The CD: dead at 30?

The CD player came out on October 1, 1982. Now, 30 years later, CDs are all but dead, killed by iTunes and MP3s. Is the familiar form factor doomed?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Sony's CDP-101 CD player enabled consumer access to a startling Compact Disc. The CD had so many advantages over vinyl LPs and 45s - pristine sound quality, random access, no flipping over - that users were blown away.

Even music nerds like me - who bought albums, played them once to record them onto cassette tape, and never played them again - were seduced by the CDs convenience and quality. Never mind audiophiles droning on about analog sound, we liked CDs.

30 years later. . .

Even one of the last bastions of CD form factor media - the notebook computer - is dropping the no-longer-compact-enough Compact Disc. Ultrabooks are failing to catch on, but vendors are noticing that people don't care that much about optical drives, because in addition to music and movies, now they also download software.

The short heyday of notebook Blu-ray is drawing to a close, since you can buy a larger and faster USB 3.0 thumb drive for less than a Blu-ray drive. Nor is the higher quality of Blu-ray movies all that visible on a small screen.

Coincidentally, Howard H. Scott, one of the developers of the LP in 1948, died last month at age 92. The LP was designed to replace the 4 minute 78 rpm record with an LP that could hold about 22 minutes a side.

LPs were called "albums" because they replaced bulky physical albums of 78s needed for longer pieces. No dorm room in the '70s was complete without a stereo and a stack of LPs.

The Storage Bits take

But expect DVD and Blu-ray drives to be available even longer than the still-in-production LP turntables. Why?

Mass-produced CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays are remarkably stable media, and thus they preserve their value better than scratch-prone LPs. They are mechanically pressed, unlike recordable optical media that use unstable chemical dyes to hold information for 3-5 years.

CDs will never have the surface degradation - pops, clicks and lost highs - that come with the mechanical wear of analog media. As long as there are CDs to play, there will be players to play them.

Comments welcome, of course. People born today may never see a CD, let alone an LP or 78. How much longer do you think dedicated music players will be around?

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