Plugged In: Blu-ray, HD DVD in One Drive?

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High-Definition Disc Hybrid

Illustration by Gordon Studer
Illustration: Gordon Studer
The Buzz: The war between Blu-ray and HD DVD over high-definition disc formats rages on, with no sign yet that either camp will throw in the towel. But thanks to some new optics developed by Ricoh, you might not have to choose between the two. The Ricoh design enables a single drive to read Blu-ray discs, HD DVDs, CDs, and DVDs--by using a special diffraction plate that lets the drive focus its laser at the different depth each disc uses. That's a welcome bit of technology in a format battle that seems to be growing more unsettled by the day. The first players on both sides have shipped, but Sony recently delayed its stand-alone Blu-ray player until late October. And if it can't get the player ready until then, how can the Blu-ray-equipped PlayStation 3 possibly... Ah, never mind.

Bottom Line: Look, I'm as psyched about high-def discs as the next guy, but the rising uncertainty around Blu-ray and HD DVD has finally managed to turn me off. So do me a favor and wake me in a couple of years, when multiformat drives should be available and possibly even affordable.

MP3 Gets Ready to Handle Wi-Fi

MusicGremlin Wi-Fi-equipped MP3 player
The Buzz: The celestial jukebox is finally headed to your pocket. Maybe. MusicGremlin recently introduced the first Wi-Fi-equipped MP3 player. The 8GB, $299 model, which is available at the MusicGremlin site, uses a built-in 802.11b connection to let you wirelessly sync tracks from your PC, beam songs to other MusicGremlin players, and access online subscription services. And it's possible that MusicGremlin will prove to be only the beginning. Microsoft is rumored to have in the works a wireless media player called Zune that may support free conversion of some or all of the audio tracks you purchased at the Apple iTunes Music Store.

Bottom Line: If Microsoft pulls off a nice Wi-Fi-enabled design, we'll really have something. The MusicGremlin is a cool idea, but its current player is too chunky to take off.

OS in Your Browser

The Buzz: What's the next logical step after Web-based applications? How about an OS in your browser? YouOS is just that: a personalized desktop environment, complete with file manager and applications. Included are a browser, an IM client, a text editor, e-mail, and hooks to popular sites. The apps will hardly spur you to ditch Word, but YouOS is an intriguing concept. Why stop at configurable home pages, when you can build an entire desktop environment?

Bottom Line: An interesting alpha, albeit one fraught with metaphysical questions. If my YouOS crashes, what does that say about me?


  • IM500: Attractive $130 portable speakers from Altec Lansing complement your iPod Nano.
  • Fabrik: Very slick, hypervisual online media storage is now in public beta.
  • Firefox 2.0 betas: Our favorite browser is gearing up for its next major release.
  • Digg 3.0: Popular, socially ranked news site has gained lots of neat enhancements.
  • Trip planner: Cool Yahoo application lets people compile, save, and share their vacation plans.

50TB on a Single DVD

If Blu-Ray's 50-plus gigabytes of storage isn't enough for you, here's a storage technology to watch. Several researchers at Harvard Medical School have produced a prototype of a protein coating they believe will eventually store up to 50 terabytes on a DVD-size disc. By modifying a light-sensitive protein found in microbes that live in salt marshes, the team created a medium resilient enough to store data for years. NEC, which has been codeveloping the technology, hopes to have a USB thumb drive a year from now, and a DVD-size disc a year after that. But experience tells me tech like this usually belongs in the "five years away" bucket.
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