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Europe beats Japan at miniaturisation game

Philips shows off coin-size optical drive, while rival DataPlay discs get UK airing

Philips is showing off its recently developed miniature optical disc and drive in public for the first time at the Ceatec show in Japan.

The discs, called small form factor optical storage or SFFO, are intended to replace memory cards in future generations of mobile electronics products and so have to be very small. In the case of Philips' prototype system (pictured), the discs are 30mm in diameter, or about the size of a 10 pence coin, but can hold up to 1GB of information.

"Usually Japanese companies come to Europe and show us their miniaturised technology but here we are showing them ours," said a beaming Jos Bruins, marketing director of the company's DVD and Super Audio CD products.

Philips announced development of the system earlier this year, but Ceatec marks the first time it has been widely displayed.

It is based on blue laser technology of the same type now being developed by Philips and other major electronics companies for use in optical disc-based video systems that are expected to replace DVD.

Blue lasers have a shorter wavelength than the red lasers used in DVD or CD and so use a much smaller space on the disc to store data. This is how Philips is able to squeeze 1GB, or roughly 50 percent more data than the maximum capacity of a CD-ROM, on to a disc the size of a large coin.

Looking ahead, Bruins said that in addition to further technical development work, Philips is also going to start investigating applications for the disc.

"We are going to have to look at what you can do with this," he said, adding the company sees many potential uses including using it as a medium for prerecorded content. One of the first tests Philips undertook in the lab was to record and play back MP3 audio from the disc, the company said.

With its announcement and unveiling at Ceatec, Philips enters an area of the optical disc industry in which there are few competitors. With most companies concentrating on high-end systems based around 12cm discs for consumer video and computer data applications, little research has been announced regarding such a small form factor.

An exception to this trend is the DataPlay miniature optical disc technology. DataPlay disc is a doubled-sided optical disc with a capacity of 250MB per side. Storage specialist Imation has debuted this technology in the UK this week at the Stuff Live show. It is also showing off a DataPlay player/burner, the MusicUS-B from MediaEnabling.

Thanks to a form factor little larger than a 50 pence coin, the company envisages this media will be used in devices like digital music players, portable games consoles and mobiles phones. But one drawback is that the discs can only be written to once, like a CD-recordable, and unlike Philip's SFFO discs.


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