Are Optical Drives Obsolete?

Optical disc drives (ODD), otherwise known as CD and DVD drives, may be going the way of the cassette tape, floppy disk, and the Zip drive. One common trait shared by most netbooks, tablet computers, mobile phones, ultra-low-cost PCs, and other small form computing devices is a lack of physical media required to operate. Where a new PC might come with a set of restore media, many of them are now being shipped with a hidden partition on the hard drive that contains everything your system needs to be restored to factory settings. This begs the question, are optical drives obsolete?

Content that has been traditionally distributed in a physical form is finding its way to digital download services allowing users to make purchases without leaving their home or waiting for a delivery. With a click of a button, you can save yourself a trip to the store and all the hassle that comes with it. While you can still purchase the vast majority of your music, movies, and games at a local retail store, the chances of distribution through physical media keeping its current pace in the next few years is slim.

Game consoles have almost always been known for having tradable, tangible cartridges or discs that contained the games with only a small amount of storage tied to the actual device for the purpose of keeping saved games. In fact, a major battle in the war between the two emerging optical drive technologies was fought between Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation. Today, they are both linked to online stores that allow the user to purchase games and download them directly to the console with no disc required.

As this trend continues, it’s unlikely that optical drives will be included on game consoles at all. The cost of distribution from the cloud is much lower that it is in retail stores. While it may be too early to say for certain that the optical drive is absolutely dead, it is certainly showing all the early warning signs of a technology that is past its prime.

15 thoughts on “Are Optical Drives Obsolete?”

  1. I agree with you here but people have to get out of the mentality that they have to have the physical media in hand. It’s scary to some to part with the media. Once people have better options for cloud storage or easy re-download for software and media they’ll be ready to let go of the optical drives. I’ve had several colleagues this month also face the sad reality that optical disc’s do not last forever as most think.

  2. I agree with you here but people have to get out of the mentality that they have to have the physical media in hand. It’s scary to some to part with the media. Once people have better options for cloud storage or easy re-download for software and media they’ll be ready to let go of the optical drives. I’ve had several colleagues this month also face the sad reality that optical disc’s do not last forever as most think.

    1. “Once people have better options for cloud storage or easy re-download
      for software and media they’ll be ready to let go of the optical drives.”

      That’s assuming your internet connection is reliable enough to actually have that kind of faith.

      Plus, there is the possibility that consolidating your data and programs into a cloud rather than within your possession may risk your ability to access that data, especially if your connection experiences an outage or if the cloud service is ever attacked, which will be more likely to happen as people store more and more data in cloud services.

      “I’ve had several colleagues this month also face the sad reality that optical disc’s do not last forever as most think.”

      There are many variables that can affect how long a recorded disc may last, such as the recording quality and the disc quality.  Unfortunately, most people tend to burn their discs fast and they tend to use what’s widely available at a low price, which are discs usually produced in Taiwan or China by one or two companies (usually Ritek and CMC Magnetics) providing wholesale products to many companies.

      For critical data storage, I rely on discs made in Japan or the USA, usually made in Japan by Taiyo Yuden, and I burn at slower speeds.  I also store my discs in a cool and dry place.  High quality discs, careful recording and proper storage can go a long way towards having media that can last long enough to be considered archival.

      As for factory replicated media (discs that were pressed, not burned), so long as the disc is manufactured correctly, handled properly, used in equipment in good order and stored in a cool and dry place, those will basically last forever.

      1. Not mentioned yet are two points. First what happens if your Cloud Storage site closes down with short or no notice. I have friends who lost tens of thousands of photographs when a popular European photo sharing site closed down with minimal notice. Second in what country are the servers that comprise the Cloud service you are using located, it makes a difference.

  3. Personally. I don’t think that cd/DVD/ or the next gen of optical drive will disappear. Personally seeing how technology has evolved. Going from 8 inch diskettes, to 5.25, then 3.5 then over to cd, dvd’s, and last but not least. I do know that the older floppies have gone by the way side. But still call me an older fashion tech guy. When you need to reload a hard drive from scratch. It’s better off to have them in there.

    1. As Karl says, physical media is required to re-install and reload a hard drive from scratch as when the HDD has crashed and is replaced with a new one.
      Hidden partitions with relevant stuff in them is OK for simply carrying out a “Repair”.
      I would definitely want the physical media and the hardware supporting the media.

  4. Optical disks have not gone the way of the dinosaur just yet. Yes, floppies have had their day, and yes cd’s are slowly fazing out. Dvd’s on the other hand are still alive and well, whether it be for video media or software. Even for the fact that there are hidden partitions on hard drives, you are still prompted to burn to disk the Recovery software in the eventuality that the HDD may fail. Therefore until a better way of storing a Recovery software, then dvd media is going to be around for sometime.
    Lets put it this way, blue-ray disks were going to supersede the standard dvd disks, and yet, the bd-r’s are still too expensive to purchase compared to dvd-r disks. The only way tht you’ll probably supersede dvd write-able media is be able to copy a Recovery software to USB flash drives and make them default bootable.

  5. Would optical drives be obsolete?  Not necessarily.

    For one, I don’t like the idea of streaming and downloadable data because the price for the convenience is a loss of an aspect of control over the content by the customer, particularly with regards to fair use.  In addition, with regards to streaming content and “the cloud,” what if the internet connection providing such access were to not become available due to a DoS attack or a service outage?

    As for that backup partition on the hard drive of a PC or a notebook computer?  That’s a crock.  For one thing, one of the major causes of data loss are hard drive failures.  If the hard drive happens to stop working, well that recovery partition contained within it does you no good.  It’s better to get an external drive for creating a clone of your computer’s hard drive and you can supplement your recovery with a plan B via a set of system restore discs.

  6. I for one do not think Optical Media/Drives will be obsolete any time soon.

    Optical media has evolved alot over recent and distant years in the past. We had CD’s which can store 700MB of data. Then we had DVD’s which can store up to 9GB’s of data. Now we have the Blu-Ray disk which can store up to 50GB’s of data. 50GB’s!

    As we are getting higher resolution in our movies and games we need more storage. Notice how we made the jump from CD’s to DVD’s to Blu-Ray on PSX –> PS2 –> PS3

    If we wanted to store 50GB of data we have several options:
       -Blu-Ray Disk
       -Flash Storage (USB or Card)
       -SSD
       -HDD
    This is not the complete list but is the main few that would be chosen if one had to store just 50GB of data. No more no less.

    Now let’s go to pricing:
       -Blu-Ray Disk = around $15
       -Flash Storage = around $80
       -SSD = $100+
       -HDD = around $30

    If we was going to choose one media to store our data on (for commercial use) which one would we pick?
       -Flash and SSD are out of the question due to price.
       -HDD’s are too heavy and big to distrobute. Also too fragile and unreliable.

    To conclude I believe that flash storage will take over optical media in the near future for handhelds, music and the ‘family games consoles’ (WII) that dont require excelent graphics.

    Optical media/drives will not disapear completly anytime soon!

    Thanks for listening to my very long winded, technical comment.

  7. I for one do not think Optical Media/Drives will be obsolete any time soon.

    Optical media has evolved alot over recent and distant years in the past. We had CD’s which can store 700MB of data. Then we had DVD’s which can store up to 9GB’s of data. Now we have the Blu-Ray disk which can store up to 50GB’s of data. 50GB’s!

    As we are getting higher resolution in our movies and games we need more storage. Notice how we made the jump from CD’s to DVD’s to Blu-Ray on PSX –> PS2 –> PS3

    If we wanted to store 50GB of data we have several options:
       -Blu-Ray Disk
       -Flash Storage (USB or Card)
       -SSD
       -HDD
    This is not the complete list but is the main few that would be chosen if one had to store just 50GB of data. No more no less.

    Now let’s go to pricing:
       -Blu-Ray Disk = around $15
       -Flash Storage = around $80
       -SSD = $100+
       -HDD = around $30

    If we was going to choose one media to store our data on (for commercial use) which one would we pick?
       -Flash and SSD are out of the question due to price.
       -HDD’s are too heavy and big to distrobute. Also too fragile and unreliable.

    To conclude I believe that flash storage will take over optical media in the near future for handhelds, music and the ‘family games consoles’ (WII) that dont require excelent graphics.

    Optical media/drives will not disapear completly anytime soon!

    Thanks for listening to my very long winded, technical comment.

  8. Yes, ODD is finally going the way of the cassette. Time will come when there is no need to hoard anything on shelves in your house anymore and the majority of people will opt for cloud-based media instead. Physical music is on its way out, games went a long time ago and books are, regrettably, following the same path too (albeit much slower). Why DVDs and CDs would be reserved from that process doesn’t make sense to me.

  9. Yes, ODD is finally going the way of the cassette. Time will come when there is no need to hoard anything on shelves in your house anymore and the majority of people will opt for cloud-based media instead. Physical music is on its way out, games went a long time ago and books are, regrettably, following the same path too (albeit much slower). Why DVDs and CDs would be reserved from that process doesn’t make sense to me.

    1. I do not agree on the cloud being the next big thing for one simple reason: such a system’s integrity is essentially dependent on the availability of the internet.  I believe the wide availability of this service has spoiled people into believing that it will always be there.

      Well, what if it isn’t available to you for whatever reason?  There are a great many things that can knock out your internet connection, possibly for a long time.  One possibility is a natural disaster, such as earthquakes or hurricanes.  Another possibility is sabotage, such as from hacking or denial of service attacks.  There are more possibilities, but I think you get my drift here.

      No internet = no access to the cloud.  Any and all data you have on that cloud will not be available to you until your internet service is restored or if you thought ahead and backed it up on physical media of any kind.

      I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to risk my ability to use my data, programs and media assets by storing everything in one place with only one venue of access.  I refuse to set myself up for the possibility of a massive single point failure.

Comments are closed.