At Iomega's home office in the wilds of Roy, Utah - not far from the paradise of Provo and the oasis of Ogden - they joke about the Jaz, debate the Ditto and zip about the Zip.
But the buzz at Iomega is The Buz.
Scheduled to be on store shelves in September and priced at less than $200 (exactly $1 less than $200), The Buz is the latest gizmo from Iomega Corp., a 17-year-old computer-peripherals company that specializes in designing instinctive, easy-to-use storage devices for digital data.
The last product Iomega introduced a couple of years ago was called the Zip drive, a $150 device that uses removable discs, each of which is capable of storing up to 100 megabytes of - as Iomega deftly describes it - "stuff." For techies with tiny hard drives, the Zip offered a practical method of expansion: You could load games, graphics, word processors, financial data or virtually any software application on a $20 Zip disc. The disc could be swapped for another one, or erased and used over and over. Essentially, the Zip - like Iomega's Jaz and Ditto products - allowed nearly infinite expansion of a computer's hard-disc drive, and it has become a popular accessory bundled today in many computer systems from Hewlett-Packard, NEC, Apple and others.
The Buz takes a slightly different tack from the Zips, the Jazes and the Dittos. It takes multimedia expansion one step further and allows users to easily "capture" movies, videos, photographs and even high-quality compact-disc audio onto a computer's hard disc or onto a Zip disc or a Jaz drive.
The point? Well, unless your PC is one of the upscale models equipped with sophisticated video and/or audio capabilities, there are a few points: The Buz is a simple way of collecting images for a digital photo album; it can let you run movies (from a VCR, DVD player or Laserdisc player) in a window on your computer's monitor, and it provides a neat way of collecting images to upload to family and friends via the Internet. Buz, by the way, is available for Windows 95 and Macintosh OS system 7.5 (or higher) platforms.
One of the more intriging capabilities, from our point of view, is the software that comes packaged with the Buz hardware.
One element of the software is called "RecordIt," designed exclusively for Iomega. It enables a Zip disc to record live or prerecorded music from any source, including a CD. Depending on the sonic quality desired - from "one star" to "four star" - users can record up to 10 hours on one disc ("RecordIt" can put about an hour's worth of music from a CD onto one Zip disc without any sonic compromise). One of the drawbacks: "RecordIt" requires 30 megabytes of hard disc space and at least 16 megabytes of memory, or RAM, to operate.
Other software includes "HotShots," for organizing and enhancing digital photos and images (this assumes you have a way to input photos, with a scanner, for instance, or download them off the 'Net), and "VideoWave SE," a friendly editing tool that offers budding Steven Spielbergs a way to combine graphics, photos sound and video clips to make home movies.
The hardware itself is two-part - an "ultra SCSI" card that plugs easily into the computer (a tutorial guides novices through the installation process) and the Buz Box, a mouse-size dingus that plugs into the SCSI card and sits in some convenient spot on the desktop. The Box is the interface: It includes inputs and outputs for audio, video and S-video cables. And because it's ostensibly easy to get at, you can readily swap sources, should you care to input Junior's birthday party video from the camc order, and then watch "The Fugitive" off the DVD player. No need to reach under the desk or crawl among a tangle of cables each time you want to change a component.
Iomega is pushing the Buz initially for the consumer market, "for the average PC user," says Bart Marchioni, product manager for Buz. Marchioni notes that 41 percent of PC owners have a camcorder, and many of them would welcome a way to input home movies on a disc. Iomega also claims that the price point is attractive to consumers, since the total "value" of the hardware and software components approaches $1,000.
But the company also sees potential among businesses that want a cheap way of inputting multimedia for training materials or presentations.
"We plan to offer an internal version of the Buz Box," Marchioni said, "and we've had a lot of interest in it from IBM, Compaq" and other PC-makers, who could offer a Buz much the way they now include Zip drives among their system options.
One of the big winners, if Buz gets a buzz on, is Zoran Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., which supplied Iomega with the so-called JPEG - or video-compression - chips built into Buz's SCSI board. The chips compress the video data that otherwise would require massive amounts of disc storage space.