July 29, 2013 at 3:32 PM ET
First there was the CD, which held 700 megabytes. Then the DVD, which held 5 gigabytes. Then the Blu-ray disc, with 50 gigs. What's next? Sony and Panasonic hope it will be a 300-gigabyte disc they're jointly researching that could hit in 2015. But might we have abandoned discs altogether by then?
Sony wrote up the joint-development agreement in a press release, citing the many strengths of optical media as justification for the project:
Optical discs have excellent properties to protect them against the environment, such as dust-resistance and water-resistance, and can also withstand changes in temperature and humidity when stored.
However, both Sony and Panasonic recognized that optical discs will need to accommodate much larger volumes of storage in years to come given the expected future growth in the archive market, and responded by formulating this agreement.
For years, the companies that make discs like these have worked to make the lasers, materials, and other components more precise, and have added more recordable layers, improving capacity. Just this last November, TDK announced a 1-terabyte disc based on refined versions of today's technologies.
But reading between the lines and taking current trends into account, the companies' enthusiasm seems a little forced. After all, the most popular new devices in the world, tablets and smartphones, both rely exclusively on flash memory rather than spacious but cumbersome hard drives, let alone optical discs. And that's only when they're not streaming that data or downloading it from cloud storage.
Even full-on computers, desktop and laptop, are far less likely to have a disc drive than they used to. Apple took the lead in 2008 with the drive-less MacBook Air, and since then support for discs has become increasingly rare.
That's why the proposed format is being framed as more of a professional tool: a high-capacity medium for the companies' pro-level video cameras and backup archives. After all, Sony and Panasonic gear is deeply embedded in TV and film, and a big bump in capacity like this will be attractive to the many creatives who rely on those devices to store hours of HD video for shows and films.
Will there be a new format war in 2015 as these mega-discs come to market? Or will we have moved on to flash and cloud storage? Chances are a bit of both — and by making sure that both will actually exist then, Sony and Panasonic are covering their bases.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.