After the Internet, the compact disc also will celebrate its 20th birthday this spring. But the CDs you buy today are essentially the same that you purchased 20 years ago. Paul Boutin explains.
This spring, the compact disc celebrates the 20th anniversary of its arrival in stores, which puts the once-revolutionary music format two decades behind Moore's Law. The IBM PC, introduced about a year and a half earlier, has been revved up a thousandfold in performance since 1983. But the CD has whiled away the time, coasting on its Reagan-era breakthroughs in digital recording and storage. The two technologies, the PC and the CD, merged not long after their debuts -- try to buy a computer without a disc player. But the relationship has become a dysfunctional one. The computer long ago outgrew its stagnant partner.
The author says it doesn't have to be this way.
The modern recording studio is built around computers, Macs or PCs. Beefed up with high-performance analog-to-digital converters and super-sized disk drives, they digitize music up to 192,000 times per second, storing it as 24-bit data samples. That "192/24" standard captures more than a thousand times as much detail as the CD's "44.1/16" resolution. Moreover, this music data is just another computer file, an icon on a desktop. Double-click it, and it plays. It would play on your home computer, too, if you could get your hands on it.
But instead of gearing up for digital home hubs, record companies have rolled out two more shiny-disc formats: DVD-Audio (DVD-A) and Super Audio CD (SACD). Both sound great, but you're forgiven if you haven't heard of them.
Paul Boutin concludes.
It's no wonder that gearheads who buy the latest, greatest everything have ignored DVD-A and SACD in favor of MP3 players and CD burners. Computer-friendly music formats let you archive hundreds of albums on a laptop, create custom playlists that draw from your entire collection, and download them to portable players smaller than a single CD jewel box.
[Note: For a review of the introduction of the SACD last summer, you can read "Get More Satisfaction with a New Audio Technology -- and the Rolling Stones."]
Source: Paul Boutin, Slate, January 6, 2003
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