Microsoft Media Players to Boast Bigger Drives

The company's Portable Media Players will offer more than 125GB of storage by 2007.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—A hardware designer for Microsoft Corp.s Portable Media Player team said that by 2007 the players would be designed with at least 125GB of storage capacity.

The recently introduced players will also be designed to record and download high-definition as well as standard-definition video, said David Proctor, hardware lead for the Microsoft Portable Media Center at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. Future Portable Media Players, or PMPs, may include the ability to directly record video and connect to a wireless network, Proctor told attendees at the Diskcon show here.

However, while 125GB of storage would seem to be good news for the drive industry, ubiquitous wireless technology may actually work against the mobile disk-drive market, Proctor added.

Designed for watching video on the go, the first PMP players began shipping in early September. Creative Technology Ltd.s Zen Portable Media Center, iRiver Inc.s PMC-100 series and Samsung Electronics America Inc.s YH-999 are priced at between $499 and $599 for capacities of up to 40GB. Critics say that the devices do not allow the freedom to multitask that audio players do, but Microsoft officials have said that the devices are also designed to allow users to time-shift video for commutes via train or airplane.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about Microsofts Media2Go platform.

According to The Diffusion Group Inc. of Plano, Texas, more than 40 percent of surveyed homes were interested in buying the device; 9 percent said they would "definitely" buy a PMP.

Microsofts software engineers are already working to increase the size of the PMP drives. Although todays music requires about 5MB using the MP3 file format, Microsoft hopes users will take advantage of the recently released Windows Media Audio 10 codec and its "lossless" ripping algorithm, which provides a 700K-bps data rate, compared to the 128K-bps rate thats common to MP3 files. The trade-off for the increased file size is purer-sounding audio, Proctor said.

By 2007, Microsoft envisions its Portable Media Players will hold up to 124GB of data, including 1,000 purchased songs recorded in WMA Lossless; 10,000 subscription songs at 128 K bps; 40 hours of standard-definition video; and 1,000 digital photos. Power users would require more storage, he said.

Although Microsoft is currently focusing on audio, Proctor pointed out that the rise of digital camcorders could skew the mix heavily in the other direction. "Theres not much self-authored audio out there, but I bet there will be a lot of self-authored video," he said.

If the PMP takes off, Microsoft will have a greater say in the design of the hard drives powering the device. Proctor said the software giant already has some design goals. For example, he said that a slideshow of digital still images with a five-second delay between images still requires 4.8 M bps of data throughput. Video playback of an 800K-bps stream currently requires less than 5 percent of the system bus; 2004 players will have to accommodate an 8M-bps data stream using the same bus load, he said. Finally, video players will have to maintain a low power threshold, although in this category the display consumes the bulk of the power, attendees pointed out.

Microsofts usage model also assumes that users will sync their PMPs with music libraries owned by such companies as Napster LLC, requiring licenses and content for up to 10,000 songs to be updated once per month. Privately, drive vendors called this restriction ridiculous, but acknowledged that content providers and Microsoft will be calling the shots.

Because of the assumption that users will sync content, future PMPs will likely have a wireless option, Proctor said. That also means that users may be able to stream content on the fly from a local source, connected to a users home server or content provider via the Internet. That means that a large local hard drive may not be needed, he said.

Amy R. Dalphy, manager of hard disk drives at Toshiba Corp.s Storage Device Division, said that she still felt a storage device serving as a cache might be necessary.

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