DataPlay: New storage media played out?|
(Friday, October 4, 2002 - 15:27 EDT)
Regular readers will be familiar with DataPlay Inc., whose long-anticipated optical storage disks have been mentioned numerous times on our news page since they were first announced back in early April 2000.
Exactly two and a half years later, it seems that the 'pause' button has been hit almost immediately that the first DataPlay products hit the market. DataPlay was touted by its creators as being suitable for a wide range of storage tasks - music, games, e-books and digital imaging all being likely matches that require significant amounts of data to be stored in a small, cheap medium.
The DataPlay disc is an optical storage disk about the size of a quarter, and was planned to ship in two capacities - 250MB or 500MB per disk. Plans were that packs of 1, 3 or 5 blank DataPlay disks would be sold at a retail price of $5 - $12 per disk. Once it actually reached the market, it seems only the higher-capacity 500MB disks were actually sold, with a three-pack from storage company Imation costing around $30. The disks can be written to only one time, similar to CD-R and DVD-R discs (and could be sold pre-mastered, meaning that content such as music or programs are already written to the media. Archival life for the format was claimed to be 100 years.
DataPlay looked at face value to be well suited to digital photography, with a relatively cheap medium that would last a long time, be light and small, and would offer a digital equivalent to the roll of film that you put in your camera, and then have a permanent copy of the original pictures from which you can make prints, etc. Indeed, Toshiba backed the company financially and showed mockups of DataPlay-based cameras at CES in early 2001, and later that year both Kodak and Olympus added further funding to the idea.
DataPlay's biggest push was definitely in the music market, though; the format was seen as an offering that would let music companies offer writeable or prerecorded disks with built-in copy protection to fight the burgeoning MP3 format for which numerous hand-held players were appearing. All of the products announced for the DataPlay format are either audio players, external storage devices for computers, or a combination thereof, and the only one that appears to have actually commenced shipping is an audio player from iRiver. Plans were that prerecorded music disks from various big-name artists would start shipping last June - but that didn't happen, and as far as we're aware only blank disks were ever sold.
According to a CNet News.com article pointed out to us by IR reader Charles Chen, the company laid off half its 240 employees in July, and has been having problems ever since. This week, with deadlines missed and the money all but gone, the remaining 120 employees were all placed on mandatory leave and told to phone in today for a status update. Only employees with vacation or sick days remaining are receiving payment, and the remainder are likely waiting anxiously for news.
So, will DataPlay survive this pause in its plans, or is this the end of the road? The company's Senior Vice President of Business and Marketing told CNet that $40 - 50 million will be required to complete the next phase of operations, and thus far whilst there has been some interest, that figure has not been reached. The question is whether any company or individual will see value in stepping in now to save DataPlay, or whether they're going to wait until it is too late for the company, and they can get the technology at fire-sale prices.
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