drives need to be optimized to work best with video streaming rather than the random access that is typical with a computer. That means turning down the amount of error checking the drive does because a constant stream of video data is more important than a perfect bit-for-bit flow.
Pait said: "In the consumer electronics market, too much error checking can be harmful to the system. In a video streaming application, you’re looking for a smooth stream going from the hard drive through the system to the television. If the drive spends too much time looking for errors, then it can interrupt this process and cause a blank screen on the TV."
The industry recently agreed on a standard way to do this, called T13, which is included in the latest version of the ATA specifications.
While reduced error checking technology is of little use to PC or enterprise storage users – an imperfect flow of data can cause programs to crash or applications to misbehave – demands of users to store more data or high-definition video could help push up demand for drives based on new technologies and that could lead to lower prices for all users.
The need to store more data is also spurring research and development. Seagate is looking into several future technologies including perpendicular recording, where the magnetic bits are stood upright rather than laid flat to reduce the amount of space they take up on the disk surface – so more bits can be crammed on the disk.
The company is also looking at a technology in which a laser beam is used to warm up magnetic bits just before they are written to so that they become more stable and hold data more reliably.
Smaller drives are also in the frame, Coughlin confirmed: "The move of the hard-drive market to smaller form factors will continue and accelerate."
"Consumer applications continue to drive demand for more storage capacity and more performance from hard drives," said Pait. "Digital video recorders are re-energizing the consumer electronics industry and hard drive industry."