What started as a solid plastic item being passed to Captain Kirk around 1966, evolved into a real product by 1992. Today, just about 20 years on, the future is dead and another ‘amazing technology’ gets consigned to the trashpile of history. KitGuru casts an eye back over yet another attempt by Sony to standardise the world in its own image.
With a name like ‘Magneto-Optical‘, you expect an X-Man to come flying out of the box to deliver you a 21st-Century media experience. In real life, it means you use a magnet to write data and a laser to read it back. Which isi all well and good, but the X-Men version would have sold more.
By the end of the 80s, Sony was ready to attack markets with DAT (Digital Audio Tape), but the powerful Japanese economy meant that a product destined to be affordable for all, ended up in the ‘$1,000 luxury good’ zone. They needed a different solution and came up with MiniDisc.
As with video tape before it, Sony kicked off the MiniDisc era with a fundamental flaw: At 60 minutes long, the initial launch meant media that was not able to hold a complete track list for many. While larger formats were introduced later, it was too late and the multimedia revolution of the early 90s saw the price of CD players, writers and media tumbling so fast that a second format like MiniDisc had no chance of standing in the way of CD.
In no time at all, the CD industry was shipping tens of billions of units a year and would not come under threat until wireless and mobile phone technologies began to link the world together in the way we know today. MiniDisc sales were also impacted by falls in the price of memory – which allowed for MP3 players etc to arrive in the market in a big way.
In its 20 year lifespan, there’s probably only one area in which the MiniDisc.
Around 2003, more record company execs were probably asked to sit and listen to this ‘amazing new track from a star of the future’ on MiniDisc than at any time before or after. MiniDisc provided a way for small bands to store crisp, digital versions of their new songs. But it wouldn’t last.
KitGuru says: Even now, the memory companies are worried about what will happen next. With the internet getting faster and faster – across more and more locations – alongside the enormous increase in storage capacity on phones etc, why do any of us need to carry a separate physical device for music or other digital data? RIP MiniDisc and its small contribution to electronics history.
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