Compact disc

BBC NEWS | Technology | The compact disc celebrates its 25 years



Exactly 25 years ago, the world’s first compact disc was produced at a Philips factory in Germany, sparking a global musical revolution.

Over 200 billion CDs have been sold worldwide since then and it remains the dominant format despite the growth in digital downloads.

The CD was jointly developed by Philips and Sony, and the disk has also become a key storage method for computer users.

The first CD produced was The Visitors of Abba.

Piet Kramer, who was a member of the Philips optics group during the development of the disc, said: “When Philips partnered with Sony to develop the CD, our first goal was to take the world for the CD.

“We did this by openly working together to agree on a new standard. For Philips, this open innovation was a new approach and it has paid off.”

Dire Straits’ album Brothers in Arms helped popularize the CD

He said companies never imagined that the computer and entertainment industries would also opt for CD as their content storage system.

Jacques Heemskerk, who was one of the main engineers involved with the optical side of CD players, said the team knew they were building a revolutionary product.

“It was revolutionary in many areas – the optics were new, the disc was new. At the start of development, there wasn’t even a laser that would work well enough for our needs.

“The most advanced laser at the time had a lifespan of only 100 hours.”

He said the company had always planned for a format of at least 20 to 25 years.

“It was the model we had in mind although it looks like the CD is going to last a lot longer than that. For many people, the CD is still the original format, others being derivatives or backups. ”

Both companies began work on the format in 1979 and targeted a disc that could hold an hour of audio. The capacity was extended to 74 minutes, however, to accommodate a full performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, forcing the record to be slightly larger. ”


We were suspicious and so were their engineers

Jacques Heemskerk, retired Philips engineer, on Philips working with Sony

“I always wish we had stuck with the original plan of an 11cm disc; it would have been more suitable for working age,” said Heemskerk.

He said it was a big culture shock for Philips when they allied with Sony.

“The world was not as globalized as it is today. Our management told us to be as open as possible and to share everything because that was the only way to be successful.

“But we were suspicious and so were their engineers. But after a few days it became clear that we could work together.”

He added: “There were other companies that were working on similar technologies, so there was pressure.

“We always knew we could make the product, but it was always about making it at the right cost and on a large scale.”

The first CDs went on sale in November 1982 and were mostly classical recordings.

Fans of classical music were considered richer than fans of pop and rock music, and Philips believed that they would be more inclined to pay the price for more expensive CDs and very expensive CD players,

The first models cost 2,000 Dutch guilders, or around £ 1,000 at the current rate, after allowing for inflation.

“When Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau recorded one of the first CDs for Polygram, we discovered he was growling and panting while playing. Before, on vinyl, you didn’t hear that, but on CD it was crystal clear “said Frank van den Berg, a former member of the Polygram CD development working group.

Over the past 10 years, CD sales have plummeted around the world while digital download sales are increasing rapidly.

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), digital sales will account for a quarter of all global music sales by 2010.

UK CD sales fell 10% in the first half of this year, while download purchases rose 50%.

Richard Gooch, Head of Technology at IFPI, said: “CDs remain a very popular format for purchasing music in the digital age – indeed, as CDs are a digital format, they actually launched the digital age.

“The CD remained the most popular Christmas present in Britain last year. Despite the increase in downloads, we expect the CD to be around for many years to come.”

Mr. Heemskerk said CDs remained his preferred format.

“I don’t have an iPod, although my youngest son uses one. But CDs remain his favorite format and he copies them to his MP3 player.