RT Cunningham


Digital Media Evolution - CD, DVD, Blu-ray and Beyond

digital media Having been born in 1960, I’ve seen both analog and digital media evolving in the marketplace. Younger people can’t seem to appreciate these advances in technology. I’m talking about the people who were born after the 1970s.

Digital media comes in all shapes and styles, but the basic media it’s stored on is very inexpensive.

Expense comes into play when you start adding computers and assorted computer peripherals to the equation.

Digital Media Audio Formats

It’s safe to assume that I remember standard AM radios and record players (phonographs, turntables) as the first devices I could listen to music and other audio programs on. I don’t know exactly when they first appeared. I was using cassette tapes and cassette tape players as late as the mid 1980s. Somewhere along the line, 8-track players and tapes came and went as a failed format.

I can’t forget to mention vinyl records. They’ve been around a long time (some still exist). Their popularity has waned a great deal since the time it was the only format available for playing music at home.

Those were all analog. Nothing digital came along until technology advanced in the 1980s. Before I started seeing audio CDs, I saw other devices and media for video. The compact disc is the most popular audio format today and as far as pricing goes. Audio CDs are no more expensive today than cassette tapes were in the 80s and they’re a lot better.

I hear people complain about scratches and other problems with CDs. I think those people never dealt with stretched or broken tape from cassette tapes. Fishing tape from car cassette players was always a fun thing to do. I’m not familiar with the newer digital audio tape (DAT) format, but I would have to assume the same ordeal exists.

Digital Media Video Formats

Video technology has probably progressed faster and further than audio technology. In the early 80s, I had experiences with Laserdiscs (the same size as the vinyl records), compact electronic disks (another failed technology that used needles for audio and lasers for video), and video tape players. Amazingly, the video tape players (VHS format) are still available if you look hard enough.

Of course, video tape media still exists. I’ve seen it being used in cheap digital cameras as well as other devices including video surveillance systems. I don’t see movies on tape anymore although I’m sure they’re still available somewhere.

I bought a DVD player during the first wave of sales. It was expensive, but the video itself was nice compared to what I’d seen on VHS over the years. Later on, the 9 GB DVDs became available while the 5 GB DVDs were still around. Other than for movies you could buy, the 9 GB didn’t take off as recordable media like the 5 GB did.

I used to have some favorite movies on DVD stashed away for rainy days. I’ve converted most of them to single MP4 files, the digital media format used on DVDs. I’ve stored those files on external hard drives.

The latest video format is Blu-ray. I’m not sure of the sizes now but 25 GB sounds like something I remember reading about them when they first came out. I don’t have a Blu-ray player for either my computer or a stand-alone unit yet, but I may get one someday.

I’ve seen what Blu-ray has to offer and I like it. I can imagine having multiple Blu-ray movies and movie collections, with entire collections on one disc each.

The Crossover of Digital Media Video and Audio Formats

While intended for one use or the other, the formats are interchangeable. Digital video media (like DivX, AVI, and MP4) finds its way to CDs while music collections find their way to DVDs. One thing I’ve overlooked is the use of the media for video games. Various PlayStation consoles have used CD, DVD and Blu-ray media, I just can’t remember which one used which. I believe the X-Box consoles have used DVD and HD-DVD (Blu-ray won out, but some devices still call for the HD-DVD format).

Audio and video technology has advanced a great deal in the last 40 years. I just wish the younger people could appreciate it more, take care of their media and stop complaining all the time.

The Future of Digital Media

Since I’m not psychic, I can’t predict with any degree of accuracy when it comes to digital media evolution and optical discs. Sony and Panasonic were planning a 300 GB Blu-ray format by the end of 2015. So far, 128 gigabyte blu-ray discs are the largest available.

Unless something drastic happens, optical discs will never replace the media used for fast data storage and retrieval like hard disk drives and solid-state drives. Optical discs are fine for long-term digital media storage, but not for “real-time” updating.

Originally published in July of 2013. Updated for readability and minor corrections.

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By RT Cunningham
September 18, 2017