Site: Nikon Corporation
Research and Development Department
Information Storage Products Division
1-6-3 Nishi-ohi, Shinagawa-ku
Tokyo 140, Japan

Date Visited: 30 March 1998



Nikon's involvement with optical storage media is through a joint venture with Hitachi-Maxell, called MNO (Maxell-Nikon Optical). This company, which is nearly three years old, manufactures and markets exchange-coupled magnetic multilayer MO disks capable of direct overwrite (DOW). Both 3.5" and 5.25" disks are produced by MNO. Nikon's high-end product is currently the 4X, 5.25" DOW disk with 2.6 GB capacity (double-sided). The 8X, ISO format disk was expected to be introduced into the market later in 1998 by Sony Corporation. The DOW version of the 8X, 5.25" MO disk will follow the non-DOW disk. (At the time of this visit, the ISO was almost finished specifying the 8X 5.25" DOW disk, and had finished specifying the DOW 4X 5.25" and the DOW 5X 3.5".)

As of the date of this visit, the price of DOW disks in Japan was approximately 50% higher than the non-DOW disk. For example, the 3.5" DOW disk could be purchased for 2,400, whereas the non-DOW disks cost about 1,600. Despite this price difference, the general consensus at Nikon was that the overwrite capability is important to the user, and the hosts believed that a large fraction of the users will prefer the DOW disks.

As far as compatibility with drives is concerned, all 640 MB drives for the 3.5" disks and all 4X drives for the 5.25" disks can handle the DOW disks as well as the ISO standard non-DOW disks. The hosts also stated that all future-generation drives for MO will be compatible with the DOW disks.

The market for MO drives is still small, but most of the Japanese scientists/engineers this WTEC team met seemed to think that there is a bright future in this field. In 1996 there were nearly 1 million 3.5" MO drives sold worldwide, and the number was close to 930,000 units in 1997.

By far the largest share of the market (i.e, percentage of users) was in Japan. There does not seem to be a large market for the Zip drives in Japan, although Fuji film is now making Zip media, and NEC has been licensed to manufacture Zip drives. According to WTEC's hosts at Nikon, the Japanese consumers think very highly of optical technologies, perhaps because of the superior performance of CD audio and its resounding success in the market place. Any technology that uses lasers is likely to attract the attention of Japanese consumers. As for MO technology, the hosts indicated that the shelves in Akihabara were full of MO disks.

No one at the meeting knew the exact size of the market for MO disks, but the guess (based on the number of drives sold in 1997) was that there was probably demand for 10 to 20 million 3.5" disks in 1998. Given that several manufacturers in Japan produce these disks, hosts were asked if this type of a market was suitable for their company to be involved with. The answer was a strong yes, with the comment that 10, 20, 30, 40 million disks per year is certainly a good enough market for Japanese disk makers to pursue.

There was some talk about the Windows 98 operating system and that this version of Windows will allow bootup from removable media. Also the fact that Win'98 will accept ATAPI interface (instead of SCSI) was considered a boost for MO drives in the near future. Fujitsu, for example, is already making 3.5" MO drives with ATAPI interface; Fujitsu has also announced 1.2 GB 3.5" (one-sided) MO drives, and reportedly has plans for Dragon I and II drives, which will accept both 3.5" MO disks and CD-ROM.

Nikon apparently is not involved in phase-change media development. The only information the hosts provided on this type of media was based on their personal knowledge of the R&D efforts in Japan. They said that in April 1998 Hitachi and Panasonic were expected to ship DVD-RAM disks and drives. These are 2.6 GB/side, 5.2 GB (double sided) 120 mm diameter disks. Sony's DVD+R/W is expected to have around 3.5 GB capacity, and Pioneer's DVD-RW will be about 3.4 GB capacity. The latter is expected to be introduced in 1999.

The participants had some reservations about the future of CD-R type media (CD-Recordable, DVD-Recordable, WORM-type media). They felt that with the mastering equipment makers' effort to develop a new method of mastering of CD and DVD, stamping as few as 100 disks will be cheaper than recording them individually on the CD-R type media. Of course CD-R will continue to serve a special niche market, but more and more people will gravitate toward the ROM type media on the one-hand and toward the rewritable media on the other hand.

It was stated that there will be essentially two types of markets for MO disks and drives in the near future: (a) personal computer/consumer/portable applications, and (b) infrastructure applications such as servers and mainframes. From now on, the 3.5" and 5.25" disks will move in different directions, partly because of differences in removability requirements, and partly because of the price targets that manufacturers feel they can set for each product.

For portable applications it was felt that SyQuest and Jazz drives are not suitable because they can be dropped only about 40 cm or so. The same concern applies to the magnetic field modulation (MFM) method, which contains a flying head. The LIMDOW (light intensity modulation direct overwrite) technology, on the other hand, does not use a flying head and is therefore more suitable for portable applications. Technologies that use the magnetic field modulation technique are probably more suited for infrastructure applications (e.g., servers and mainframes) as well as for low-end consumer applications such as the MiniDisc.

The participants felt certain that the optical ROM format will be around in 20 years and beyond. They mentioned that semiconductor memories should be watched closely in the next few years. New semiconductor technologies such as one-electron DRAM might be able to compete with optical RAM storage products. The need of optical storage devices for some sort of mechanical actuator to access the data might be considered to be a drawback for this technology, when the recording densities would be much higher in the very distant future. The participants also felt certain that the optical RAM format will be around in 20 years and beyond.

Published: June 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian