Q What’s going on with storage, and when is it going to get better? It seems like with high definition, the drives that I can get just won’t be able to run fast enough to let me watch my edit. Drives seem to be getting bigger capacities, but they don’t really get faster, in my mind. How can I get my storage to handle HD?
Chris C.
Via e-mail

A At first glance, your initial question surprised me. Storage has never been better. The cost, size and performance of drives are getting better every few months. It’s amazing that you can get a terabyte of storage for under $100. Drives have become so inexpensive that they have become archive devices for many projects, regardless of whether or not they’re designed for that. But obviously, archiving and editing place two different requirements on storage, and “being better” isn’t all about capacity and cost.

When you edit high-definition video, you need capacity and speed. How much capacity and how much speed depend both on the file sizes that you’re dealing with and the codecs you’re using.

File size isn’t just about resolution (1080 or 720); it’s also about bit depth. While it may seem like incrementally small jumps to go from 8-bit to 10-bit to 12-bit files, they’re not. These jumps require a lot of speed from storage systems.

Manufacturers have developed amazing codecs to reduce the bandwidth required to play back full-resolution high-definition video. However, they do this by sacrificing quality. Sometimes that sacrifice is hard to see, but it can show up quickly in some scenes. So it’s tempting to use codecs and bit depths that leave less of a mark on the final image. Unfortunately, this is where you’re waiting for storage to “get better.” Less compressed high-definition video requires disk storage with very fast access and sustained read and write speeds.

Overall, storage speeds come down to two things: 1) disc speed; and 2) interface speed.

Disc speed is dependent on several factors, including how fast the platters revolve inside the drive (the spindle speed), how the data is arranged on the platter surface, how many platters there are, and how quickly the read heads can move across the platters.