The Death of The Optical Digital Disk!

By: Daniel Imbellino
March 19, 2016

Optical digital media has long been at the forefront of modern technology, but like every technological feat before it, a pile of reflective optical digital disks nothing lasts forever. From the classic DVD, to music CD's, Blu-ray, and even video games, the world's relationship with optical media has been a long one, but as better digital technologies emerge, the once laser read optical disk is finally on its way out the door. Today, the ever evolving digital world is now on a fast paced shift from the optical disk to cloud based storage and solid state media.

Anyone who's gone shopping for a new laptop in recent times would likely have noticed a new trend, they have no optical drives! Upon purchasing my last laptop back in the end of 2014, I noticed how only 2 laptops out every one on the shelf still had them. The rest of the laptops for sale featured no drives at all. This is because PC manufacturers themselves are now heavily boasting cloud storage, thanks to the advancements of a now faster internet. In fact, almost every laptop available today now comes with a measurable amount of cloud storage space for free, and even Microsoft and Apple themselves seem to be pushing consumers to make use of it on a wider scale.

Asus was among the first to offer such cloud storage services with their laptops, offering a few gigabytes for free, and the ability to purchase more space whenever needed. Over the years, other PC manufacturers have followed suit.

Welcome to the world of the digital download! Even home gaming consoles are now shifting from the classic disk only games, to full digital downloads, and Microsoft has stated themselves in the past, they're likely going to remove optical drives from future consoles altogether. In fact, the XBOX One actually requires gamers to fully install the games they purchase before playing. XBOX Live is also driven by the digital download today, and you can purchase just about any game, simply download it, and play it, no disk needed.

Back in the mid 2000's, the average PC software program was just a few MB in size, but today, a single PC based application can easily surpass several GB in size. Even those home gaming consoles are now boasting titles that are often 60GB or more for a single game!

Hard disk drives too are shifting from mechanical means to fully digital solid state media, which is not only faster, but inherently more reliable than their mechanical ancestors. At present, PC's, gaming consoles, and even some tablets are now shipping with massive solid state media, often encompassing several terabytes in storage space for a single drive.

Netflix too appears to have ditched the optical DVD for a digital download only world. Fast forward from 2005 to 2016, and the digital world we call the internet is now heavily reliant on cloud storage as the preferred choice for storing and accessing data in all its various forms.

Unlike with optical media, with solid state you don't have to worry about scratching your favorite movie or game, another added advantage to making use of such modern technologies.

And, unlike the internet of yesteryear, the web we've come to enjoy today often boasts lightning fast download speeds, with many internet service providers such as Charter Communications making 100Mb/s internet speeds the default for home consumers, and businesses too now have the advantage of purchasing services that can easily eclipse 1 TB/s or more, thanks in part to advancements in fiber optic media, which is immune to electro-magnetic interference, in which data can now be transferred literally at the speed of light! Even Charter's modern day internet service operates on a backbone of fiber optic media.

The shift from old school optical disks to modern digital technologies hasn't been a smooth one though. As with any newly emerging technologies, it's definitely been fraught with problems in recent years, although improving as time moves forward. When solid state drives first hit the scene, their adoption by consumers was hampered by the fact they were extremely expensive devices, and they suffered heavily from firmware bugs, and the fact that the earlier solid state drives had a high failure rate, do mainly in part to the excess heat they produced, and the fact they have no way to cool themselves off.

When solid state drives first hit store shelves, consumers that could afford them jumped at the chance, only to realize the drives only worked for a few weeks or months on average, only to fail completely soon after. Failure due to heat was a serious and nagging problem that manufacturers had to resolve.

Consumers were driven by the fact that solid state drives often offered much faster read/write times, with a theoretical throughput of 600 MB/s or faster, with almost zero lag. They clearly outperformed their mechanical counterparts. There's no spinning disks, no read/write arms, and no magnetic platters to slow down data transfers. With no real moving parts, there's a lot less to go wrong, hence the term "Solid State." Instead, the world of solid state relies on billions of transistors that act as switches in order to store and retrieve data, doing away with mechanical devices that would falter over time.

Fast forward a few years, and the prices have dropped, manufacturers have found ways to make their solid state drives more reliable, as well as much larger in terms of storage space. It's these advancements that are now propelling the fast extinction of the optical disk, and soon every laptop in existence will be completely void of the optical drive entirely as a result.

DVD players have now been replaced with digital video recorders, which are now heavily present in the average middle class home. While DVD based movies such as Blu-ray still sit atop store shelves throughout every Walmart in America, don't count on them existing for long. In time, DVD movies will likely shift further to the digital download, in which consumers purchase a movie at the store which holds a download key, and ultimately no disk required.

Even as far back as 2010, working as a tech support specialist, I often had to reinstall, or repair faulty Windows boot files and operating systems multiple times a day. During this time I decided to shift from the optical installation disk to a bootable flash drive that contained the entire operating, which could then be reinstalled in just a few minutes, rather than a half hour or longer, as was often the case with optical media. No need to lug around a case full of disks, as all the OS's were right there on my flash drive.

All being said, it's only a matter of time before an ever increasingly faster web, capabilities with cloud storage, and solid state media are surely to put the digital optical disk in its grave. Even the classic CD now appears to be extinct, as itunes continues to dominate the digital music space.

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