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Will digital storage ever be enough?

The new CF Express cards have hit the market with a speed exceeding 1GB per second. Image credit: ProGrade Digital

There should be a point where capacity growth will exceed demand, shouldn’t it? It might, but so far it hasn’t been the case. My first compact flash storage was a huge 32MB, I won’t be able to squeeze a single photo I am taking today with my DSRL camera (an average “compressed” RAW photo produced by my camera is in the range of 50-60 MB). I have two slots in my camera, each with a 32 GB card (that is a capacity 2,000 times greater than that first compact flash card).

Now the new CF Express standard has hit the market (the standard was announced in August 2016, three years ago), with SanDisk offering cards in the 64/128/256 and 512GB capacity (at a price ranging between 150$ and 600$). There are also 1TB cards in the making, like the one in the picture.

Looking on more details on these new cards and their backward compatibility to the XQD standard (they have exactly the same form factor) I stumbled onto a nice presentation that was given by Wes Brewer, ProGrade Digital, at PhotoNext conference. If you are interested in digital storage you should take a look at that.

I would like to highlight a few points in the presentation that I found very interesting:

  • silicon based storage has been around for 30 years now, the new CF Express are foreseen to be around for the next 30 years as well. This means that there is no mass market replacement of silicon in the next decades. Graphene, molybdenum disulfide, spintronics are promising but very futuristic storage tech;
  • the market for silicon storage is huge, 1.8 billion $ but it is decreasing, it was 2 billion $ in 2018 and it is expected to be 1.5 billion $ in 2020. DSRL cameras take the lion share, 2/3 of the market (mostly because they use larger storage that tends to be more expensive). Point and Shoot cameras in 2019 are expected to reach almost 40 million $ of storage but this is foreseen to drop to to 28 million next year, in synch with the disappearance of P&S cameras (killed by smartphones). Storage for drones have peaked to 170 million $ this year and is foreseen to remain stable in 2020:
  • the migration to larger sensors with higher resolution is pumping the size of photos and video. A sensor like the one in a smartphone will result in a 20MB image (max, on the average much less), whilst a DSRL camera may produce a 100+MB photo. Video shows the same trend with 4k video demanding 4 times as much storage (and transmission bandwidth) of HD video. Additionally, the quality has a big impact on the amount of storage required (compression and no loss compression) pushing the envelope from the 300 MB/s of broadcast video to 1 GB/s for cinema quality video. Storing 1 hour of broadcast video requires 530GB, one hour of cinema quality video 1.7TB! This is where CF Express can make a difference. Downloading one hour of cinema quality video with a CF Express card would take 17 minutes, that same video on the fastest SD card would require 1h and a half.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.