Death of the MiniDisc


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
18 Monday 18th July 2011

First off, let's clear up this MiniDisc issue for all those of you who may have been too young, too old or too into your DiscMan to give a crap about their initial release. The MiniDisc came out in 1992 as Sony's sort of precursor to the mp3 player. They had discs smaller than CDs, but it was pretty awkward moving music onto them and they cost a hell of a lot more than a standard DiscMan when they first entered the market. Of course, the same can be said of mp3 players when they first hit the scene but for one reason or another the MiniDiscs just never really took off. Even though Neo used them in The Matrix (remember, right at the beginning when he's just a lowly data dealer?) You've got until September to get your hands on one and be re-crowned the coolest 'hey, I just casually use retro gadgets' friend in your group. But remember, they've only got about 80 minutes of music tops, so you've got to keep shuffling around your favourite tunes saved to them every couple of days/weeks.

Although you may not even have heard of this one, the good old VHS format that we all know and love now pretty much murdered another video recorder. Sony's Betamax was the first consumer-level video cassette recorder to come out, back in 1975. These cassettes just look a bit like thinner and narrower version of the JVC VHS that we're all so used to now and there was a pretty heated format war when the competing technologies were initially released.

Betamax in its heyday

Although they pretty much did the same thing, and made it possible for people to record programs then watch them later at a convenient time, Betamax's higher quality videos had less recording space. Error: this gave JVC the chance to overtake them pretty brutally, with enough space for at least two hours on their lower-quality tapes. Remember all that fuzz and hiss from VHS tapes? Well, looks like consumers generally preferred that over having to switch tapes halfway through a film, cos the Betamax was massively lagging behind VHS by the mid-1980s. In 2002, Sony ended their production once and for all.

HD DVD's last ditch effort at advertising

Suffering from a similar competition-driven downfall, we saw Toshiba's HD DVD come and go in record time at the very end of the noughties. Once High-Definition TV was starting to pick up in the late 1990s, consumers obviously wanted a way to record and playback all that crystal-clear content. So began the next format war, this time between Toshiba and the Blu-Ray Disc Association (spearheaded by Sony). Blu-Ray sound more familiar to anyone who rents or burns high-def content? Yeah, that's because after only four years on the market, Toshiba's HD players went bust. They cited consumer indifference as the main reason behind their falling sales, and in the years since they folded Warner Bros have actually been offering to trade in people's HD DVDs for Blu-Rays at just $5 a pop. What a burn. Not even Eddie Murphy's voiceover could save this fledgling effort.

The zip disk and drive: the USB's grandma

On the data storage front, some of you might remember our brief encounter with the zip disk [Ed - yup, had one of these too...]. Generally only befriended by tech-savvy guys who couldn't wait to put two fingers up to the rapidly malfunctioning floppy discs of the 1990s, these high capacity drives seemed like the way forward for portable storage. Well, until they started choking all the time too. Before USBs and external hard drives really flooded the consumer market (remember when a memory stick cost more than £30?) zip disks and drives carried lifetime guarantees and only about 100MB of memory. Then the 'click of death' began: when they would get a little dusty or warped, all your information would get wiped as the reader tried to read the disk's Z tracks over and over again. One click after another swiftly lead to the demise of the zip disk in general and let the solid state USB stick to swoop in to pick up the pieces.

What's next? Well, it could be the demise of another Sony format, with the not-so universal UMD (used to store games and films on the PSP) being phased out with their next console, the PSP Vita. Oh Sony, when will you learn? Proprietary formats don't pay!

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