Although it has been around for more than a decade, CD-ROM technology has only recently become a standard component in new personal computers. And wouldn't you know it, today's technology is already well past its prime just as it is becoming widespread. That does not mean that the CD-ROM is nearing the end of its useful life, but rather that new generations of devices are emerging that will gradually, but inevitably, replace it.
The next generation of CD-ROM players and disks will begin showing up early next year, and some really dazzling advances are just two to three years away, analysts say.
The "ROM" part of CD-ROM _ read-only memory _ is ideal for large amounts of information that does not change. But in a rapidly changing world, a medium that cannot change rapidly is an impediment. Affordable CD drives that can be written upon repeatedly, much like a high-capacity diskette drive, will reach market next year, bringing with them great possibilities as backup devices as well as multimedia creation and distribution tools.
New standards are being developed to eliminate the difference between CD-ROM and audio CD formats. The two are largely incompatible today. One can play audio CDs in a CD-ROM drive, but not CD-ROM disks in an audio CD drive. In terms of hardware, an "enhanced CD" standard will simplify manufacturing, which in theory would lead to lower prices. In software, audio, text and video can be tightly integrated, permitting truly interactive music video disks, for example.
Most CD-ROM drives in use today are "double speed" drives, meaning they spin at twice the rate of the first generation, and thus can send data to the computer more quickly, resulting in improved video and sound performance. Triple speed or 3X is a lame-duck technology that will soon be eclipsed by "quad speed" drives.
"By the end of 1995, most computers will ship with quad-speed drives," said Bruce Ryon, an analyst at Dataquest Inc., a market research company in San Jose, Calif. "Most of the manufacturers have stopped making double-speed drives already."
The next jump in storage capacity will allow CD-ROM drives to store 3.3 gigabytes (3.3 GB) of information on a single …