/ Technology

Formats aren’t forever: what will happen to your disc collection?

James Bond boxset

There’s an air of inevitability about format changes – a consequence of rapidly evolving technology designed to enrich our lives. But how would you feel if items you’d paid for were suddenly rendered obsolete?

For Richard, this is a real worry. ‘Discs are finished,’ he tells me matter-of-factly, ‘looking at how things are developing there’s just no place for them in the future – they’re unnecessary’.

The problem is that Richard, a film blogger and British Film Institute member, has a DVD collection that he estimates to be worth in the region of £5-10k.

Say farewell to discs

New laptop models are being manufactured without DVD/CD drives, while downloads and streaming are growing in popularity – it all marks the beginning of a slow phase-out for media in disc form.

I can’t help but draw comparisons to the rather sudden change-over from VHS to DVD, probably due to the fact that his James Bond collection still adorns the shelves. From 1962’s Dr No, up until 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, that is.

‘Post-2000, continuing to buy the Bonds on video would have been ridiculous, and later, impossible,’ he says. ‘I leave those ones on display because I’m quite proud of that collection, but they’re useless now aren’t they? Dust collectors’.

Copying CDs and DVDs

While the total exclusion of the disc is surely some years off, I still wonder whether it should be easier to safe-guard your media from becoming nothing but spectres that haunt the attics of the future – losing their value entirely.

The good news is that the law was modernised last year to allow you to make personal copies of your media, whether that’s a CD or DVD. However, ripping a DVD isn’t a straightforward process and they often have copy protection that was added by the film studios. This would also involve months of manual work for someone like Richard.

It could be argued that the media is still playable – but if there’s eventually no hardware to support it, then it’s as useful as a 3½” floppy disc. While you certainly can’t legislate for upgrades and improvements (I wouldn’t expect to be given the latest version of my car every year!), do you think entertainment creators could do more?

It’s not uncommon for the latest Blu-ray discs to be accompanied by a digital download, which is a positive step. But for the millions of discs already purchased, what’s to stop them from joining the technology of yester-year on the scrap heap?

Do you think it’s fair that you often have to pay again for the same media in a new format just so you can continue to enjoy it? Have you ever bought a CD/digital copy of a vinyl album you’d already paid for? A download of a DVD you already own? Or a DVD of a VHS you once paid in excess of £10 for?

I know I have, I’m just not quite sure whether I should have had to.


The availability of the technology to play different media generally seems to last as long as necessary. You can still easily buy record players, cassette tape players, and VHS recorders and players. Betamax is the most significant extinct video recording technology but that was doomed at an early stage through lack of inter-compatibility. Starting with reel-to-reel tapes I have been through all these iterations of sound and vision reproduction [including quadraphonic sound on the way] and done the upgrades – usually for superior fidelity and durability. Tapes, cassettes, and records all suffered terribly from wear, distortion, and the snap, crackle and pop of imported impacts on the medium. Digital downloads and streaming are the future [for the time being] and will before long displace mechanical systems.

Personally I enjoy the physical properties of CD’s and like having a visible music collection. I am not so bothered about DVD’s – we seem to have rather a lot of them, many unplayed, and they rarely get a second viewing. I think they will shortly be joining the thousands of others on the charity shop shelves.

Blockbuster went bust, which says it all really.


I recently bought a laptop without a DVD drive and wanted to load some old but expensive software that is on DVD. I know I have a USB-DVD drive somewhere because I bought it when my computers only had CD-drives. When I remembered I could use the DVD drive on an older Mac to access files on the old one, I gave up looking. It was not fast via Wi-Fi but it worked.

My searches for the DVD drive had been unsuccessful but I unearthed a Zipdrive and a DVD-RAM drive, with lots of disks for both. When I have nothing better to do I will fire up these drives if my first laptop still works. It’s the only one that has the requisite SCSI connector. I might find something interesting. I don’t think I will bother with the USB-floppy disk drive because I have thrown out most of the floppies. I might as well check what’s on the large external hard drives that have the capacity of a modest flash drive.

I still listen to my records and occasionally to tapes, despite being a fairly early adopter of CDs. There is something satisfying about these old physical formats that music files and streaming does not match for reasons I don’t quite understand.

I will have a purge of the old computer hardware soon but I’m keeping the turntable and tape deck for a bit longer.


There really is a certain je ne sais quoi about putting a record on. Choosing the album, looking at the picture on the sleeve, easing the enclosed cover and disc out of the sleeve, carefully turning the disc around to check the label and select the side to play, slipping the record carefully out of its cover and placing it on the turntable, activating the tone arm and watching it gently lower the stylus onto the disc. Sit back, relax and enjoy. Now it’s a case of pick a track and click a button – no build up, no sensation of anticipation as you perform the ritual, no emotional immersion in the experience. Never mind; obsolescence is the way forward.


Not to mention the superior analogue sound quality, but yes it is ritualistic, something we never realised until the advent of digital.


I think we have to make the distinction between formats like Mp3 and jpg. which almost certainly will be playable in a hundred years times and physical formats like vinyl, CD, tape and DVD’s.

DVD’s are slightly hampered both by the format region restrictions and not being totally ubiquitous as MP3’s and jpgs. Fortunately there are ways around these things I am told.

One thing I am keen on is the archival quality of DVD size disks which which will last hundred plus years which is something commercial disks, hard drives and tapes cannot do. If there is a widescale adoption of M-Disk and similar than the ability and likelihood of having hardware and software to read them is highly likely many decades into the future..


We have mp3 and jpg formats because they are convenient and small files, but both are examples of lossy compression and associated with loss of quality. For archival purposes, uncompressed files or lossless compression are better alternatives.

The M-Disk may offer the possibility of long term storage but I find it hard to believe that the future lies in mechanical devices of any type.

I can see the virtue of streaming subscription services for those whose main interest is in popular music and film.


I find it interesting how our attitudes have changed in the digital age. In the 70s/80s, if we broke an LP, we wouldn’t even think about taking it back to the record shop and arguing we should be entitled to a free replacement because we had already paid for the content.

On the topic of formats going extinct, it is sad that a very large proportion of scientific footage – video and data – taken during the moon landings is kept on tape, but has never and will never be examined because we no longer have any equipment capable of playing those tapes.

For today’s formats, I agree that the popular, non-proprietary ones such as JPG and MP3 will live on (despite the patents on MP3). I am slightly worried that Microsoft may in future make the WMA and WMV formats obsolete. Microsoft have done it before: I have many MDI (Microsoft Document Imaging) files created with previous versions of Windows, which Microsoft no longer support and you have to go through hoops to get software that can read them. I’m not just having a go at Microsoft, as I think Apple can be just as bad. Yet, I still tend to prefer ripping my CDs to WMA format rather than MP3 as the compression is supposedly slightly higher quality. I hope I will still be able to use these files in 10-20 years’ time, but haven’t got complete confidence.


Just because we were supposed to pay the full price to buy music in a different format, it was only corporate greed that prevented legal format switching for so long. Commonsense has prevailed at last.

I acquired some Standard 8 film that was around 40 years old. I would have liked a telecine conversion but I managed to find a contemporary projector, replaced the belt and had a friend point a rather good quality modern camera at the screen and the result was perfectly adequate. If the moon landing video and data are worth recovering, it would be worth building suitable players.

mp3 files are relatively poor quality, reflecting the limitations of the equipment for which they were originally designed. I’m surprised at how long they have survived.