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OPTICAL MEDIA

Optical media are all around us now, but this was not always the case.

Where were you in 1993? That was the year in which two high-definition optical media formats were being developed. Multimedia Compact Disc (MMCD) and rival Super Density (SD) disc had their cliques of supporters among the electronics and entertainment industries. But with the costly videotape format war between VHS and Betamax as an example of what not to do, a meeting was convened by a far-sighted IBM researcher that investigated the situation and proposed a boycott of both formats unless a single standard was reached. Thus the computer companies, lead by Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Sun, and many others, forced the development of the DVD as we know it today. Utilizing the technological advances of both formats, the official specification for DVDs was finalized in 1995, with widespread commercial availability in the next few years. Standards were also developed for recordable and rewritable DVDs.

Unfortunately, a new format war erupted in 2006 between supporters of the Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD formats. Much shorter than that waged over Betamax and VHS in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the steady loss of industry support, coupled with advances in Blu-ray Disc technology, lead to the withdrawal of the HD DVD format. Blu-ray Disc is now the undisputed successor format to today’s so-called standard DVD and optical media choices were standardized. However, unlike previous format changes, such as that which had occurred with the adoption of Compact Discs over audio tapes or DVDs over VHS videotape, a much longer period of transition is occurring with Blu-ray Disc. Standard DVD sales show no indication of slowing down, with Blu-ray figures posting very modest gains very slowly. Indeed, industry analysts expect at least another five years before Blu-ray Discs become mainstream enough to threaten the standard DVD’s market dominance. Not only is the technology itself still in a period of ongoing development, particularly with respect to read and write speeds, but prices are quite expensive by comparison, especially when factoring in the cost of additional hardware like high-end television sets and digital cables to truly take advantage of Blu-ray technology.

Looking ahead into the future, Blu-ray discs of up to 400GB are forecasted, though 5D DVD technology currently being developed by Peter Zijlstra, James Chon, and Min Gu at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia promises to bring optical storage capacities of up to ten terabytes to market within five to ten years, at which time the question will be, Where were you in 2009?