Can Video Really Save the Hard Disk Industry?

Columnist David Morgenstern thinks new-wave personal video recorders can pull disk companies out of their doldrums. Some Storage Supersite readers take a different view.

The march toward technological progress is seldom smooth, except for the occasional documentary on the History Channel. Hard disk manufacturers hope that the personal video recorder will bring a new era of prosperity as consumer video goes digital. Yet some Storage Supersite readers warn that these expectations could be a bit misplaced.

As I pointed out in my recent column, industry analysts see a potentially enormous market for PVRs in the coach potato, in the many millions of units annually. However, until now, the current market has been slow to take off—very slow.

Some of you, doubt the whole proposition of the digital recorder, sticking with the inexpensive and familiar analog recording technology.

"I do a fair amount of time-shifting now, using two S-VHS decks—a PVR would free me from the purchase of tapes and periodic cleaning," Jeff Carlson said. "But a PVR only duplicates the functions of a VCR; it doesnt provide any truly new-and-exciting, cant-live-without-it functions.

"For this change of a box, I dont see any value-added to justify either a monthly service fee or the requirement of a hookup to a telephone line."

At the same time, others figured that it may take more than the ordinary, aggressive marketing plan to fix the PVRs acceptance problems.

"How do you describe a PVR to the average couch potato in 30 seconds or less?" Rick Steele wondered, even while declaring that his PVR was the best investment in home-entertainment equipment he had ever made. "The problem is, if I wasnt a computer techie, I dont know if I would have easily understood what a PVR could do for me. A glorified VCR? I think not."

Of course, these are all worthy concerns. Its possible to pile on many more troubling issues: some marketing, others in the areas of usability, cost and even technology.

Noise annoys
For example, my pet peeve is acoustical—most PVRs sound annoyingly loud, depending on the environment.

Now, they seem fine when you listen to them on the floor of the electronics store. Thats because of the considerable ambient noise—even in a "quiet" demonstration room.

On the other hand, theres a different perceptual situation when the PVRs little hard disk records a movie in your bedroom at 3 oclock in the morning. It can make a high-pitched buzz—one thats easily ignored when the machine sits in a multimedia center in the living room or home theater but not in your bedroom.

I recognize that drive manufacturers have made a real effort during the past year to reduce the noise of bearings and actuators. In spite of that, no matter how quiet the drive, its still being placed in an acoustic-enhancing environment—an empty box, like a drum or guitar.

Nevertheless, some PVR models are quieter than others, and Im sure they will continue to reduce the noise with additional acoustic shielding.

To my ear, these complaints—mine included—sound like the market difficulties any new technology, especially a consumer product, faces during its infancy.

According to the classic model, after filling the demand of early adopters, developers face a lull in sales—sometimes lasting years—as the bugs are worked out and the market develops. Then the growth takes off like a rocket.

Its all a question of when the countdown really begins.

David Morgenstern is a longtime watcher of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.