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Recordable 5 inch optical discs: 20 years later

May 8, 2016

When the Compact Disc-Digital Audio (CD-DA) arrived on the scene in 1982 (along with the LP-sized video LaserDisc), and with knowledge of computers abounding, where you heard of “hard disks”, “floppy disks” (both magnetic; the latter essentially tape material shaped as a disk), and then “ROM” (read-only memory) and “RAM” (random access memory), I wondered, if they could have CD-ROM, then why not a “CD-RAM”, that could be recorded, erased and rewritten just like tape, but having the easy access eliminating the need to rewind and fast forward, as was a benefit of the old records. Since I understood the process of both CD and LD pressing, with actual binary “pits” (representing a “1”, where the unmodified “lands” represented “0”, creating standard digital bits) melted into the reflective substrate, it figured that those probably couldn’t be made re-recordable. So I imagined them using a floppy disk that would be adapted to audio use. Nothing of the sort ever surfaced, and I never even heard such an idea proposed. (There were later other removable harddisk-like formats such as “Zip” and “Jaz”; man, forgot all about those, but these were only PC drives).


1988: Newspaper article (http://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/22/business/company-news-cd-that-is-erasable-introduced-by-tandy.html and have or had the clip of it, which I was going to scan for the article, but can’t find it right now, may have gotten rid of it) on a “recordable CD”; Tandy “THOR-CD” (Tandy High Intensity Optical Recording CD). Supposed to be a fully recordable and erasable/rerecordable CD that would be fully playback compatible with existing CD players.
http://www.1000bit.it/ad/bro/trs/Tandy-Thor-CD.pdf

1991: This was mentioned again in Future Stuff book; still nowhere on the horizon. (It also mentioned “left-handed sugars” that would pass through your system undigested, which never came out, “fake fat”, which did soon surface commercially, as “Olestra” in potato chips, and electric cars, which are finally catching on now!)

I did hear of high end recordable CD’s that were over $1000, and thus not consumer marketable, and only later did I learn that these were not erasable. This was the early “CD-R” format, or other variants known as “WORM” (write once, read many), or “CD-WO”. (I would later imagine a fully erasable one could be called “WREN”: write-read-erase-neverending, and hope that someday soon, “the bird [wren] would catch the worm”!)


What came out at that time instead was the Sony Mini-Disc; a 2 inch version of a different family of recordable discs known as “magneto-optical”. It’s basically optical like a CD, but has a cobalt layer that can be heated to its “Curie point”, which changes its magnetic properties. Data is then written with a magnetic field. Because this data is much more sensitive (to external distortions such as smudges, fingerprints, etc), all MO’s (including MD) were encased in cartridges. They also used a kind of data compression that allowed it to fit on such smaller media, and also supposedly removed background noise, which would be good for recordings from analog records and tapes. An ad pamphlet had a guy prancing for joy, shouting “I CAN RECORD ON A DISC!”
At a whopping $700 for just a little MD Walkman, even in my single and financially free state, it was not only initially way out of range, but it seemed so wasteful that I could not bring myself to even try to save up for one.

In the mid-90’s, I was fascinated when my brother got his first Play Station, which was based on CD’s rather than chip cartridges. It was fully compatible with audio CD’s, which could play in the game console, while game discs would play game music or other audio in audio CD players. (Nintendo held out on optical discs for several more years, promising instead a floppy-drive sort of add-on. I now see that Play Station was originally a joint venture between them and Sony, which soon fell apart).
The data side of these game discs was nearly black! Of course now, we completely take for granted all the 5 inch discs and systems being cross-compatible, but this was a first back then!

While optical discs hold the game data like the cartridges did, since they are not writable, input such as your progress in the game had to be stored in the console itself, and would not be accessible if you took the game to your friend’s house, or the console was damaged or factory reset. I had thought a rewritable disc would be the perfect complete replacement of cartridges. Perhaps special hybrid disc with both read-only space to hold the game data, and rewritable space to hold your input. IIRC, I may have once sent the idea in, but it seems no one ever thought of it, and to this day, the input data continues to reside in the console.

Forward to 1996. In my 9-11 essay, I mentioned that on monthly Fridays, after work (the courts still), I would head over to the NYDivision Electric Railroaders Association meeting, then at the College of Insurance (later St. Johns) on Washington St. or West St. I would swing over to 5WTC, and the Border’s store, and there, one day, I ran across a magazine entitled CD-ROM Professional that had a story on what was now being dubbed “CD-E” (“erasable”; “Call it Erasable, Call it Rewritable, but Will It Fly?”, Hugh Bennett, 9-96). Unlike the proprietary THOR-CD (by now, dead in the water and sarcastically dubbed “Vapordisc”), this technology was by the CD consortium spearheaded by Philips and Sony, which defined the different optical disc technologies by an extensive series of colored “books”.

The article broke this all down, along with detailing how disc reading and recording worked. This new CD erasure format was something called “phase-change”, rather than MO. This heated an AgInSbTe alloy from a reflective crystalline form to a less reflective amorphous state. This of course could be reversed.
It would not necessarily need a cartridge but might have an optional caddy (a picture of one was shown, revealing the deep rainbow-lustred steel gray silver of the erasable media).
I was so excited at this coming out!

(Meanwhile, I never saw how the THOR-CD technical process would have worked, but this followup Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/27/business/business-technology-the-broad-potential-of-tandy-s-cd-system.html pointing out that this was because “Tandy has been tight-lipped about technical details, saying that it planned to license the method widely before disclosing particulars”, suggests that it would use actual pits or dimples like a CD, melted into the substrate by a laser. “To erase a bit of information, a laser, tuned to a different wavelength and set to a different power, ‘smooths out’ the dimple.”
That would make sense, as to why it would be fully compatible with CD players. But apparently, the un-overcomable obstacle they faced was finding the right alloy this could be done on, many times.
Hence, all the recordable formats that made it to market relied on simulating the pits by changing the reflectability of the material in one way or another).

The issue also mentioned DVD-ROM, the new 4.7GB yet CD-sized video-oriented disc which was just getting ready to come out at the time, and forecasted the subsequent likewise development of DVD-R and even DVD-E (at the time embodied by all OEM’s under the “DVD-RAM” name! Somewhere, there was even a picture of a proposed Panasonic DVD-RAM device, as a camcorder!)

I read that article over and over. (On the “Saturday” article, I mentioned taking it to read in the quiet CCNY NAC building hallway while my wife was in class one sunny morning, sitting in the window of the atrium, just waiting for the day all of these new erasable discs would be available, and I could finally get rid of audio and video cassette tapes for good.
It was so cool to have this magazine that would allow me to follow the development).

So as I now followed this development, by the 1-97 issue, CD-ROM Professional was renamed E-Media Professional (as it was no longer just about CD’s), and the erasable moniker “E” was officially changed to “RW” (“rewritable”). The familiar old “COMPACT disc” logo was modified, with both “Recordable” and “Rewritable” added below.

This issue also had an article on DVD mentioning the idea of blue and even violet lasers. (The other development occurring simultaneously that I was into was the development of blue LED’s, allowing eventual full color display capability ⦅which would have no such readily available information outlet as I now had for recordable discs. I just started seeing them late in the decade when they arrived, around the same time as the technology we are discussing here; one early DVD player having a cyan LED indicator light! See https://erictb.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/my-chronology-of-color-leds
Blue LED’s would also greatly affect the optical disc world by eventually allowing blue reading lasers, whose shorter wavelengths would allow for thinner grooves, increasing the capacity! CD’s used longer wavelength infrared lasers, while the DVD’s coming out then used 650nm red ones).

I was unaware that a parallel CD-like technology had already come out around all this time, called “Phase-change Dual” (PD), also by Panasonic. I would eventually see a few of these sold at the J&R Music World computer outlet, which being on Park Row was another stop along the way from the Five Points area to the west side. As this was actually the 650MB analog to the upcoming DVD-RAM, it would technically be the “CD-RAM” I once imagined, though never called that.
Both used a variation of the phase-change technology that was sectored differently, also resulting in it being more sensitive and needing a cartridge like MO discs (however, DVD-RAM would have an option of removability). You could actually see the lines where sectors end, on the surface of the discs, which appeared as jagged parallel lines across the face of the disc; called “hash-marks”). I don’t know why PD was never considered for an audio format.

Another competing format that was apparently already several years old, but was now slowly surfacing more was Digital Audio Tape (DAT) or Digital Compact Cassette (DCC), which basically was the alternative to MD. These offered both improved audio (from being digital, and more data was squeezed in from being aligned laterally on the tape), and also silence-detection, so that breaks between tracks could be picked up and more quickly skipped to. (I had seen a regular audio player that could do that one as well). Still, for me, psychologically, it was still a breakable or tangle-prone plastic ribbon, that could be accidentally erased by a strong magnet, and a nice flat optical disc would also be simpler and less breakable.
But the tape formats would be quickly killed off for good (along with the old analog cassette, of course) by the emerging optical disc formats!

During this time, CD-R drives were already becoming common (and heavily advertized and reviewed in the magazine; one common Ricoh ad shows a little boy actually lifting up the skirt of a woman from behind: “Looking for quality CD-Recordables?”), and one day, the first commercial audio CD recorder deck, the Pioneer PDR[100?] appeared in J&R.
The 3-97 issue included my letter to the editor applauding the articles on the burgeoning formats and technology, in which I mentioned the “WREN catching the WORM!”.

In April, E-Media Professional published the article “The Family Album” (Guenette, Parker) on all the 5 inch optical disc formats from CD-ROM to DVD-RAM and the colored “books” setting the standards:

Red: CD-Audio, CD+Graphics, CD Text
Yellow: CD-ROM
Blue: CD-Extra
Green: CD-Interactive
White: CD-Video (never caught on, because they couldn’t fit feature length movies)
Orange: (writable CD’s)
Part 1: CD-MO (A 1990 hybrid I never heard of until later)
Part 2: CD-Recordable (or CD-WO)
Part 3: CD-Rewritable (or “erasable”)

Others I’ve just seen on Wikipedia, but don’t remember CD-ROM/E-MP ever mentioning, though I remember reading about the formats:

Beige: Photo CD
Purple: Double Density CD
Scarlet: Super Audio CD

DVD used lettered books:

A: Read Only [I assume meaning a data only format; “ROM”]
B: Video
C: Audio
D: Write Once (R)
E: Re-Writable (RAM)

With May’s issue, the big news graced the cover, that CD-Rewritable finally “Hits the Streets”, with Ricoh’s MP6200S drive.
The following issue reported a split developing in the DVD-RAM development along the lines of DVD Consortium OEM company proprietary technologies, with Panasonic (Matsushita) and most other companies (Toshiba, Hitachi, Time Warner, Pioneer, JVC, Thomson, Mitsubishi; as listed in the April issue) holding onto DVD-RAM, while Philips and Sony were dropping out. Among many other technical details, they did not want the more sensitive format requiring the caddy. In the news section of the July issue, the two companies along with HP were reportedly developing their own version, to be called simply “DVD-RW”.

So the 1-98 issue, following the ’96 issue on the rewritable CD, now highlighed rewritable DVD. This was splitting even more, with other emerging formats. The two main non-DVD Consortium players were ASMO (Advanced Storage MO, by a committee of most of the DVD Consortium OEMs), and MMVF (MultiMedia Video Format. This last one, by electronics giant NEC, sounded like the most promising, to me for some reason. Both had an even larger 5.2GB size).
But they all turned out to be the new generation of “vapor-discs”.
DVD-RW at this point was rebranded DVD+RW.

Finally! My first CD-Recorder! 

But it was this same month, that I headed over to J&R and finally got my first CD-RW, the Ricoh (IIRC still a version of the 6200 or similar), which came with a blank CD-RW. I had a techie friend help me with the SCSI installation into what was still our first computer, a year old Packard Bell, and bought the Adaptec EZ-CD Creator software, which included a feature called “CD Spin Doctor”, to record from analog sources hooked to the computer.
So I began the arduous task of recording from a half dozen or so audio tapes and some LP’s, such as the two Syreeta albums I had bought five years earlier and weren’t released on CD yet. (The graphics showed a steady progression of animated fat musical note characters walking across the screen).

Also around this time, DVD-Video was big enough for home rental to be addressed, and with the fear of the media being damaged, the first system to come up was “DivX” (Digital Video Express), which was to me a ridiculous system in which you would keep the physical disc, but only be able to read it on a pay-per-view basis. So it was shortly after that, to everyone’s glee, it was finally declared “dead”, and video stores simply began renting regular DVD discs, just like VHS. “DivX” afterward was used as the name of a popular video compression codec.

remember when this happened [tangled cassette tape]

Stepping back to the beginning of my recorded audio collection; when my family got our first cassette tape recorder for Christmas ’82 (part of a stereo system we bought; previously, the only tape we had was my mother’s old compact reel to reel recorder from the 60’s and Dad’s larger reels he kept for his WFUV jazz program but no player for them in the house), I began recording my favorite songs from KISS-FM. Again, missing the first part of the song, and then hoping to catch it later, and splice it onto the beginning (requiring another cassette), and then having to rewind and fast forward to find stuff; I had really, really wished this new CD format was recordable!

Forward to ’89, in the Air Force, I by then had recorded up to 15 cassettes, and had them all with me, across the country. In one LA trip, heading over to the Greyhound to head back to base, I stop by the Fun Electronics store (I remember, because I had the business card for it for years after, IIRC it was likely on 7th or one of those streets, near Spring), and find the smallest double cassette recorder I could find, which I had for a long time been looking for. So in my dorm room I began transferring all of this stuff (with clips spread across different tapes), condensing it by over a half.

When back home, I would give the original 15 to an old girlfriend I generally gave my old music to. All of this stuff would end up buried in her mother’s house, with the EWF cassettes I would soon begin replacing taken by her brother, who found them “spiritually uplifting” in a rough time he was going through.
Trying to condense it as much as I could, I had left some stuff off, waiting for recordable discs to come out, and figuring I would borrow the original tapes back at that later time. (Hope the brother didn’t take those, or they get lost or thrown out. The mother is still there in the same apartment, believe it or not. Visited for the first time in decades last December, when I got the shot of the new LED street lights on the block).

I then resume recording on the cassettes from KISS (and the new CD-101 station), adding to the new cassette collection.
That winter, I get my first CD player for Christmas, a standard Sony CD Walkman, and begin replacing my favorite albums; particularly Stevie. I also got my only 3 inch CD single, Anita Baker’s “Giving You The Best That I Got”. That format was on its way out, as many older tray CD players did not have the second slot for the smaller disc, so eventually CD singles would just be 5 inches like albums (and include more remixes of the track. CDs’ larger capacity also meant that albums could have more tracks).

So (back to nearly a decade later) with about eight cassettes, I begin transferring them to CD-RW, along with the Syreeta albums and some Christian stuff. I used one or two for shorter video data. My wife then has me record CD’s for her, starting with new music sensation Shania Twain (don’t hear about her anymore), and her Christian worship music on tapes. When the requests were getting too frequent for me, I had to teach her how to record and she eventually produced stacks of CD-R’s, from spindled containers called “cake boxes”.

Ricoh MP-6200 CD Recordable Rewritable drive
The Ricoh MP-6200 CD Rewritable drive

Ironing out the kinks

The recording process was rather clunky, and there were so many things that could go wrong, most notably, the “buffer underrun”, which rendered a CD-R unusable, earning the term “coaster”. Both CD-R and RW had to be “finalized” before they would be playable on anything but the computer drive. The laser first reads a “table of contents” [TOC] telling it where each track or data file is located. If this got messed up in the recording process (including the recording being abruptly stopped from running out of data), the recording could not be accessed. Thankfully, with the CD-RW, you could simply write over the bad recording. (An ad for Ricoh’s Interactive CD-ROM Handbook, that began appearing in the magazine around the time CD-RW was released, showed a dog with a CD in his mouth, and said “Sorry Fido, CD-Rewritable means fewer frisbees for you”).

Part of the issue in developing the format was something called “packet writing”, which allowed for more random writing and erasing, like a floppy or hard drive. So this was allowed for in the final specification, called UDF (Universal Disk Format), and I began using one CD-RW as a larger storage version of a floppy. You couldn’t use this for audio playing (other than accessing a music file on the PC, like with any other data file), so for the audio format, it was track-by-track, and needing to be finalized, just like with CD-R. (And CD-R could be used with packet writing, but of course, you would not be able to recover actual disc space, and would eventually run out of space, and “erasing” would only tell the laser to skip over the deleted data. Audio CD-RW would have a “quick erase” that would erase the entire table of contents, allowing the laser to write over all areas, and a “full erase” that would directly erase the entire disc [though the material still wouldn’t be as reflective as before it was written to, so you could still see the change is reflectivity]).

I used CD-R’s for only a few audio projects, which I did not plan to edit later on, such as an album, and then only if the sound came out sound good enough (most, such as the Syreeta albums, didn’t, and so I still used CD-RW’s, figuring on replacing them with better recordings later on). My wife requested only CD-R’s, so they could play on any player (this will be addressed below). It was always a sense of accomplishment when the program would announce that the recording was complete!

Another problem in recording, which seemed to be perhaps from a sort of lesser buffer problem, as much as I could figure, was the recording skipping a second or so, sometimes.
I kept a stack of coasters for several years, after reading in a small E-MP news blurb (11-97), regarding something about a device called Leak Protect being proposed by a company called Expert Magnetics that could supposedly “erase” CD-R’s (using a combination of “high heat and pressure”), but it never surfaced. (I was only assuming that they would be reusable after that, but perhaps not, as it was more advanced CD “shredders” that eventually filled this niche. The purpose was really destroying the data, [most likely] not reusing the disc. Another interesting product that never surfaced, was an “Ultra-Thin” flexible (paper thin) CD, that would be kept flat by centrifugal force as it spun in the drive, but could be bundled in magazines as part of advertisements and bend with the paper; like those floppy 7” record discs you would see sometimes, especially accompanying children’s audio books).

Other technical limitations

From that very first article, it was revealed that the [visibly obvious] lower reflectivity of the phase-change material would render RW discs unreadable by most existing CD players and drives. (I used to love to look at the deep rainbow produced on the discs. The deep blue I imagined might be the closest we could get to the eye conic primary blue mentioned by this site: http://casa.colorado.edu/~ajsh/colour/primary.html).
CD-R simply burned the binary marks onto a dye (which produced a deep green color on earlier discs, which got lighter as time went on, and then eventually, you could have silver or any color). The problem with CD-R’s was that they couldn’t be read on DVD players. New DVD devices would have to include a second laser in the head, to be able to read them! CD-RW’s needed just an optical adjustment to the existing CD or DVD lasers, but it was of course too late for those already manufactured and sold.

So now, I was eager to see which players could read the CD-RW. Right off the bat, the old CD Walkman couldn’t read them, as would figure. A new sleeker (they got thinner and more rounded) one we would soon get, would be able to read them, but as time went on, it would be harder to get it to read them.
Taking the original Ricoh disc to work, it worked in the brand new PC’s they had just gotten us in the data entry room (and worried about viruses, the boss tells all of us —too late for my experiment, not to place any foreign media in the PC’s. Glad I did already). I also took it to J&R to try out several players. Very few could read it. Needing a new CD/tape/radio box shortly afterward, I specifically chose the compact Sony CFD-V17, as it could read them (still have it, in case of emergencies).

DVD Recordable arrives!

One day, when walking to or past J&R, behold, a DVD recorder deck is in the window! This was the Panasonic DVR-1000, and of course, still just “R” (record once) format.* 

By the 1-99 issue, the RW camp had split, with Pioneer developing a new “DVD-RW”, which became the official format of the DVD Consortium, and added as a “Book F”.
*(These 11-99 articles: http://global.pioneer/en/news/press/index/1470 and http://www.cdrinfo.com/Sections/News/Details.aspx?NewsId=4363 announce the DVR-1000 being the “first DVD recorder” as coming out the following month and being rewritable, with with only a DVD-RW disc included, but when I first saw one, it was DVD-R only. This must have been dropped by the time it was released sometime after. It would be two more years before the first DVD-RW drive would arrive, and the decks always came out after the drives!
As an aside, I heard an LD-R — recordable LaserDisc was also produced, and probably high end. LD of course was on its way to being killed off by the new DVD format).

+RW remained backed by Sony, Philips, HP, Ricoh and Yamaha. A new “RW” bullet logo was adopted for the format.
Associated record-once discs were also then branded as “DVD+R”. These were similar to DVD-R, but there were several differences; the main one being that “+” discs must be formatted before being recorded by a compatible DVD video recorder, while “-” do not have to be formatted. Yet “+” has a more robust error-management system than “-“, allowing for more accurate burning to media, independent of the quality of the media. Thus, a DVD+R writer is able to locate data on the disc to byte accuracy whereas DVD-R is incapable of such precision.
Also, session linking methods are more accurate with DVD+R(W), resulting in fewer damaged or unusable discs due to errors like buffer under-run.

The pertinent article (“DVD Writing: A Guide For the Perpelexed”, Dana J. Parker) also mentioned DVD-RAM having been released with a Creative Labs kit for $500 the previous May, but the discs had only a 2.6GB capacity. The full-sized 4.7GB version was still about a year away. The issue also featured the release of DVD-Audio. (IIRC, a special edition of Stevie’s Songs in the Key of Life was issued in that format, but otherwise, nothing I was really into was produced for it. It didn’t seem to catch on much). 

A new website, DVDplusRW.org was created, to inform us of the developments and compare the formats. (It’s still up, now about general “digital technology”, such as VR. There’s also dvddemystified.com, which was a question and answer site about all the DVD formats. It now sells the associated books of that title).

So now, when addressing the RW formats collectively, we would need to dig into the ASCII code list and denote “DVD±RW” (it’s ALT+177). As recorders were finally released, some would do both formats, practically (eventually) merging the two formats back into one.
By the Jan. ’02 issue of E-MP, the magazine was much thinner, and WTC was gone, but J&R had started carrying the publication at some point, and I even began getting the magazine in the mail, briefly. The issues were now mostly about DVD technology, including the rewritable formats. This particular issue mentions HP dumping CD-RW for DVD+RW.

Pioneer’s DVD-R/RW drive (a third generation of the DVD-R A03 model) was already being sold. (Released the previous year. I don’t have any issues for the previous three years inbetween, and had begun getting my information from online instead. I had still looked through the issues in the store during that time, though). In April, the news (p.18) and reviews (p.42-3) cover the final release of DVD+RW by Sony and HP the previous month.
The onset of new rewritable media meant a renewed discussion of packet-writing, with a new format called “Mount Rainier” frequently mentioned (named after the WA volcano for some reason) and designated by Philips as “EasyWrite”.

So I would go with the “+” format (which sounded like the best, with its “lossless linking”, which improved compatibility with DVD players), and in Jan. ’03, by now at Transit, and with a Vacation Relief PM job on the M out of 9th Ave., money was still tight as always, but for $800, I was still able to eagerly head over to J&R earlier in the day to get my first DVD recorder, the trouble-plagued Philips DVR985 (the one I got was a later version of the model that was supposedly not as bad as the earlier ones I read about).
I did not really have a video cassette collection, holding off on even starting video recording, until the recordable discs came out. (I had maybe a few clips of cartoons and such).

So I now for the first time began recording off of the TV in earnest. Having gotten Boomerang for the first time the year earlier, I began recording a lot of short cartoons, such as some Looney Tunes, Scary Scooby Funnies, [and from CN:] Ed, Edd & Eddy, and clips from Cartoon Planet (I eventually got all 22 repackaged episodes of the whole series on +RW). I also got the hour long “Fantastic Frerps” (i.e. King Plasto) episode of the orginal Superfriends, The “Daffy and Porky Meet the Groovie Goolies” special I bought a very poor quality VHS tape of online, and the Science Channel clip of a journey from earth to the edge of the observable universe I later put on YouTube, and some other science stuff. Videos I bought included the newly released Scooby Meets Batman and Scooby Meets the Globetrotters sets (which included my favorite episodes) from the “Scooby Doo Comedy Movies” (disappointed that certain scenes cut out when transferred from syndication and USA cable to the Turner Networks in the 90’s were not put back). Also just released was “Legend of Vampire Rock”, a DTV that brought back the original voice Nicole Jaffe as Velma after three decades of other voices (she just wasn’t the same with them), in addition to Heather North as Daphne, and Kasem as Shaggy (who would be off and on in doing the voice, in the new Milennium).

It was my wife who had a huge VHS collection (both recorded, as well as store bought movies), and began transferring all this stuff to DVD-R’s (which were a deep blue on the recording side, where the older CD-R’s had been green. The rewritable media all look identical to CD-RW, except for the RAM having the “hash marks”, as mentioned). Around this time, dual layer DVD-Video’s also came out, which had a slight tan hue to them. (These had up to 8.5GB capacity and were called “DVD 9”, while the 4.7 single layer was called “DVD 5”). And there was also double sided (DVD 10). A a double sided dual layer (DVD 18) would increase the total capacity by nearly four times. (There was also a rare DVD 14, which was dual sided, with dual layer on one side only).

Also during the interim, cheap and less common CD media would be sold at “computer shows” that began cropping up around the city, including places like the JFK Airport Ramada Inn, York College, and the Metrotech area downtown. This is where I would get stuff like the orange CD-R and other colors. (Eventually, the major brands began selling packs of different colors). I also first saw a DVD-R out of the package here (and was intrigued by the plain glossy white label side of the no-brand media, and of course, the blue recording side). The DataVision store (then on 5th Ave @ 40th; now on 23rd near Home Depot and much smaller) sold a cheap brand of CD-RW’s I got a bunch of. Eventually, I could get cheaper CD and DVD rewritable discs from good old J&R. I was frequently in the computer outlet on the corner.

But again, around a year later, the problems surfaced, and it would stop recording. I had to send the big set (I keep original boxes for awhile) off to be fixed, and it turned out the problem was a defective laser assembly, that would cost about $400 to fix; almost half the original price. So it wasn’t worth it, and there was nothing else I could do. (What a gip!) By this time, the prices on new DVD recorders was coming down. So we eventually get a slimmer Sony (RDR-GX300). It lasted longer, IIRC, to within the last 8 years, since we’ve been in this apartment, but then began fritzing out. (I myself by then hardly ever used it anymore). I eventually take both machines (at different times) to Good Will, which hosted electronics recycling.

I also find, when trying to edit DVD files on the computer, that no matter how long the recording, and adding video (cartoon episodes, etc) incrementally to it, the actual video data on the disc is always divided evenly into five .VOB (“video object”) files! You have to open them and search through the video to find what you’re looking for.

One external drive did all eight formats (CD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD, DVD-R, DVD-RAM and DVD±RW), the Iomega Super DVD Quiktouch DVD burner 8x! As tight as money always was, I actually pinched and got this! (and still have it: J&R receipt 6-15-04, $259, plus one of each DVD format. And still get Iomega’s e-mail ads, ever since). At that point, I began using the DVD-RAM disc as the “floppy”.

But overall, there were so many problems getting that to work with the computer, so it wasn’t used for long. (Still glad to have it, as a “collectable” item!)
Eventually, the DVD camcorders were finally released, but reduced to 3 inch disc size, so new DVD and CD rewritable media were produced for them. (I got a few of these to put a few music or video tracks on. They fit perfectly in an old bracelet box my wife was throwing out).


A collection of recordable discs and an all format recording drive

Hot on the heels: Solid State media

What really began to kill off all of this, was the almost simultaneous development of chip-based storage; “solid state”, that used no rotating media to store data. I remember when they were demonstrating a new MP3 chip right in front of J&R, by driving a truck wheel over it, and it still worked. I was leery of the new technology as I would think data could get “lost” on chips. But have to this day never heard of it happening.
This caught on like a storm, with MP3 players becoming something everyone started getting. CD’s had one problem cassettes did not, and that was skipping when being carried in portable players, especially when doing something like jogging (this was never a problem for me, as I never carried music along while walking).

Soon, you had removable flash drives; about the size of a pack of gum, and which could now hold up to gigabytes of storage (passing the size of old hard drives when we got our first computer at the beginning of all this, at 1.7GB). The last edition of E-MP I got was April ’02, and the cover story was on the next “e-media”, Sony’s new Memory Stick. So right as the final [then current] recordable DVD format, +RW was being announced as debuting in the news, this new wave of technology had muscled its way in, in the article “The Persistence of Memory”.
This was much less clunky than anything else, and almost immediately killed off the floppy disk. So then it also became much easier and efficient to use than CD-RW or DVD-RAM. Along with this, online “streaming” or downloading became more popular. Just download it right onto the computer, and then onto an externally connected card player. A far cry from the old CD drives and “Spin Doctor” software! For listening, there’s YouTube (until the publishers come and take the video down) and Rhapsody (evolving from the old Napster sharing site). So this is basically what I use most of the time now instead of popping in CD’s.

San Disk Micro 2005 128MB, 2014 128GB
In 9 years, solid state media increases 1000 fold!

At this time, MiniDisc was actually still hanging in there, with the price finally forced down. We actually got a Walkman, which my wife used, but only briefly until going with MP3, and I then planned to get the old tapes, to record it to MD first, then then from there to CD-RW, to skip the clunky software step. But the person never got around to asking her mother if she could find them. So the recorder eventually got put away, left in some unpacked moving boxes.
New PC’s began coming with CD/DVD drives already built in. With companies like Dell, you could order whatever you want. (We got this and the one I’m using now has DVD-RW, but by this time, I was hardly recording discs anymore. So all of this killed off even for me, whatever rewritable optical media I was using, when backing up the computer).
I still couldn’t help feel this all happened too soon.

To the present

Really, CD-R/RW technology truly should have come out around the time the THOR-CD was announced (or at the very least, in place of MD). It would still be right behind the still new and growing original CD format, and have had over a full decade to become fully established and improved (and I would have recorded all the old tapes instead of condensing them onto new tapes), before becoming somewhat old and replaced.

DVD is hanging around longer, as it’s taking time for the solid state and streaming systems to completely handle video, though it’s rapidly taking over about now. What did start greatly trimming down its need was “DVR”, which was a set top hard disk deck, that cable companies quickly combined with their receiver boxes. That made a much simpler temporary recording than a separate optical disc box, and then you could always transfer it to the optical disc later. Next, came “cloud storage”, where video (or even your computer data) would be stored in a central location, like a satellite.

As all of this was occurring, the next development in optical disc technology was finally released, the blue laser formats (with the wavelengths ranging from 360nm violet bordering on near-UV, to 480nm cyan). This too split, between “BluRay” (BD, supported by Philips, Pioneer,  Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Sharp, Hitachi, LG, Mitsubishi), and HD-DVD (supported by Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo).
HD DVD-R and RW were produced (never saw any of these), and HD DVD-RAM proposed, but BD won out, with HD DVD folding in 2008.
BluRay has BD-ROM, BD-R, and the rewritable was BD-RE. If I’m reading the Wikipedia article correctly just now, rewritable was the original conception of BluRay! Don’t know how I missed that all this time. For one thing I wasn’t into any of it, as the recordable red laser DVD was enough for me, and I had followed and spent enough on expensive new disc technology that always seemed to fritz out, and was probably going to be killed off soon anyway. As long as I got rid of old tape cartridges, I was happy and no longer had to stay on top of the cutting edge technology.

Perhaps the reason why I missed it actually being released is because according to this site: http://hometheater.about.com/od/blurayonlyfaqs/f/blu-ray_disc_recorders_faq9.htm stand-alone recorders “are marketed and sold in Japan, and other select markets, but there are no current plans (as recently as 2014 and into the foreseeable future) to market [them] in the U.S market for consumers”. There are two professional models out (which are designed to be bolted into a studio rack on the sides), by JVC and TASCAM; which are thousands of dollars; the latter available at B&H Camera (the place on the west side with the motorized ceiling conveyors). There was also a Sony that has since been discontinued. The units do not even have built-in HDTV tuners, HDMI, or Component Video inputs for recording high definition broadcast, cable, or satellite programming. So the best option are PC/laptop drives which are less than $100.

When replacing the hand-me-down DVD player that replaced the last DVD recorder, a couple years ago, we got a Sony BluRay player, but have only one BluRay disc; Les Miserables, which my wife had gotten in the new format because it had an option to download a digital copy to the Apple TV.

And so here we are today. We’ve come a long way in 20 years! Just got the idea for this article this past week, probably from digging out one of the CD-RW’s, to get a track off of it: Cece Peniston’s “I’m Not Over You” (Flava mix) that’s a version of a song not on Rhapsody, YouTube or anywhere else for some reason. (Uploaded to YT as 7kr5_Si3x20) It was one of the tracks I couldn’t wait to get CD-RW for!

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3 Comments
  1. The Death Of DVD Will Haunt Us
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/jon-spira/the-death-of-dvd-will-hau_b_14196268.html

    “The figures are in for 2016, revealing that streaming and download services have finally overtaken physical media as the prime format for home film-watching…”

    Meanwhile, as this occurs, it seems they have finally come out with “ultra thin” bendable discs!

    http://eyedeaworx.com/flex-disc-replication.html
    http://www.burnsmart.com/Flex-DVD-Replication-s/117.htm
    http://www.cdsourcedirect.com/DVD-ROM_Mini-BC.html

    Caught wind of it when I found a bent up, scarped up “Ghost Whisperer” disc on the street.

  2. I read somewhere along the way that there actually was an erasable Laserdisc, the Pioneer VDR-V1000! I now find an old site for it here: http://www.laserdiscarchive.co.uk/laserdisc_archive/pioneer/pioneer_vdr-v1000/pioneer_vdr-v1000.htm (Had to add this to Wikipedia, which made no mention of any rewritable system).

    On Wikipedia, I find the laserdisc technology is older than I had imagined, arriving in the US in 1978; not 1982, when I first heard about it and the compact disc, which did come out that year. The development of video disc technology goes even way before that.

    Optical video recording technology, using a transparent disc, was invented by David Paul Gregg and James Russell in 1958 (and patented in 1961 and 1990). The Gregg patents were purchased by MCA in 1968. By 1969, Philips had developed a videodisc in reflective mode, which has advantages over the transparent mode. MCA and Philips then decided to combine their efforts and first publicly demonstrated the video disc in 1972.

    LaserDisc was first available on the market, in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 15, 1978,] two years after the introduction of the VHS VCR, and four years before the introduction of the CD (which is based on laser disc technology). Initially licensed, sold, and marketed as MCA DiscoVision (also known as simply “DiscoVision”) in North America in 1978, the technology was previously referred to internally as Optical Videodisc System, Reflective Optical Videodisc, Laser Optical Videodisc, and Disco-Vision (with a dash), with the first players referring to the format as “Video Long Play”.

    Pioneer Electronics later purchased the majority stake in the format and marketed it as both LaserVision (format name) and LaserDisc (brand name) in 1980, with some releases unofficially referring to the medium as “Laser Videodisc”. Philips produced the players while MCA produced the discs. The Philips-MCA cooperation was not successful, and discontinued after a few years.

    According to this page http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-225182/recordable-laserdisc-researched.html LD-R systems “were originally purchased at a price of about 30.000
    USD; a recordable laserdisc costed $450 (2004!)” (Someone also mentions $750,000).

    Both the rewritable as well as Sony’s version of the LD-R came in caddies “like other recordable media” of the time.

    On this forum http://forum.lddb.com/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=1635&sid=b984d135e0cb964b0469746e51cc65e1&start=20 a person claims
    “Technically, the 12-inch recordable optical discs in the caddies are not LaserDiscs that meet the MCA/Philips standards – they are a component format that stores the luma and chroma seperately in a time compressed format and are in no way compatible with standard LaserVision/LaserDisc hardware – notice they don’t bear the LaserVision/LaserDisc trademark “L” logo. The size might be the same but they can’t be handled directly, thus the caddy, and the component recording system is completely different than the consumer composite format. They are to LaserDisc as Betacam is to Betamax – totally different and incompatible formats that just happn to use the same form factor. Only ODC’s RLV system created discs that met the LaserVision/LaserDisc standards and were playable on consumer players.”
    Thus, another person adds “it’s still the closest thing to recording to laserdisc we’ll ever see”, and also mentioned is that a full sized disc only holds 32 minutes of video (And there was also an 8 inch disc that only held 10 minutes!)

    Here I found an article about the upcoming ’92 release of the competing MD and DCC: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-05-27/business/9102170330_1_recordable-digital-compact-cassette-disc

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