Friday, March 12, 2004

Unintended consequences: DVRs & the death of broadcast tv, HDTV and massive hard drives

Mercury News | 03/10/2004 | Hitachi unveils massive drive for digital media
Digital media hogs can celebrate.

A new, whopping 400-gigabyte hard drive from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies can store up to 400 hours of standard television programming, 45 hours of high-definition programming or more than 6,500 hours of digital music...

San Jose-based Hitachi said it designed the monster drive, the Deskstar 7K400, for audio/video products such as digital video recorders.

So many fascinating aspects it's hard to figure where to start. Quickly:

1. The storage industry has moved to Hitachi and Toshiba. Quite a shift from a few years ago. I think the movement of mass storage from dedicated computers to consumer devices has transformed that industry. The iPod and the DVR are the leading edge. Massive hard drives in cellphones, video cameras and still cameras are obvious additions, but where else will they appear. Ten years ago we thought ubiquitious networking would make hard drives less important -- but we were way wrong. Weird. I remember when CDs first came out, and Bill Gates had his name an a MASSIVE tome about the glorious age of cheaply replicated mass read-only devices. I wrote a letter to a Canadian aid agency waxing enthusiastic about the potential of cheaply distributing educational and reference materials via CD. Then came Gopher came along and that "fork in history" was forgotten with some embarrassment. (Yes, Gopher came before the web -- and it alone demoted the CD as a reference source.)

Now storage is back, as limits to network traffic have become apparent. The world now seems to be converging on a combination of local storage, network traffic, and the critical new world of local caching of massive amounts of data.

Very neat.

2. We thought HDTV would drive the creation of cheap hi resolution display technology. It will, but the conjunction of HDTV and DVRs is driving the creation of massive storage. Unexpected.

3. DVRs, even though they are used by relatively few people, have destroyed broadcast tv. We watched the Simpsons the other day, for the first time in 10 years (we don't watch much tv). The density of commercials was stunning for one unaccustomed to commercial tv. It was unwatchable without a DVR to zip past the commercials. DVRs make standard commercials less effective, also mortal. The natural reaction of a dying industry is to redouble their efforts. But that makes tv less watchable, so it accelerates the move to DVRs (and cable). End result -- an accelerated technology transition. This feedback phenomenon also hit with pay phones and mobile phones. As mobile phone use grew pay phones became worth less and were less reliable and less available. That meant one could not rely on a pay phone, so one needed a cell phone. Feedback is interesting.

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