Reasons to Love CD Storage

Storage Supersite Editor David Morgenstern says it's long past its prime, but readers still detect life in the venerable Compact Disc format.

As much as we decry mediocrity, we seem to have no trouble integrating it into our lifestyle. In education. In government. And in storage. Like CDs.

In my previous column, I declared that CDs stink for both data and audio storage. For technological and market reasons, the formats have entered obsolescence; but like overprotective parents with their aging children, its tough to let go. The CD lives and will continue to live. And suck the life out of any challenging disc replacement.

Many of you offered perspectives on CD-Audio and candidates for successor formats. Others pointed to additional reasons for the discs continued survival, especially in the light (or shall we say blaze?) of recent digital rights management announcements from Microsoft.

"Your article has some valid points, but you overlooked one reason why the CD, in its current incarnation, is probably immortal: It is not copy-protected or Digital Rights Management-protected," Geoffrey Kidd said. "They cant lock up the music on a pay-per-play basis."

"We can burn our own mixes, make our own music, and the pig-opolists cant stop us," Kidd said. "The new formats you tout with such joy come with built-in copy protection, encryption, DRM, and other toys designed to sink a permanent siphon into my wallet. No thank you!"

I agree: Digital rights management for rich content is a continuing nightmare. Its difficult to imagine that technological progress will be frozen for years over this issue. Yet, in the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that my wife and daughter are professional musicians, who may in the future create and distribute (sell) digital content. So I purchase everything I listen to. And that makes me want better audio performance.

At the same time, some of you asked, "Whats the big deal?" After all, few persons can discriminate the difference between high- and low-resolution audio.

"By the way, most modern listeners cant tell the difference between Audio CDs and the hideously poor sound of (most, at least) MP3 files," Glenn Charles said. "I find it hard to believe myself but know it from experience: In fact, many people cant tell the difference between a boom box and a (low-end) audiophile system."

This was a common theme in a number of messages, some daring me to hear the difference between various systems. I dont know if Im the best test case. Human senses are very varied, and the range of experience is wide, sometimes meeting or exceeding the supposed limits set by experimental psychologists. People can discriminate an amazing range of tastes, colors, sensations and sounds.

For example, Im legally blind without my glasses (and sometimes with them). Yet Barry Bonds can see the stitches on a baseball moving at autobahn speeds.

MP3, Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio all use some form of digitization and compression. And its all lossy compression—information is removed. In this case, that information is acoustic. Some cant hear the difference. Some can. I do listen frequently to live acoustic performances, unlike most persons who do most of their listening to recorded music. I can hear the differences, especially in most MP3 files.

Still, all recorded audio (and video) would benefit if loss-less compression were used rather than lossy. Why do we assume that CD-Audio is good enough? Of course, that change in compression would mean really big files and necessitate greater capacity.

Earlier this week, Sony announced the April ship date for a Blu-ray compatible DVD recorder. Through the use of a blue laser, a DVD disc will hold 23GB and be sold in Japan. Higher-capacity technologies are coming, even if theyre costly today.

Sadly, with the current mindset of the market, all we will get from this next-generation capacity will be room for more mediocrity, rather than fewer, better sounds.

Storage Supersite Editor David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.