CD-ROM at Ten Years; the Technology and the Industry Mature

Article excerpt

When CD-ROM was first introduced in the winter of 1985, drives cost $2000 each and only about a dozen titles were available for sale. Believe it or not, most of these were developed and sold by Digital Equipment Corporation who, along with Microsoft, Sony and Philips, was an early promoter of the technology. It has been a long, and sometimes slow struggle over the last ten years, but today CD-ROM has finally arrived.

The critical year was 1993 -- for CD-ROM hardware, software and discs. Suddenly CD-ROM was hot, available in virtually any retail outlet, and featured in industry, consumer and business articles, and also prominent at the Consumer Electronics Shows, COMDEX and other major trade shows.

The year 1994 saw solid growth and further market development as CD-ROMS began to take over market share for distributing games and software, as well as dominating the emerging multimedia marketplace. In 1995 we will see further growth and penetration of CD-ROM technology, a further explosion of in-house CD-ROM production in corporations and lower prices for better quality products at all market levels.

CD-ROM STANDARDS

Standards breed confidence in consumers, developers and the people who finance these ventures, all of whom are critical to market development. Standards also allow for the development of compelling applications, which are driving today's CD-ROM industry. The unusual levels of cooperation reflect the complicated matrix of technical obstacles that relate to CD-ROM and multimedia.

Two types of standards exist, both critical to today's market development. Technical standards now in place, such as JPEG, MPEG and SCSI-2, have tackled the big issues of platforms, information layout on discs, indexing, compression, interfacing, and video and audio integration. We will continue to see more work in this area in the coming year. Market-level standards address issues in consumer acceptance, ensuring that discs will play on your computer and drive. For multimedia and consumer markets in particular, "plug-and-play" is essential.

One major motivation for plug-and-play is reducing support costs for vendors. Microsoft, for example, reports that 50 percent of all operating system/hardware support calls they receive are installation- or configuration-related. Reducing these costs, the industry believes, will result in savings that can be passed along to customers. The MPC Council, an industry trade group that developed and issued the MPC and MPC2 standards for multimedia, has been a critical factor in the growth of the industry.

HIGH-DENSITY CDS

What can we expect in 1995? Multimedia issues will continue to dominate standards discussions. HDCD (high density CD), the brain-child Philips, Sony, Matsushita and JVC, will pack more digital information on each disc for extended play time and higher quality recordings. JVC specs indicate that their approach to recording permits 135 minutes of MPEG-2 images on a single disc. Since about 98 percent of all movies are less than 135 minutes long, these discs could easily replace VHS and other formats.

JVC has developed a prototype disc with a capacity for three gigabytes of storage--an astounding improvement over today's 650MB limit. The problem is that these discs will not play on existing CD and CD-ROM systems, thus creating another marketing challenge. However, it seems clear that these systems will find immediate applications in many professional and in-house publishing areas. Eventual market size and acceptance are still anyone's guess.

OTHER TECHNOLOGY ISSUES

Networking is critical to corporate markets, and today CD-ROM and multimedia networking has matured. Off-the-shelf solutions exist at competitive prices for virtually any application need.

PCs are now dramatically lower in price. A year ago a 486/66Mhz PC with CD-ROM drive cost $2500. Today Compaq promises to break the $1000 barrier for a similar configuration in their one-piece Presario computer. …