DataPlay plays on

One of the biggest flameouts in storage at the turn of the century was DataPlay, which produced a write-once, copy-protected enclosed optical disc about the size of a quarter — in some ways the Universal Media Disc of its day. Along with Iomega’s 40 MB Click/PocketZip drive, DataPlay failed as the last attempts of optical and mechanical media to wrest control from flash memory for the future of portable devices using removable media. (I suppose you could also consider Compact Flash form factor microdrives but those primarily became embedded devices over their short run.) Had things turned out differently, we might be debating the merits of “discMusic,” not slotMusic.

As it was, both disc formats had at least one MP3 player released that supported their formats — the DataPlay-compatible iDP-100 by iRiver and the PocketZip-compatible HipZip by Iomega. The terse Wikipedia entry for DataPlay claims there was even an album released in the format by Britney Spears, which might have foreboded the company’s fall and modern-day attempts at a comeback.

In that vein, I was surprised to see the old logo as I was doing some research on Sonic’s QFlix burn-at-home DVD format for my next Switched On column. According to the now low-key Web site of the Colorado purveyor of “advanced optical solutions,” the company offers an external QFlix-certified DVD burner called the MovieWriter and a commercial “pre-key” QFlix-writing system for replicators.

More incredibly, though, it still lists the original DataPlay format in a product. The “biometric access personal storage device” includes an external USB DataPlay drive with 5 GB (10 discs) worth of media that is encrypted as it is written.. It also includes a fingerprint scanner although there is likely a good “security by obscurity” argument for the format. In any case, the security application is a dramatic contrast from the glitz evoked by the company’s large ecosystem-touting Consumer Electronics Show booth during its go-go years.

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