Data storage with more Rom for expansion

10th November 2000 at 00:00
When the CD-Rom was first introduced, many didn't believe it would soon store as much data as 500 floppy disks. Now the DVD-Rom looks set to take this even further as George Cole reports

The rise of the Internet and online services has rather taken the shine off formats like CD-Rom. But it would be a mistake to believe the CD's days are numbered or had reached the end of the road in terms of development. Until we all have high-speed, broadband connections from the Internet to our homes, offices and schools, the CD and its successor, the DVD disk, will still be the best way to deliver large files like audio and video to a computer.

CD-Rom has been with us for over 15 years and when the launched idea of a 12cm disc being able to store as much data as 500 floppy disks seemed amazing. But today the CD-Rom is full to capacity as more and more software titles use large graphics, animation, audio and video files. This is partly why the DVD disc, which has seven to 30 times more data capacity than the CD, was developed.

Now Sony has developed a double density CD-Rom with a 1.3 Gb data capacity - CD-Roms can store 650 Mb. The new technology will also be used for CD Recordable and CD Rewritable discs. Sony says that as more PCs use high performance processors and higher-capacity hard disks, so they can handle large audio, video and still image files. This has created a need for higher capacity CDs.

The double density CD makes a few simple modifications of the CD format to double capacity and the new discs are read by the same infra-red lasers as today's audio CDs and CD-Roms. However, the laser's lens system has been adapted so it can focus on the smaller data pits used by the new high-capacity CDs (double density drives will be able to read standard CD-Rom discs but not vice versa), which suggests double density CD-Rom drives should not be much more pricey than standard CD drives. Expect the first CD-Rom discsand drives next year.

The price of CD burners (CD drives that write data onto a blank CD disc) has fallen to such an extent that many PCs now come with them as standard, providing a cheap data back-up system that can also transfer MP3 music files to CD. CD burners can be used with two types of disc: CD-Recordable (CD-R) discs, (about pound;1 each); and CD-rewritable (CD-RW) discs, (pound;1.50 each). Once data has been written on to a CD-R disc it cannot be edited or erased, unlike CD-RWs, which can be used like a floppy disk. Note that while CD-R discs will play in standard CD-Rom drives, not all CD drives can read CD-RWs.

Sony has launched a digital still camera which uses CD-R discs rather than memory cards. The MVC-CD1000 (pound;1,200) uses mini CDs just 8cm in size. Each disc stores up to 156 Mb of data, equivalent to 105 floppy disks, and can hold up to 1,600 still images or 85 video clips each lasting one minute. What is more, the CD-R discs are around pound;5 each and can be used in standard CD-Rom drives.

Although the DVD format has taken off in the consumer electronics market - players now sell faster than VHS recorders - the computer equivalent, DVD-Rom, has had a lower profile. Many desktop PCs and laptops now offer DVD-Rom drives as standard, but DVD-Rom software is scarce. This is a shame as DVD-Rom's extra capacity can be used to offer lots of multimedia content.

DVD-Roms can also hold huge programs without forcing users to swap discs. For example, Microsoft's Encarta Reference Suite 2001 DVD-Rom (pound;100) includes Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 2001, Encarta Interactive World Atlas 2001, Encarta World English Dictionary 2001 on a single disc.

So is it worth investing in DVD-Rom? Right now, maybe not. But it is worth comparing the prices of PCs with a CD-Rom drive and a DVD-Rom drive. If the difference is small, opt for DVD-Rom - these drives can read CD-Roms and you will be buying for the future.

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