A USB flash drive with Ghostbusters - a good/bad thing

PNY Technologies announced this week they're the first company to release a 2GB USB flash drive with a feature film preloaded on it. PNY is using the 1980s flick Ghostbusters to promote its new line of Attaché flash drives. If you're someone who has been downloading movies to USB drives for sometime -- as I have -- you may say, "so what?" And, you may have a point, but there's more to this first-time novelty than meets the eye.

First, you should know it's not being released in the U.S. - yet. According to PNY spokeswoman, Margaret Salleroli, the company is using Europe as a test market for the USB drive/movie thing. It is impressive that relatively tiny PNY struck a deal with Sony to be the first to distribute a movie on the very untraditional medium. A quick check with SanDisk, the largest flash memory vendor, showed they have nothing like this in the works. The PNY/Sony deal also had to include digital rights management software that would try to keep people from copying the film to other media. The DRM will work for the general public, but it'll last about 10 minutes in the tech community. And who really cares? Ghostbusters has been on The Pirate Bay for a long time.

But what I took away from this exercise in marketing is that movies on disk, not disc, may well be the future.

Now I'm not saying that carrying your movies around on a 2GB flash drive is the optimal way of doing things. First, anyone with a lick of common sense knows you can't really achieve high-definition quality on a 2GB drive (Blu-ray Disc touts 25GB) -- not to mention that PNY says there's enough left-over capacity on the drive for 12 hours of video play, 33 hours of music and 1,080 pictures. The PNY flash drive is USB 2.0 certified, meaning if the device could, it would be able to transfer data at 480Mbit/sec. A PC Magazine review of this drive showed it has a read time of 18.2MB/sec. -- that's pretty unimpressive when compared to thumb drives we've tested that had average read rates as fast as 30MB/sec.

And there are just a few mediums through which you can really enjoy a movie piped through a USB port -- 24-inch monitors not withstanding. I only use USB drives for movies on my laptop when traveling. That said, carrying around a couple of movies on a USB drive is pretty convenient. They're great for planes because they eat far less power than a DVD drive, so I actually get to finish the movie I'm watching. And, when your face is less than two feet away from the screen, the quality is perfectly fine.

PNY was less than forthcoming with information about their flash drive/movie deal with Sony. They didn't say whether they'll eventually release other movies on their drives, so we don't know if this is a new form of movie distribution. The company also has yet to supply me with the compression ratio they used to cram the movie onto the drive, so my take on this is that while the packaging says you can store a 1080p definition, the actual picture quality will fall far short of that.

But think about this for a minute. Capacity on solid state disk is growing exponentially and prices are plummeting. It won't be long before you can purchase a 128GB drive for a couple hundred dollars and fill it with dozens of movies.

Eventually, I believe televisions will have Ethernet and/or USB ports -- some do today - so you'll be able to plug hard drives directly into them and stream high-def video at gigabit speeds. Just think, selecting from a menu on your television any of hundreds of movies. But I've gotten off track. I started by talking about a simple 2GB USB flash drive with a preloaded movie.

PNY is already selling the preloaded USB stick for $53 in Europe. Yeah, I know. There's no way anyone's going to buy it. But I think the point of this little marketing scheme is that as capacity grows exponentially on solid state disk, so does the ability to store massive amounts of data for business and personal use -- and now also for entertainment. And, that's pretty cool.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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