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Portable Storage Products (12/2004)

    by Douglas Dixon

GoVideo Rave-MP Digital Audio Players
Verbatim Store 'n' Go Drives
Mattel Juice Box
References

DVD certainly was the hot topic of 2004, with the introduction of dual-layer discs and the impending release of the next generation of high-definition discs. Yet plain old storage has continued to show great vitality for what might be considered commodity markets for solid state and magnetic memories. New products built around USB memory drives and micro hard drives are providing smaller form factors and higher capacities, whether for storage on a stick or portable media players.

Here's a sampler of how companies are expanding the use for portable disk and memory storage devices for the 2004 holidays.

GoVideo Rave-MP Digital Audio Players

For one example of trade-offs in portable storage options, check out the new GoVideo Rave-MP digital audio players from (www.rave-mp.com). Yes, the storied maker of dual-deck VCRs and combination VCR / DVD recorder products has extended its product line beyond the set-top by re-introducing these portable MP3 players in August 2004.

With recent advances in mini hard drives, GoVideo has been able to provide two options for portable and cost-effective players: the flash-based AMP line starting at $99 for 128 MB, and the hard-disk-based ARC line starting at $199 for 2.5 GB of storage. The "Sport" AMP players weigh 1.4 oz, play up 16 hours on one AAA alkaline battery, and are also expandable to 1 GB of storage with SD or MMC memory cards. The "Style" ARC players are about twice as large and weigh twice as much, and still play up to 10 hours on a rechargeable lithium ion battery.

        GoVideo Rave-MP ARC and AMP

Both players play music in the popular MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) formats, use high-speed USB 2.0 interfaces, include a 5-band equalizer and FM tuner with 20 presets, and can record live sound and FM radio.

What a wonderful choice for consumers: moving from flash to hard disk, from the AMP 128 MB (holds up to 4 hours of music) to the ARC 5.0 GB (to hold up to 166 hours of music), provides 40 times the storage in only double the size, and at only 2 1/2 times the price.

By comparison, the disc-based Apple iPod is available in 20 and 40 GB sizes for $299 and $399, and the smaller Apple iPod Mini holds 4 GB, weighs 3.6 ounces, and lists for $249 (www.apple.com/ipod).

Verbatim Store 'n' Go Drives

Of course, as has been demonstrated with the iPod, determined consumers also want to use their portable devices for storing other kinds of data besides music. This clear consumer desire has lead Verbatim to extend from its traditional base as a media manufacturer into storage devices (www.verbatim.com).

As CD and DVD media is becoming a commodity business, Verbatim started differentiating its brand with fun new disc designs including the Digital Vinyl line of CD-R discs that are designed to look like 45-rpm records, and the Digital Movie line of recordable DVDs that look like old-fashioned film reels.

Beyond bare media, disc and tape and memory cards, Verbatim also has built on its experience outside the U.S. to develop portable USB storage drives, now expended into several product lines under the Store 'n' Go brand. Again, as generic USB drives has become a commodity business competing on style and price, Verbatim has enhanced its products with performance and security features. The new Store 'n' Go Pro USB line, introduced in August 2004, includes a 32-bit ARM-7 microprocessor that enhances reliability with advanced error detection/correction, and provides access rates of up to 14 MB/sec for writing and 23 MB/sec for reading (enabling a 100 MB transfer in under 7 seconds). Prices range from $74.95 for 256 MB to $599.95 for 2 GB.

And once it was established in the retail storage business, the next step for Verbatim came in August 2004 with the introduction of an external USB hard disk device, the Store 'n' Go 2.1 GB USB HD Drive. Based on a 4200 rpm, 1-inch micro hard drive with a USB 2.0 interface, this unit is ridiculously tiny -- smaller than a business card, and smaller and lighter than the GoVideo hard disk music player (since it does not need a display, interface, or FM tuner), at a list price of $249. The former media manufacturer is now in the storage business, selling magnetic disk drives.

        Verbatim Store 'n' Go USB HD Drive

Mattel Juice Box

The market clearly has room for both approaches to portable storage: devices that are dedicated to a particular use like playing music, or raw bytes on a stick that are used to transport whatever data and content you want to have at hand. Yet showing that digital media content -- music, photos, and even videos -- does then require transferring to a computer. To both carry and show your content, then, you need a more general device like a PDA, or some kind of dedicated portable device that extends portable media support beyond audio, and includes a built-in display.

Mattel has taken this approach with the Juice Box portable media player, a music, photo, and video player targeted to the "tween" youth lifestyle (www.mattel.com). But the Juice Box is more than a flash-based portable storage device and media player. It is also a delivery platform for protected video content sold on add-in media cards.

Introduced in October 2004 for $69, the Juice Box has a colorful design with a soft-touch texture, available in three gaudy colors: bright red, cobalt blue and lime green. The 3-inch backlit video screen has a flip cover to protect it in a pocket, and it plays stereo audio through speakers or a headphone. It is powered by three AA batteries, and can play for up to 5 hours.

        Mattel Juice Box

To transfer and play your own material, you also need to add the Juice Box MP3 Starter Kit for $44, which provides the software and hardware to rip and transfer MP3 music and JPEG images to the unit (but not videos). It includes a blank 32 MB SD or MMC card, Flash card adaptor, and USB card reader/writer.

But Mattel also sees the Juice Box as a platform for enjoying prerecorded content, sold as Juiceware flash media cards (up to 64 MB or 176 minutes), at prices ranging from $9.99 for a couple animations to $24.99 for full-length features. Titles will include music videos from BMG Music; Cartoon Network animations; shows from The Learning Channel and Discovery Channel such as "Trading Spaces" and "Motorcycle Mania;" surfing, skateboarding and BMX championships from Vans Triple Crown Series; and World Wresting Entertainment Superstars.

The Juice Box is powered by a 32 bit ARM processor running at 60 MHz. Video is compressed using a proprietary technology, and plays at an average of 10 frames per second on the 240 x 160 color LCD screen, with up to 4069 colors.

The result is something of the best of both worlds: a pocket-sized portable storage device expandable with removable SD / MMC cards, plus a built-in music player and photo viewer for immediate access to your material, plus a library of pre-programmed content that can be collected and traded. However, like iPod fans, Juice Box users may well want more open access to the storage, support for more formats, and playback of their own videos.

References

GoVideo
    www.govideo.com

GoVideo - Rave-MP digital audio players
    www.rave-mp.com

Apple - iPod
    www.apple.com/ipod

Mattel - Juice Box
    www.mattel.com

Verbatim - Store 'n' Go Drives
    www.verbatim.com