Compact disc

Happy birthday: the compact disc has been around for four decades

CD format is now 40

Although it became commercially available more than three years later, the compact disc as we know it was presented to the international press by Philips on March 8, 1979. Later that month, Sony joint and the two companies quickly succeeded in transforming the CD format into a global standard and bringing this technology to the masses.

While many consider the compact disc to be obsolete – and they’re fundamentally right – this data storage technology is still alive and well no less than four decades after its introduction. Although it took a few years to take off, the CD is one of the few storage formats that has been on the market since the early 1980s without undergoing drastic changes, even though it laid the foundations for more advanced — DVD and Blu-ray, for example.

Although the origins of CD technology date back to the 1960s, when James T. Russell invented the first system for recording digital information on an optical layer using a high-power halogen lamp, it all came to light on March 8, 1979, when NV Philips’ Gloeilampenfabrieken demonstrated a disc audio player compact for the international press.

After the aforementioned press event, the steps taken by the new technology came in quick succession. These are just a few:

  • 1979: First attempt at pressing a recording (Richard Strauss – An Alpine Symphony).
  • 1981: First public appearance on the BBC television program Tomorrow’s World.
  • August 17, 1982: The first commercial CD, a 1979 recording of Chopin’s Waltzes.
  • October 1982: First CD played on radio (BBC Radio Scotland).
  • March 1983: Japanese launch of CD technology, followed by its introduction in Europe and North America (later the same year).
  • 1985: Launch of the computer-readable CD-ROM.
  • Dire Strait'”Brothers in armsThe 1985 album becomes the first million-selling recording on CD.
  • 1988: More than 400 million CDs are produced in the 50 pressing plants operating around the world.
  • 1990: Sony and Philips bring the recordable CD disk to the masses.
  • 2007: Over 200 billion CDs have been sold worldwide since the technology was introduced.
  • 2014: for the first time, revenues from digital music services correspond to those from sales in physical format, mainly made up of audio CDs.

Today, the CD format is primarily used as a medium for music albums, having been replaced by DVDs and Blu-ray discs in the role of data storage by most individuals and businesses. Obviously, there is also the threat of cloud-based storage that could turn all optical storage solutions into museum-worthy pieces of technology faster than many realize.

Do you remember the last time you bought an audio CD or a CD for data storage? For me, it was less than a month ago, when I received a CD recording of a niche group which I have been for many years. If you think I missed some steps (the introduction of the CD-RW format, for example, but I’m sure there are others I might have overlooked), please let me know in the comments section.

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