DAT320: Zombie Format Surfaces in Frankfurt

It’s official: The DAT format isn’t dead yet. It’s still shuffling around, attempting to find a place at the backup table. Trouble is, more capacious and sweeter smelling formats have taken all the seats. This past week, Tandberg Data was previewing the latest generation of the DAT digital data format at the SNW Europe 2009 show in Frankfurt, but the big question is, “Why?

DAT is a format with a troubled history, appearing first as a hobbyist and semi-pro format for digital audio recording. It’s a rotary head format developed by Sony, and first competed with the fixed–head DCC format, the Digital Compact Cassette—a convenient and great sounding forerunner of later, more popular formats that also rely on lossy codecs. However, running afoul of the RIAA and their running dogs in government back in the late 1980s, the DAT format never took off in the consumer market and, despite being designed for light duty home use, was adopted by cash-strapped pro audio folks as an el cheapo alternative to very costly open-reel digital formats. That decision would come back to, ahem, haunt those same audio practitioners decades later. It would be a while before ADAT and DTRS came into their own as budget digital tape formats offering higher track counts and, in the case of the latter format, improved robustness.

Being basically a flop in its original market, Sony repurposed DAT as a pure data play, where it has lived on as a sad and neglected alternative to DLTtape and good old reliable LTO. Now, Tandberg is showing a new generation with 160 GB native capacity. The drives will be sole sourced by Sony, which is interesting since Sony has made no mention of the product.

Tandberg Datas DAT320 drive

Tandberg Data's DAT320 drive

At an MSRP of US$899, DAT320 is a bit of a head scratcher since 320 GB of compressed capacity is barely enough for backing up your average desktop. Heck, my MINSTORMS has more memory than that! Just kidding but, DAT320 does live in that weird realm where BD-ROM is too small and most tape formats are too big or expensive… except, of course, DLTtape with which it competes directly and Tandberg also sells. Go figure. Another “interesting” feature of the format is that it’s compatible only with the immediately previous generation of the format and nothing earlier in the DAT family tree.

If you see a DAT drive shambling down the street this Halloween looking for handouts, remember what George Romero’s official zombie handbook says: “Beat ’em or burn ’em, they go up pretty easy!” Have a happy Halloween!

Beat em or burn em!

Beat 'em or burn 'em!

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