SPECIAL REPORT: NEW technology for field editing

Whether reporting from the front lines of combat or delivering breaking news to worldwide audiences, the ability to gather and package story content on the go is a necessity for today's news people. Immediacy is especially important in the online news battle to attract viewers. From a technology standpoint, the options for mobile video editing are drastically improving, thanks to advances in storage technology.

Mobile storage

The storage industry's perennial push to increase storage capacity provides the foundation for the increasing mobilization of computing platforms. But until recently, the outlook was not nearly as bright. Drive manufacturers faced a potential end of the line for capacity increases with conventional recording technologies.

However, thanks to the introduction of perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) in the past year, hard drives continue to climb the capacity curve, and users can expect even more robust storage options for mobile video editing. First commercialized in 2005 after 20 years of development, PMR represents a true paradigm shift in how data is stored on disk.

Some history

When the first hard drive was shipped in 1956, it weighed 1241lbs, used 50 24in disks and stored 5MB of data. It had an areal density of 2000 bits/in2. (Areal density is the numerical measurement of the number of bits stored per unit area on the disk surface. It is considered the most important parameter in driving the advancement of disk capacity and performance.)

For almost 20 years, drive manufacturers continued to increase storage by pushing areal density limits with conventional longitudinal recording, which stores data on a magnetic disk as microscopic magnetic bits aligned in a plane. Before the introduction of PMR, areal densities using longitudinal recording had surpassed 100GB/in2. This resulted in drives providing 80GB of storage capacity per platter or 160GB in a dual-platter drive. Although advances in magnetic coatings continued to improve drive recording densities, the industry was approaching a technology barrier with longitudinal recording that would eventually slow further capacity increases.

Technology behind PMR

The scaling of the magnetic grains beyond today's density is constrained by a physical energy barrier that causes the bits to change their magnetic orientation — similar to when two magnets of like poles repel each other. Known as the superparamagnetic effect, this orientational flip is caused by a fluctuation of magnetization due to thermal agitation. Squeezing more bits onto the disk eventually leads to a point where the quality of the recorded bits begins to degrade. When this happens, the bits are no longer held in a reliable state and can change magnetic properties. The result is often scrambled data, which is not a good thing for anyone — especially a remote news crew.

To overcome the superparamagnetic effect, PMR introduces a fundamental change in how the magnetized grain cells reside on the disk media. In doing so, PMR provides electromagnetic advantages that enable future advancements in data storage densities.

PMR uses magnetization forces that are perpendicular (standing up) to the recording plane, as opposed to the traditional longitudinal method, which only allowed for the bits on a drive to be parallel (lying down). (See Figure 1 above and Figure 2) By standing the magnetic bits on end, perpendicular recording reinforces the magnetic coupling between neighboring bits. This helps achieve a stable, higher recording density and, therefore, more storage capacity.

The additional capacity from PMR can be more easily understood by considering the analogy of placing books on a bookcase. By standing books on a shelf instead of laying them flat or side-by-side, more books will fit in the case. The same is true with PMR.

A closer look

In the late 19th century, perpendicular recording was first demonstrated by Danish scientist Valdemar Poulsen. He discovered that sound could be recorded magnetically.

Perpendicular recording resurfaced in 1976, when Dr. Shunichi Iwasaki, president and chief director of Tohoku Institute of Technology in Japan, discovered density advantages with perpendicular recording for computer storage. Now considered the father of modern perpendicular recording, Dr. Iwasaki's initial work laid the foundation for today's advances in perpendicular recording technology.

Increased storage capabilities

PMR is now projected to enable minimum compounded storage capacity increases of 40 percent annually, providing storage capacities in laptops previously associated only with desktop systems. A 100GB-per-platter PMR drive with an areal density of 178.8Gb/in2 in a 2.5in form factor was released earlier this year.

Recent research has led experts to believe that PMR technology could soon provide recording densities of 1000Gb/in2. This could result in mobile drives with 1TB of storage.

Besides today's reality of 200GB-plus 2.5in drives, new PMR technology could produce even smaller form factor drives also with sufficient capacity to support mobile video editing on even more compact work stations. In the 1.8in-sized drive, the industry is projecting capacities to soon reach 100GB-plus. The result could offer field crews the capability of editing professional format digital video on ultra-portable notebooks weighing less than 5lbs. Likewise, smaller and higher capacity drives could be mounted on cameras providing direct-to-disk recording.

Thanks to rapidly increasing storage capacity, drive performance and the shrinking size of hard drives, video applications will no longer be tied to desktop systems. Users can expect that the introduction of PMR technology will greatly affect mobile storage over the next few years by providing up to 10 times more capacity than was previously possible. These improved storage solutions will open new doors for creating mobile video editing tools that can be housed in a briefcase — or even in your pocket.

Maciek Brzeski is vice president of marketing at Toshiba Storage Device Division.