Whatever happened to DAT?
By James Grahame
DAT (Digital Audio Tape) was developed by Sony
and Philips (the creators of the CD format) in the mid-1980s. It was designed to offer pristine digital recording on tiny 4mm tapes. This clever little format seemed like the perfect replacement for the ubiquitous cassette tape, yet it never fulfilled that promise.
So why did the format fail? Well, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was terrified by the prospect of consumers owning technology that could produce "perfect" digital copies of music. They lobbied hard for legislation to restrict digital recording and the Audio Home Recording Act was passed in 1992. The AHRA required serial copy protection in every consumer player to prevent users from making more than a single generation digital copy, and it required royalties on DAT machines and blank tape. The legislation was enough to slow adoption of DAT and it was eventually overtaken by the vast popularity of affordable recordable CD drives. DAT went on to enjoy brief success in the professional audio market and later became a de-facto standard for computer data backup.
DAT machines function much like a tiny videotape recorder -- information is recorded using a rotating helical scan head. This design (and the fact that it's a real-time digital medium) makes audio dropouts slightly more noticeable than traditional analog tape, resulting in brief periods of silence. This also means that the data is striped on the tape at an angle - it can't be spliced using a razor blade, although some DAT machines offered quite useable punch-in recording.
Sony stopped selling DAT machines in December 2005, officially making DAT obsolete. They reported that sales had dropped to a mere 100 units per month.