Our living room is never quiet. Even in the middle of the night, when no creature stirs, there's a seemingly endless whirring sound -- programs are recording, program guides are downloading, set top boxes are re-booting. With two DVRs in the same stack -- one from the cable company, another that's a vintage ReplayTV box (see related news -- Replay sold to DirecTV) -- the noise from their hard drives is a noticeable and ever-present, though slight annoyance. So the news that large-size flash memories are becoming viable alternatives to hard drives for notebook computers couldn't be more welcome (see
Toshiba to enter the market for notebook solid state drives and
Solid-state drives aim at HDDs' heart), and I want to encourage DVR designers to offer this quiet alternative.
The problem for designers, of course, is cost: Flash drives demand a premium. At today's prices, a modest 60-GB flash drive costs many times what an equivalent-size hard drive costs. And with terabyte and 500-GB hard disk prices moving down near the hundred-dollar ballpark, what designer wouldn't be tempted to offer hundreds of hours of recording capacity?
Will solid-state memory prices continue to drop? Of course they will. But hard disk drive prices seem to be dropping even faster. Will flash memory prices ever catch up with hard drives?
I think the answer to that question is no, but eventually it won't matter. Look at it this way: Imagine if the cost of a hard drive that stores 100 hours of HD is $1, and the cost for an equivalent flash drive is $2. The price difference would be so little that it's almost irrelevant.
Those prices may sound ridiculously low, but there's another factor that should be considered here: codec efficiency. Even in the roughly ten or twelve years since DVRs were first introduced, codec improvements have doubled or quadrupled the effective capacity of any disk drive. Who says H.264 is the "last word" in video codecs? (And for anyone foolish enough to believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you too...)
Are consumers willing to pay a premium for flash memory over disk drives? The experience of the Apple iPod is highly instructive. Today, you can buy an iPod "classic" with a 60-GB hard drive for the same exact price as a more modern iPod with an 8-GB flash memory drive. And while Apple doesn't break out sales figures for the public, one gets the sense that consumers are buying both.
Which may mean that, for the near term, consumers may be willing to pay a premium for a DVR that's completely quiet. Not by paying more, but by accepting reduced recording capacity. It's a tradeoff I'd gladly accept, especially in light of "Roth's Law of DVR Drives," which simply states, "They always fill up, regardless of size." Are you listening, TiVo?