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

July 31, 2013

Having been born in 1960, I’ve seen the evolution of both analog and digital media 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 (you might call them turntables) as the first devices you could listen to music and other audio programs on. I don’t know exactly when they were invented, but 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 with the 8-track a failed format. I can’t forget to mention vinyl records (and the material they were made of before that). They’ve been around a long time (some still exist), but 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, but I’m thinking 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 (a failed technology called CED — they used needles for audio and lasers for video), and video tape players. Amazingly, the video tape players (VHS format) are still available yet disappearing rapidly in favor of DVD and Blu-ray players of all kinds.

Of course, video tape media still exists. I see it still 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 in a few video rental stores.

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 5G did. I used to have some favorite movies on DVD stashed away for rainy days. I’ve converted mostk of them to single MP4 files, the digital media format used on DVDs, and 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 plan to get one some day. I’ve seen what Blu-ray has to offer and I like it. I can imagine having multiple Blu-ray movies and movie collections, like the entire collection of “Lord of the Rings” and the “Planet of the Apes” series of movies on one disc each.

The Crossover of Digital Media Video and Audio Formats

While intended for one use or the other, the formats can be used for both. 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 is 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 quit 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 the digital media evolution and optical discs. Sony and Panasonic are planning a 300 GB Blu-ray format within the next three years. Those plans could be ruined if another, better format is invented before then.

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

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