Optical media – dead or alive?

Is optical media dead or alive? (image: Shutterstock)

Data volumes have increased exponentially, and as consumers and businesses we generate vast volumes of information every day, all of which needs to be stored. With the growing popularity and decreasing price of flash drives and portable hard drives, not to mention the Cloud, there are many options available for data storage besides the varieties of optical media such as CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

Is optical media dead or alive? (image: Shutterstock)
Is optical media dead or alive? (image: Shutterstock)

However, while many experts have predicted the demise of optical media, it has failed to fade into obscurity as expected. Optical media is still very much alive, and simply offers one more option for data storage and retrieval in a digital world.

One of the biggest factors driving the decision of which storage medium to use is cost. While it is true that Hard Disk Drives (HDD) and flash drives are a lot cheaper than they used to be, for mass reproduction and dissemination of information, optical media, specifically CDs and DVDs, remain very popular. For example, a lecturer may wish to hand out notes to a class, and not all students may have access to shared cloud storage. In this case a CD is a cost effective option for the distribution of this information. Another example is in the conferencing industry. Although flash drives have become popular for the distribution of information at conferences, DVDs are still widely used as they are a highly cost effective option, particularly at events with thousands of delegates.

Another issue to bear in mind is that of theft. Hard drives and flash drives are by nature highly portable, but they also have a higher intrinsic value than optical media, because they can be erased and used again and have high capacity storage. A CD or DVD on the other hand is generally written once and can then only be read, and even if it is a rewritable disk, the value is generally not sufficient to warrant the theft of the disk. For this reason, information may safely be stored on an optical disc without the risk of the actual storage device being stolen. This makes CDs and DVDs popular options for consumers to store downloaded music for playback in motor vehicles, for example, as although this music can be played back using a digital music player or even a flash drive, these are more likely to be stolen.

In the home entertainment space, DVDs and Blu-ray discs are still widely used, particularly in South Africa. Although it is possible to download movies or stream them to your television, the speed and cost of bandwidth in the country makes this an option available only to the select few. By far the majority of individuals will still visit their local movie store and rent a physical disk. When it comes to music, the same applies. While music can be downloaded from the Internet, many people still visit music stores and purchase a CD or DVD of music from their favourite artists. Added to this, while smart televisions and media centres have become more common, they are not the norm in the local market. This means that playing downloaded movies and music on a television may be difficult, whereas many people have a DVD player or Blu-ray capable of playing various media easily.

For backup and data storage purposes, portable hard drives, flash drives and even Solid State Drives (SSDs) have become increasingly common, as they have high capacity and can be linked to automatic backup solutions. However, data protection best practice recommends keeping more than one backup of critical information, and many small businesses and even home users still use optical media for this purpose. Purchasing two hard drives for extra backup can be too expensive for some users, so DVDs provide a more cost effective option for additional data backup. Optical media is also preferable when data needs to be moved around, since hard drives are sensitive to movement and can fail if they are dropped. Optical media on the other hand enables multiple copies to be made easily and cheaply, and thus the data itself will not be lost if the medium is dropped, lost or broken while being transported.

While storage devices such as flash drives and portable hard disks have become more affordable, and the availability of digital content has seen downloads become more popular, there are still many uses for optical media storage such as CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. It is affordable and easy to create, easy to duplicate and durable, and is unlikely to be stolen, making it the perfect alternative for storing, sharing, transporting and distributing information.

Ruben Naicker, Verbatim Product Specialist at Drive Control Corporation