The days of having an optical drive in your system could be reaching an end, with Sony confirming plans to drop its Optiarc disc drive division following a massive loss posted earlier this month.
The advent of optical discs as a data storage medium for computers was nothing short of a revolution: the massive storage capacities available on a CD, holding some 470 times more than a 3.5" double-sided high-density floppy disk, meant that applications could become more complex and multimedia - including full-motion video - became a real possibility. CD-ROM technology also put an end to the horrors of installing from multiple disks: operating systems, in particular, would grow exponentially from six disks for Windows 3.1 to thirteen for Windows 95 and a whopping twenty-two for Windows NT 3.1.
Games developers were quick to latch on to CDs - and, later DVDs - as a medium. At first, this would be restricted to filling the empty space on the disc with audio tracks for high-quality background music, but as the performance of computers increased developers would use increasing amounts of space to add high-resolution textures or 'talkie' dialogue to previously text-based games.
Now, however, things are starting to shift yet again. The storage capabilities of optical discs hasn't kept up with the increasing complexity of games, with many modern PC and console games having to span across multiple DVDs. Blu-ray, while once seen as a solution thanks to its 50GB capacity, is seen as too expensive for most home users to adopt for PC use - and until it reaches a critical threshold, publishers won't use it for games distribution.
At the same time, the internet has gone from being a slow and secretive communications network for universities and government research facilities into a near human right with speeds measured in the megabits per second. Suddenly, digital distribution is not only possible but, in many cases, preferred. Buyers get the benefit of instant access with no waiting around for the post, while publishers can tie in digital rights management (DRM) anti-piracy technology and cut out the middleman as well as the costs associated with pressing discs, printing manuals, packaging cases and shipping the product to warehouses, stores and eventually the end user.
As a result, optical drives are starting to gather dust. Seeing the trend, Sony has confirmed reports in Japanese media
that it will be winding up its Optiarc optical drive division with a view to shutting the company down completely in March 2013 with the loss of around 300 jobs mostly concentrated in Japan and Malaysia.
The news comes as Sony announced that it had lost a whopping $312 million overall in the last financial quarter, following a dramatic dip in operating income for the quarter of 77 per cent.
The closure of Optiarc, which creates exclusively computer-centric products, will not affect the use of optical media components in Sony's home entertainment arm.