Optical Media

Unless you came to the world very recently, chances are that you’ve held optical media in your hands at some point in your life. From music albums to movies, to video games, optical discs have been used to store pretty much any kind of data on them.

What is Optical Media?

Optical media is a broad term that covers several types of discs that are read by a laser. The discs are typically made from aluminum and polycarbonate and are designed for data storage. The data is read by optical disc drives fitted with laser diodes. Once inserted into the drive, the discs spin around at 200-4000 RPM depending on the type of disc.

Many kinds of optical media have been produced, each generation holding some advantages over the previous ones. The LaserDisc, for example, could hold 300MB of data. The newer HVD can hold as much as 6TB.

Here are all the different kinds of optical media in chronological order:

  • LaserDisc (LD)
  • Write Once Read Many Disk (WORM)
  • Compact Disc (CD)
  • Electron Trapping Optical Memory (ETOM)
  • MiniDisc (MD)
  • Magneto Optical Disc (MOD)
  • Digital Versatile Disc (DVD)
  • LIMDOW (Laser Intensity Modulation Direct OverWrite)
  • GD-ROM
  • Fluorescent Multilayer Disc
  • Versatile Multilayer Disc (VMD)
  • Hyper CD-ROM
  • Ultra Density Optical (UDO)
  • FVD (FVD)
  • Enhanced Versatile Disc (EVD)
  • HD DVD
  • Blu-ray Disc (BD)
  • Professional Disc for Data (PDD)
  • Professional Disc
  • Digital Multilayer Disk
  • Multiplexed Optical Data Storage (MODS-Disc)
  • Universal Media Disc (UMD)
  • Holographic Versatile Disc (HVD)
  • Protein-coated Disc (PCD)
  • M-DISC
  • Archival Disc
  • Ultra HD Blu-ray

Of all these different kinds, the CD and DVD have historically been the most popular types for consumers. Music albums were often released on CDs and films on DVDs. Later, the Blu-ray discs offered a superior alternative to the DVD for the film industry.

Each disc has two sides: one for data storage and for for a printed label. Most discs, such as the CD and DVD, have a lacquer coating on the data storage side to protect them from damage. They can still be scratched, however, which often results in the discs rendered useless and the data being lost.

Optical discs come in three variants: Read-only, recordable, and re-writable.

Each variant is used for different purposes. The read-only discs atypically contain a consumer product, such as a music album or a movie. The recordable discs can be used once, and are a cheap way to back up data from a computer. The re-writable discs are usually more expensive than the recordable discs but can be recorded on multiple times.

The first optical disc was invented by Alexander Graham Bell and his colleagues in 1884. They recorded audio onto a glass disc with a light beam. It wasn’t until 1958, however, that David Paul Greff managed to record video data onto an optical disc. Consumers had to wait until 1979 before Sony and Phillips created the first audio CD together.

Other Storage Devices Related to Optical Media

Unless you came to the world very recently, chances are that you’ve held optical media in your hands at some point in your life. From music albums to movies, to video games, optical discs have been used to store pretty much any kind of data on them.

What is Optical Media?

Optical media is a broad term that covers several types of discs that are read by a laser. The discs are typically made from aluminum and polycarbonate and are designed for data storage. The data is read by optical disc drives fitted with laser diodes. Once inserted into the drive, the discs spin around at 200-4000 RPM depending on the type of disc.

Many kinds of optical media have been produced, each generation holding some advantages over the previous ones. The LaserDisc, for example, could hold 300MB of data. The newer HVD can hold as much as 6TB.

Here are all the different kinds of optical media in chronological order:

  • LaserDisc (LD)
  • Write Once Read Many Disk (WORM)
  • Compact Disc (CD)
  • Electron Trapping Optical Memory (ETOM)
  • MiniDisc (MD)
  • Magneto Optical Disc (MOD)
  • Digital Versatile Disc (DVD)
  • LIMDOW (Laser Intensity Modulation Direct OverWrite)
  • GD-ROM
  • Fluorescent Multilayer Disc
  • Versatile Multilayer Disc (VMD)
  • Hyper CD-ROM
  • Ultra Density Optical (UDO)
  • FVD (FVD)
  • Enhanced Versatile Disc (EVD)
  • HD DVD
  • Blu-ray Disc (BD)
  • Professional Disc for Data (PDD)
  • Professional Disc
  • Digital Multilayer Disk
  • Multiplexed Optical Data Storage (MODS-Disc)
  • Universal Media Disc (UMD)
  • Holographic Versatile Disc (HVD)
  • Protein-coated Disc (PCD)
  • M-DISC
  • Archival Disc
  • Ultra HD Blu-ray

Of all these different kinds, the CD and DVD have historically been the most popular types for consumers. Music albums were often released on CDs and films on DVDs. Later, the Blu-ray discs offered a superior alternative to the DVD for the film industry.

Each disc has two sides: one for data storage and for for a printed label. Most discs, such as the CD and DVD, have a lacquer coating on the data storage side to protect them from damage. They can still be scratched, however, which often results in the discs rendered useless and the data being lost.

Optical discs come in three variants: Read-only, recordable, and re-writable.

Each variant is used for different purposes. The read-only discs atypically contain a consumer product, such as a music album or a movie. The recordable discs can be used once, and are a cheap way to back up data from a computer. The re-writable discs are usually more expensive than the recordable discs but can be recorded on multiple times.

The first optical disc was invented by Alexander Graham Bell and his colleagues in 1884. They recorded audio onto a glass disc with a light beam. It wasn’t until 1958, however, that David Paul Greff managed to record video data onto an optical disc. Consumers had to wait until 1979 before Sony and Phillips created the first audio CD together.

Other Storage Devices Related to Optical Media

Optical media has been widely used since 1979 and is still in use today. However, the emergence of other storage media, such as USB sticks, external hard drives, and cloud storage have rendered them less popular.

Features and Benefits of Optical Media

Although the floppy disc came with a protective casing and hard drives can hold more data, optical media still holds some advantages over both. Since they don’t use magnetic charges, they have a longer lifespan and are less likely to lose the data on them.

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Optical media has been widely used since 1979 and is still in use today. However, the emergence of other storage media, such as USB sticks, external hard drives, and cloud storage have rendered them less popular.

Features and Benefits of Optical Media

Although the floppy disc came with a protective casing and hard drives can hold more data, optical media still holds some advantages over both. Since they don’t use magnetic charges, they have a longer lifespan and are less likely to lose the data on them.

Image courtesy of TIME.

The MusicGremlin Wi-Fi MP3 Player

WiFi enabled, easily music downloading, with access to a huge catalog of music, the MusicGremlin was released in 2006. It was the first portable MP3 player that also allowed the user to download the music they wanted over a WiFi network, no host computer usage required.

This brand new innovation was groundbreaking and allowed it to gather a sizable fan base.  Apple would not offer these features until a year later.

Features

The MusicGremlin was ahead of its time in terms of the features offered in 2006. The ability to connect to WiFi for wireless music transfer and music sharing was, of course, the most notable feature.

Its small size was also a plus, being only two inches, with a color LCD screen offering 220 x 176 resolution. Users also appreciated the ability to listen to the radio, as it had an FM tuner for radio reception.

The memory of this little gadget was also impressive. The MusicGremlin boasted an 8GB hard drive which was able to hold about 2,000 songs. The system was embedded with IEEE 802.11b WiFi networking. The battery could last for 10 hours, allowing listeners to enjoy an extended period of music enjoyment without having to recharge.

At the time, these players sold for $299, a price that was steep but not entirely prohibitive.

Even with all of its incredible features, the MusicGremlin was not destined to stay at the top for long. In 2008, SanDisk, a company predominantly known for its flash storage solutions, bought the MusicGremlin. There have been no updates or new releases related to this device since. Although the service is no longer available, you can still use this device with other music subscription services, one of which is Rhapsody. 

If you decide to give the MusicGremlin a try, keep one thing in mind: maybe don’t try downloading music after midnight.

Image courtesy of TIME.

Mattel Electronic Football

Many people do not realize that Mattel released the first-ever portable gaming device, even before Nintendo released the classic Game Boy.

Mattel Electronic Football was created by Mattel, the iconic toy company known for toys such as Barbie, Hot Wheels and the card game Uno, as a handheld game and it was released in 1977. The game was very simple, with sound effects and an illuminated screen, which was a novelty in the 70s.

Handheld electronic games are miniature versions of video games, and this electronic football was very simple to play. The design of the device integrated a simple set of controls, a screen, and a set of speakers in a portable box. Because the pixels were very small, these types of games could be even smaller. Mattel Electronic Football was about the size of a watch.

Features

The features for this electronic video game included buttons, which were used by the player to move the players across the screen and avoid obstacles that came in the way of the game’s character. There were different versions of football that could be played, one of which was called Football I, and based on the choice made, the design and gameplay could change.

The screen was made of LED lights and pixelated dots. Additionally, the display had lines to represent a football camp. The player could use a combination of buttons to make the character do different moves like go up or down, move side-to-side, or kick. You were also able to check the progress of the player by pressing the button to show the score or status.

Similar Products

Mattel enjoyed a great deal of success with the release of this electronic game device. The following year, the company released a new line to continue its football gaming products.

Even though these games have been discontinued, they are still considered a treasure for being the first electronic video games before the console era.

Image courtesy of tintoyarcade.

The Logitech Harmony

The Logitech Harmony is one of the most remarkable gadgets in pop culture history. A remote control for a TV, the Harmony is produced by Logitech, a well-known technology company that produces electronics for computers, such as keyboards, mice, and headphones, along with accessories for smartphones and portable devices. This company was founded in 1981.

Logitech created and still produces the Harmony remote and home automation line. These products have a range of different features, such as the power control, the channel buttons, volume (high/low), and mute, what you would expect from a remote. Today, remote controls have adapted along with modern technology to offer a wide variety of features to make life easier.

The Harmony remote control made its first appearance in 2001, and the line included a Universal Remote control which works for TVs, home theater systems (this includes video games and BluRay players) and other electronic devices that can be controlled through the use of infrared.

Features

The actual features of the Harmony remote line of products are the online set up of the device’s software through a USB wire along with the more modern products that can be programmed or configured with a smartphone app.

All of the remotes from this line have infrared capabilities and the capacity to support more than 5,000 brands, which is why they are called Universal Remotes.

Similar Products

Some products have been discontinued like the Harmony Link, the Harmony for the Xbox 360, and the Harmony One. Today, you can find a massive variety of remotes from the Harmony line, such as the Elite, one of the newest releases, among other remote devices that facilitate life at home.

Today the remote control is still a very important element in daily life. Knowing the best remote for you can help make your day to day more convenient and pleasurable.

The GoPro Hero

The GoPro Hero is part of a line of cameras that were launched in 2004 by Nick Woodman. Woodman is the founder of GoPro, a technology company that started in 2002. This company not only makes its own cameras, but they also develop apps and editing software.

The main inspiration for the cameras was a personal experience Woodman had. On a surfing trip to Australia he wanted to capture the moments he experienced with video and high-quality pictures. The name GoPro comes from the motivation that he and his friends had to “Go Pro” in surfing.

Features

Hero Cameras are a line of products from GoPro Company. There are 13 GoPro Hero cameras, all with a slew of different features, but mostly the same functions: high-quality pictures and sharp video.

Among the many features that can be enjoyed, these cameras can also be used up to 10 meters underwater. As an added benefit, they are incredibly lightweight while also offering excellent quality: the first GoPro Hero had a weight of just 110 grams, with a video quality of 1080p30 and 720p60.

Something particularly useful about this type of camera is the fact that its distinctive shape makes it easy to carry. GoPro’s previous products had a high definition of 4K, but this is not a quality possible across all of the Hero product line.

With a very easy to use touchscreen, GPS capabilities, and even a slow-motion camera, this little device also has the Hypersmooth video system and the ability to connect to WiFi, making file sharing much more convenient.

Similar Products

The line of products from Hero cameras have continued to evolve over the years. Some of the most used products are the GoPro Hero 7 Black, the Hero 7 Silver, the Hero 7 White, the Hero 4 Session, and the Hero 5 Session.

The GoPro camera can be used by non-professionals and professionals alike, and it will work perfectly for movement and action pictures, giving a high-quality image and even audio capture. This little device has incredible benefits in a lightweight package.

Image courtesy of Amazon.

The Audio Highway Listen Up

The Audio Highway Listen Up is one very mysterious device that was created in 1996 and launched officially in 1997.

There isn’t much available information about it, but we do know that only 25 of these devices ever existed, so it can certainly not be considered to be a mass-produced product.

Features

This was the first MP3 player produced. Made in the ’90s, the Audio Highway Listen Up was created by Nathan M. Schulhof, who was at the time an entrepreneur in the technology field. He is today known as one of the most important inventors in the United States.

Schulhof sold the patent to Sony later in 2003, when MP3 players began to grow in the market and became a more recognized part of the lives of the public.

The Listen Up was an audio device designed to be pocket-sized, so it was not heavy and was made specifically to be carried with you everywhere. The price was $299.

This was considered to be a very good price, as back in 1996, listening to music on the go was not as common or as simple as it is today. This portable MP3 device offered an impressive 60 minutes of playtime in a digital format.

Even though it did not receive a full release, this player is recognized as the first portable device player of digital music, way before the iPod. Today, the father of this music player, Nathan Schulhof, has said that he does not feel any bitterness or sadness about the vanishing and limited release of the Listen Up because it inspired the technology field to create something amazing and useful.

Thanks to the Listen Up, today we have easy access to portable music and listening to music on the go is the norm.

The process for adding songs to this MP3 device was very innovative. To do so, you just had to go onto the Listen Up website, download the music you wanted to listen to, and then download it to the player with AudioWiz.

Additionally, you could connect it to your computer directly with a pass-through parallel connector.

Image courtesy of TIME.

The Sony Discman D-50

The Sony Discman D-50 changed the music industry, which at the time was dominated by cassette tapes and vinyl records. For the first time, users were able to listen to their music CDs on the go.

What is the Sony Discman D-50?

The Sony Discman D-50 was the world’s first portable CD player. It was released by Sony in 1984, only a short time after the first CD sound system had hit the consumer market. At the time of its release, the majority of the music was still being released on cassette tape. That made the D-50 a game-changer for music enthusiasts.

It was an impressive device, mainly because the technology behind it was so new. The stationary CD players were already quite complex, and the fact that the D-50 had to be portable meant that everything had to be miniaturized. Each CD player contained an error correction chip, which was the most complex consumer device on the market at the time. That too had to be miniaturized.

The D-50 has been the subject of several urban myths, including that the design shouldn’t be bigger than 3-4 CDs stacked on top of each other. That wasn’t far from the truth, which meant that it was branded as the world’s smallest CD player because it could fit in a small bag or a large pocket.

There was a catch, however.

The D-50 didn’t come with its own power source. That meant users had to purchase an additional battery, which has to be quite large to accommodate the new technology. So big, in fact, that it was impractical to carry around. That made the advertisement for a portable CD player seem very exaggerated.

To remedy this problem, several different batteries and battery cases were produced. Of these, the EPB-9C battery-case was the most popular one. It encased the entire CD player and had room for either one rechargeable NP-11 battery or six disposable batteries. Not only did the EPB-9C protect the fragile D-50, but it also came with shoulder straps to help users carry the bulky pack around.

Another rumor is that the D-50 was intentionally made affordable to make sure that CDs took off on the consumer market. That was also close to the truth, as it was considerably cheaper than the stationary CDP-101 sound system designed for home use. That said, neither CD player was anywhere near as affordable as later models.

The D-50 was on the market for a few years after its initial release and underwent some changes. The original name for it was “compact disc player”, but consumers dubbed it “Discman” due to its similarities with Sony’s Walkman.

Sony achieved their original goal for the D-50, which was to make CDs as a storage format more popular. The D-50 inspired other manufacturers to produce their own portable CD players, which pushed the average cost down. It also led record companies to invest more in CDs as a format for music albums.

Other Music Players Related to Sony Discman D-50

The D-50 was based on the earlier CDP-101 and Sony’s Walkman. Phillips later released what they dubbed an Intelligent Discman, which played CD-i discs.

Features and Benefits of the Sony Discman D-50

Apart from being portable, the D-50 enables users to skip, pause, and fast forward tracks. It also had a line out so that it could be connected to a speaker system.

Image courtesy of Engadget.

The Epson HX-20

Most people today have a laptop, but current models have come along way from the original Epson HX-20.

What is the Epson HX-20?

The Epson HX-20 was invented by Yukio Yokozawa in 1980 and is considered the be the first laptop computer. Yokozawa worked for the company today known as Seiko Epson and received the patent for his invention. It was originally launched in Japan as the HC-20, and only became known as the HX-20 when it was introduced to the US market the year after.

It became a massive hit at the COMDEX show in Las Vegas because you could carry it with you. Portable, battery-charges computers were a brand new trend at the time and it was all the more interesting due to its practical size.

Features and Benefits of the Epson HX-20

The Epson HX-20 came in two colors (silver and cream), was the size of an A4 paper and weighed 1.6kg. In 1982, it was mass-produced in both the Japanese and US markets where it was labeled as the fourth revolution in personal computing by BusinessWeek.

The laptop came with two programs. One was a monitor application that enabled users to manipulate the memory of the system. The other was the BASIC programming language developed by Microsoft. It also came with a digital clock that could easily be set.

The HX-20 also came with a dot-matrix printer the size of a pocket calculator. It was able to print 42 lines per minute, each with a maximum of 24 characters per line.

In terms of storage, the HX-20 offered a built-in miniature micro-cassette recorder that customers could add on for an additional $135. Despite its now primitive technology, it automatically backed up the data twice without any additional work on the user’s part. Each micro-cassette tape could hold around 50 kilobytes of data. Users who wanted additional data storage could also buy an external cassette recorder and an external floppy disk drive.

The laptop also came with nickel-cadmium batteries, which were not only rechargeable but could also last 50 hours. That’s quite a lot considering that today’s laptops only last for a few hours before having to be recharged. As opposed to modern computers, however, the HX-20 didn’t automatically turn off when idle. So inattentive users could easily deplete the battery.

The LCD screen was only 32 pixels high and 120 pixels wide, and could only show four lines of text with 20 characters on each. Although this seems extremely tiny by today’s standards, it was actually the largest LCD screen available at the time.

The Legacy of the Epson HX-20

Despite the many extras customers could buy and attach to the Epson HX-20, it was lampooned by critics. Only a year after its initial release, BYTE magazine wrote that it didn’t sell well because it lacked accessories and an operating system enabling users to store data on cassettes. The only praise BYTE had for the laptop was for the accompanying dot-matrix printer, which they called amazing.

A year later, the TRS-80 Model 100 hit the international market and quickly overshadowed the success of the Epson HX-20. However, the TRS-80 Model 100 wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the HX-20, as much of its design was based on the first Epson.

Image courtesy of oldcomputer.info.

DiskOnKey

DiskOnKey was the first USB flash drive and gave birth to a technological revolution in data storage and transfer.

What is DiskOnKey?

The DiskOnKey was a revolutionary invention that combined two existing technologies: flash memory and the universal serial bus (USB). Flash memory was invented by Toshiba in the mid-eighties and the USB was invented around a decade later.

So in 1999, The Israeli company M-Systems filed a patent application for what they called “the architecture for a USB-based flash disk”. Around the same time, IBM claimed that one of their employees was the original inventor of the USB flash drive.

Neither company actually made it first to the market.

The Singaporean company Trek 2000 International released the ThumbDrive (which is still a nickname for USB flash drives today) in early 2000. IBM and M-Systems would eventually team up to launch the DiskOnKey in the US market that same year.

The timing was perfect.

The humble floppy disk could no longer serve the needs of consumers or professionals. And optical media, such as CDs, were still considered rather impractical because of how long it took to record data onto them.

Features and Benefits of DiskOnKey

The original DiskOnKey could only hold 8MB, which wasn’t anywhere near as much as most CDs. But it had several advantages that made the DiskOnKey an instant hit. It was small, didn’t require any special software, and it could transfer data really fast.

The DiskOnKey wasn’t cheap, however. The original 8MB version retailed at no less than $50, which was a lot more than CD-ROMs. But since it could be used and reused countless times, the cost was quickly recouped by consumers and professionals alike. In addition to that, it was also more durable since it contained no moving parts and didn’t take damage from scratches.

Today, USB flash drives are everywhere. And like most other pieces of technology, their capacity has improved while the prices have gone down significantly. There are now USB flash drives with over 2TB of space, and they can be written and rewritten as many as 100,000 times before they have to be discarded.

Furthermore, advancements in USB technology has also increased data transfer times drastically. Another benefit of the USB flash drives is that they’re compatible with pretty much any device — hence the “universal” part of their name.

That means users can transfer data between Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems, as well as DVD players, Xbox One consoles, and PlayStation 4 consoles. There are even some handheld devices that work with USB flash drives because of micro-USB technology. And since USB flash drives are powered by the device they’re inserted into, you never have to worry about them running out of battery.

The Legacy of the DiskOnKey

Needless to say, DiskOnKey contributed greatly to the advancement of both professional and consumer technology. And while cloud storage and transfer of data are becoming increasingly more common, USB flash drives are not likely to go away anytime soon. They still invaluable in areas with limited or no Internet connectivity, and can be used to store data you can’t risk being leaked online.

Image courtesy of TIME.

The Engelbart Mouse

The Engelbart Mouse sounds like a rodent species named after a zoologist. But it’s actually named after the inventor of one of the most widespread computer accessories: the mouse.

What is the Engelbart Mouse?

Douglas Engelbart was an American inventor who started working on the concept back in 1963 together with his partner William English. The concept of computer work stations as a tool for solving problems was still a relatively new concept at the time. In order to optimize the work process, users needed a device to move a cursor around the screen.

Engelbart and English developed the first prototype of their device in 1964. It consisted of two metal discs encased in a wooden shell with a button on top. It enabled the user to move the cursor around the computer screen and draw both vertical and horizontal lines.

The original device was described as an “X-Y position indicator for a display system”, which isn’t nearly as catchy as a ”mouse”.

The nickname came about because the device had to be connected to the computer via a chord. The chord originally stuck out the front of the device but was later moved to the back to make it more practical. Since it resembled a mouse, the device was nicknamed as such.

Features and Benefits of the Engelbart Mouse

There were already a few devices available to move cursors around, including joysticks and light pens. Engelbart, however, wanted to find out which of these devices was the most efficient one to get the job done.

So in 1966, he contacted NASA to organize a test to find out. They created a series of tasks and asked volunteers to perform them using the different devices, including the mouse. The tasks were timed, and the findings were clear: the mouse outperformed the other devices by far. One year later, Engelbart applied for a patent but didn’t get it until 1970 because it relied on computer software — and patents weren’t granted for software at the time.

Engelbart and English continued to develop their workstations, however, and that same year they produced the first complete workstation: screen, mouse, and keyboard. It was at this time the casing was made out of plastic, and the chord was moved back to the front of the mouse.

In 1968, the world finally got to see the mouse, along with the rest of the work station in what became known as The Mother of All Demos. Here, Engelbart showcased not only the mouse, but also word processing, emails, teleconferencing, and hypermedia.

The Legacy of the Engelbart Mouse

Interestingly, Engelbart never received a dime for his invention. He received the patent while working for SRI, who licensed it to Apple for $40,000. Although it’s a shame, Englebert already had over 45 patents to his name by the time the mouse was ready.

Engelbart’s invention is still used today, although the cordless mouse was already on the market in 1984. And although Apple has since introduced the tracking pad to laptop users, the mouse is still seen anywhere people are solving problems on workstations. It’s unlikely that it will disappear from our offices and homes anytime soon.

Image courtesy of scihi.org.

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