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Is Blu-Ray Just More Planned Obsolescence

Monday, September 29, 2014

Planned obsolescence, or built-in obsolescence if you are in the UK, is the decision by a manufacturer to purposely design, manufacture and distribute a consumer product to become obsolete or non-functional specifically to force the customer to buy the next generation of the product. This plan will be implemented before the 'Next Generation' is even off the drawing board. Planned obsolescence is of course, very beneficial for a manufacturer because it means a customer can't just buy a product once and have it last for many years thereby never having to buy again - the life of the product's usefulness or functionality is fixed, so that at regular intervals the customer must pay money again and again, and yet again to either the original manufacturer for newer junk, or buy from the competition who probably also uses planned obsolescence.

I can't believe we are still using motors and movable parts that wear out. The technological advances of the last few years have led to media that can hold Giga bytes of data in volatile and non volatile storage with no moving parts.

So, does BluRay fit into this scenario? That remains to be seen because the new technology is so fresh.

The most intense competition in the next-gen optical video disc format wars is between HD-DVDs and Blu-ray. Blu-ray is backed by the Blu-ray Disc Association, of which Sony is a member. Not only a format for HD video and audio, Blu-Ray is a higher-capacity storage format. HD DVD at this point is being out sold by Blu-ray. Blu-ray has sold 500,000 more discs.

Is this just a case of 'The Newest Toy' or 'Grass is Greener'? You can expect Blu-Ray to parallel the rising popularity of HDTV and it may replace legacy systems unless the onrush of other new toys overtakes Blu-Ray. If you are an audiophile you may remember when DAT (Digital Audio Tape) was anticipated as the be all, end all of sound. Today DAT is used in some tape backup situations and not much else.

If a 10-year life span for the Blu-ray format is projected, what comes next? Very likely another phase of planned obsolescence.

SSD is the future, count on it, it does however have hurdles to pass before it can replace spinning drives. A Solid State Drive (SSD) is a non-magnetic alternative to a spinning drive. SSD is based on flash memory. Unlike a traditional drives with spinning magnetic media and flying read/write heads, a SSD is designed with flash memory and needs no moving parts.

The major difference between these storage media is that SSD is not optical (like a CD/DVD) or magnetic (like a floppy, zip or hard disk) but is a solid state semiconductor much like EPROM or battery backed RAM.

This is not new technology. It's been around for 20 years in other applications. NAND flash memory is the core technology of the removable USB storage units called USB flash drives, as well as many memory cards available today. 65-nanometer and low voltage chip technology have allowed manufacturers to make smaller versions of the traditional flash chips. In functionality, NAND can simply be considered a silicon version of a spinning disk drive. This is known as a Solid State Drive, SSD or Solid State Disk, a volatile or non-volatile solid-state memory device used as electronic storage for data.

While not technically a disk, the label Solid State Disk is used in that the device can be used as a replacement for the disk drive in many modern applications. SSDs are a viable substitute for the common spinning disk drive, which has moving parts causing slower memory access. SSD doesn't have the mechanical limitations that limit search times on magnetic or optical drives, so the concept of an SSD drive is appealing when considering noise, speed, power consumption, and reliability.

Considered a drawback in PC disk replacement NAND flash memory allows only sequential access while NOR flash memory allows random access. In storage and playback of video entertainment this may eventually be a non issue.

The SSD can read 300 percent faster (53 Mb/s) and write 150 percent quicker (28 Mb/s), more than twice the speed of comparable spinning drives. SSD is an innovative NAND flash-based equivalent for traditional disk drives. It is capable of reading data at a rate of 56 Mb/s and writing speeds of 32 Mb/s, two times as fast as standard drives.

Plus and Minus for SSD:

    Limited write cycles. Typical Flash storage will typically wear out after 100,000-300,000 write cycles, while high endurance Flash storage is often marketed with endurance of 1-5 million write cycles (many log files, file allocation tables, and other commonly used parts of the file system exceed this over the lifetime of a computer). Special file systems or firmware designs can mitigate this problem by spreading writes over the entire device, rather than rewriting files in place. **If the software or firmware intelligently staggers writes over the entire device, for large SSDs, even with continuous writes, the endurance limit may not be reached for decades. Envision your favorite movie or movies on SSD. Write cycles per cell = 1. If you erase and write over the old recording that's 2 more. Or the Entertainment may be on a Flash Stick and plugged into a player with a SSD for output to your entertainment system.
    Price - As of early 2007, flash memory prices are still considerably higher per gigabyte than those of comparable conventional drives - around $10 per GB compared to about $0.30 for mechanical drives. **As with any new technology, once manufacturers sense a demand and manufacturing cycles are optimized prices will come down. One of my early 'upgrades' was a 100 Meg hard drive at a cost of an extra $200 dollars over the original 20 Meg drive. The OLPC XO-1 uses a SSD rather than a mechanical drive. This is the XO-1 PC Configured as the $100 PC or One Laptop Per Child - PC. It uses SSD and Linux so Microsoft and legacy drive makers will try to squelch this innovation.
    Capacity - The capacity of SSDs tends to be significantly smaller than the capacity of HDDs. **This will also be mitigated by technological advances, see above note on hard drive upgrade.
    Lower recoverability - After mechanical failure the data is completely lost as the cell is destroyed, while if normal HDD suffers mechanical failure the data is often recoverable using expert help. **Is this mostly a 'Straw Man'. How often is it worth the recovery price charged by the expert. For 'Enterprise Systems' where the core business is endangered by loss of data, Raid Technology is a better and more cost effective solution.
    Vulnerability against certain types of effects, including abrupt power loss (especially DRAM based SSDs), magnetic fields and electric/static charges compared to normal HDDs (which store the data inside a Faraday cage).

**More Straw Man debate.

I've lost many disk drive formats due to power fluctuations, brown outs etc. The Faraday Cage can be and should be used where needed. It is not excluded in the case of SSD. Our daily environment is saturated with RF and other signals. Some are even calling this a form of pollution. The system may be vulnerable to EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse), but as this would most likely come from an atomic detonation, your movie would be interrupted anyway.

Let's apply some commonsense. There are far fewer differences in manufacturing costs of HD DVD and Blu-Ray players than the retail prices suggest. The differences between BlueRay and DVD will be promoted and many BlueRay systems will be sold. For the average home viewer the difference may be barely noticeable. In the HDTV format the differences won't be evident unless your display is 55" or more. I know that if you spend much time watching commercial TV, the effort to convince you that we all need 120" screens with Surround Sound and Bass Boost is hard to resist, but will that marketing effort convince enough consumers to part with that much cash?

So eventually the battle will play out. Technologies used by legacy manufacturers will be pushed. They have the resources and marketing power to keep alive their profitable version of 'what we need'. Other modes of presenting the same information are always hard to get off the ground. Performance is often the deciding factor after the cost is ameliorated and of course marketing will make or break any product, process or technology regardless of merit.


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