Sony Optical Drives: What Sony's Latest Move Really Means
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Well, physical media is officially dead. This week, Sony announced that it is closing its last remaining optical drive manufacturing plant. Let me repeat that. Sony, the company that had more proprietary physical media sticks in the fire than Medusa had head snakes, is getting out of the physical media business. While Sony cited stiff competition as the main reason that it is jumping ship, itís safe to say the future of burning discs is not so bright. Donít panic just yet. Youíll still be able to get a Sony-branded Blu-ray player and the unintentionally funny sequel to Priest on Blu-ray -- they just wonít be made by Sony anymore, and itís safe to say that Sonyís out of the custom media game.
For those needing a little background, hereís a primer on Sonyís love/hate relationship with proprietary physical media. With almost every generation of music, home video and games, Sony has tried to make a new standard of physical media that would let it get a leg up on manufacturing the latest and greatest before anyone else could catch up so that it could license its (hopefully) popular format for added dough and to avoid piracy. Sony made great formats, so it should have worked in theory. No Sony format was more revered than Betamax, but the higher-quality video format still failed to beat VHS in the home.
But even before Betamax, there was the U-Matic video cassette format, and Sonyís been trying to replicate the market dominance that U-Matic achieved. But since then, it's been in a long proprietary media tailspin. Sonyís MiniDisc was loved by musicians but a complete flop as a replacement for tape cassettes. Despite my love for my Criterion Blu-rays, the format is a flop from a future-proofing standpoint.
Laptops have been outselling desktops since 2008 and have been shedding their optical discs -- and thatís a good thing. Blu-ray in a laptop was the worst idea ever. The demanding decoding of the video, combined with the power consumption of spinning a disc, meant that you couldnít watch a single movie on a flight without running out of juice. Meanwhile, the guy next to you just finished the whole last season of Breaking Bad in HD and he was playing it on his less powerful iPad, which uses hardware decoding for power efficiency. You can bitch all you want about quality but thatís not going charge the battery of your hefty manwich of a laptop.
Sonyís flirtation with media has actually left it less able to compete -- Blu-ray was partly responsible for the huge initial cost and scarcity of the Playstation 3. Just look at the home media-box success of the XBox 360 -- it shipped with an infamously loud DVD player that even scratched discs. Sony has learned that, if it couldnít beat the media player equivalent of AIDS, then it's obviously been fighting the wrong fight.
Still, without physical media, it will be interesting to see how the next-gen game systems work to minimize download time for cloud-stored games. Weíre already pushing 15 to 25GB games on PSN because they are just online versions of Blu-ray titles. There may need to be a way of streaming the first level while the rest of the game downloads as you play. Waiting on a 50GB game is going to be murder, especially considering that I just got this rad 56K-baud modem last week.