Supported by a small army of leading gadget makers, DataPlay showed off a new storage media at the Consumer Electronics Show here this week that promises to bring new levels of storage to digital cameras, MP3 players and other portable devices. DataPlay's optical technology crams as much as 500MB of data onto a disk about the size of a postage stamp - enough space to store several albums worth of photos. The disks are expected to retail for as little as US$5 to $10 when they begin shipping in the second half of this year, and could offer a low-cost alternative to the flash memory cards widely used in portable gadgets today. Prototype devices on show in DataPlay's booth here included a 3-megapixel digital camera from Toshiba, as well as digital music players from SonicBlue's (formerly known as S3) Rio division, Samsung, Ritek and others. The products include a special bay to accommodate DataPlay's disks, and for the most part will start shipping in the second half of this year, representatives from those companies said. DataPlay, in Boulder, Colorado, has also attracted the attention of the recording industry, and boasts the Universal Media Group among its investors. As well as allowing consumers to store data on the disks themselves, DataPlay's storage format will allow recording companies to preload their music on the disks, which DataPlay hopes will pave the way for some compelling applications. For example, a user might buy a disk with five albums by a particular artist on it, but pay for only one of those albums at the time of purchase. If the user likes the album, he or she could pay to "unlock" the other albums stored on the disk by making a transaction over the Internet, saving them the trouble of going back to the store, DataPlay officials said. The disks include built-in copy protection using the SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative). "Besides other music, you could also unlock music videos or interviews," said Raymond Uhlir, vice president of marketing at DataPlay. "You're not going to be getting a CD with just music on it anymore." For users that don't have DataPlay-compatible devices, Imation announced a product here at CES that will allow users on the road to transfer data from compact flash cards onto a DataPlay disk. Called the DiskGo, the product is expected to be available in the fourth quarter priced between $200 and $300, an Imation representative here said. DataPlay will face several challenges, not the least of which will be marketing a new and largely unheard of product to consumers. In turning its new technology into a mass market product, the company will also depend heavily on the continued support of its manufacturing partners. The company will also need to keep its costs down, although it expects to be able to offer its microdrive to manufacturers for less than $100, Steve Volk, DataPlay chairman and chief executive officer, said in an interview here. DataPlay's disk can also be used for storing text in electronic books or as a stand-alone product for offloading music and video files on a PC hard drive. Other financial backers for the company include the likes of Samsung, Creative Labs and Toshiba. "We have significantly higher capacity and significantly lower pricing than our competitors," DataPlay's Uhlir said. "It is so affordable that you can fill up a disk and then just use another disk for the rest of your needs." The DataPlay product will compete with a raft of alternatives including SD (Secure Digital) memory cards from Panasonic, Toshiba and SanDisk, Sony's MemoryStick; Iomega's Clik drive and IBM's new MicroDrive. Nonvolatile flash memory cards typically retail for about $3 per MB, and the cards aren't expected to reach 256MB until later this year. Iomega's Clik drive is slightly larger than DataPlay's technology and is priced at $10 for a 40MB card.