After a lifespan of ten years, during which time the capacity of hard disks increased a hundred-fold, the CD-ROM finally got the facelift it required to take it into the next century when a standard for DVD (initially called digital video disc but eventually known as digital versatile disc) was finally agreed during 1996.

The movie companies immediately saw what was essentially a high capacity CD as a way of stimulating the then struggling video market, producing better quality sound and pictures on a disc that cost considerably less to produce than a VHS tape. Using MPEG-2video compression, the same system used for digital TV, satellite and cable transmissions, it was quite possible to fit a full-length movie onto one side of a DVD disc. With picture quality as good as live TV, the DVD-Video disc can also carry multi-channel digital sound, opening up home entertainment systems for surround sound hi-definition audio.

For computer users DVD means more than just movies, and whilst DVD-Video grabbed most of the early headlines it was through the sale of DVD-ROM drives that the format made a bigger immediate impact in the marketplace. In the late-1990s computer-based DVD drives outsold home DVD-Video machines by a ratio of at least 5:1 and, thanks to the enthusiastic backing of the computer industry in general and the CD-ROM drive manufacturers in particular, by early in the new millennium there were more DVD-ROM drives in use than CD-ROM drives.

Initially, the principal application to make use of DVD’s greater capacity has been movies. However, the need for more capacity in the computer world is obvious to anyone who already has multi-CD games and software packages. With modern-day programs fast outgrowing CD, the prospect of a return to the multiple disc sets which had appeared to gone away for ever when CD-ROM took over from floppy disc was looming ever closer. The unprecedented storage capacity provided by DVD lets application vendors fit multiple CD titles (phone databases, map programs, encyclopedias) on a single disc, making them more convenient to use. Developers of edutainment and reference titles are also free to use video and audio clips more liberally. And game developers can script interactive games with full-motion video and surround-sound audio with less fear of running out of space.

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