Compact disc

The history of the compact disc

30 years ago today, workers at a factory outside Hanover, Germany, welcomed executives from Polygram, Sony and Philips. These executives were here to see something they knew was special. After a while, they were given a small circular disc. These leaders held the first compact disc ever to be pressed. 30 years have passed since that day, and now, on the 30th anniversary of the technology, we look back at how it became one of the most popular formats in the world.

The CD was designed in a meeting between Philips (then known as Royal Philips Electronics) and Sony in 1979. The two companies argued over the size, shape and technology the CD should support. . It was finally installed on a disc 115 millimeters in diameter and 74 minutes of storage. Why 74 minutes? To fit Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, of course.

Sony and Philips announce a joint CD working group in 1979. Credit: Philips


It was 1.2 millimeters thick and spun around 500 rpm inside the disc.

The CD marked a transition from analog technology to digital sound and it paved the way for advancements in entertainment that could not be imagined at the time. The first CD ever made was pressed on August 17, 1982. It was actually an ABBA pressing Visitors album.

The head of the Philips CD-Lab, Joop Sinjou, with the first CD. Credit: Philips

It took a few months for CDs to hit the market, but by the time they hit the shelves in November 1982, 150 titles were available. ABBA’s album was one of them, and it was joined by a host of classical music tracks.

The first CD player was the trendy Sony CDP-101 for the insane price of US $ 1,000. It was considered far too expensive for the average consumer to buy, but it was the first portable and durable CD player the world had ever seen.

Sony CDP-101. Credit: Atreyu / Wikipedia

CDs were first released in Japan, and by March 1983 the records had made their way to the United States and Europe. At that time, there were over 1000 titles on compact disc and the digital revolution was well and truly underway.

Despite the fact that CDs were gaining ground all over the world, many bands still released their tracks in multiple formats. It took Dire Straits, one of the biggest bands in the world at the time (you know, The Sultans!), To take the plunge and release their “Brothers in Arms” album digitally only to promote the format. As a result, it was the first CD to sell over a million copies. It was the tipping point for the humble compact disc.

Over the next 20 years, 200 billion CDs would be sold, while at the same time, technology rapidly evolved to accommodate new purposes like video.

The CD met traditional computer technology in 1991 when the CD-i format was created. The CD-i has been designed to contain videos, lyrics, animations and other interactive content that can be played with a compatible player. In one year, 50 titles were available in CD-i format.

Video CD took off in 1994 and was introduced by co-founder Sony for recording and playing concerts, karaoke, or for delivering interactive content aimed at children. No one would blame you if you hadn’t heard of Video CD because the superior DVD format quickly appeared to kill it.

The Digital Versatile Disc (or digital video disc as it was called in the 1990s) won a format war against Video CD and several other formats in 1995 to become the most popular means of distributing video discs. It was invented by Philips, Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic and ended up killing the humble VHS tape just as the CD had killed analog audio before it.

Meanwhile, the folks at home wanted to get into the CD action, and in 1997 the first rewritable CD – CD-RW – hit the market. The price issue came back into the equation once again, preventing their immediate take-off. The format’s co-founder – Philips – returned to the fold and released a CD-RW burner the same year. Discs for the rewritable format were beaten to € 5.45 each.

Formats gradually evolved and recordable CDs were replaced by recordable DVDs, then recordable Blu-rays entered the scene.

Despite 30 years of success, the CD now faces an uncertain future.

CD sales began to decline in 2000 due to the growing popularity of a new digital format known as MP3. Labels began to notice the drop in sales and in 2003 many of them got an idea from a tech executive named Steve Jobs. The idea of ​​a centralized store where music could be sold and downloaded to a user’s computer was an instant winner, with nearly 300,000 tracks sold within the first 24 hours of opening the service. The iTunes Store as we know it today has sold over a billion songs and spawned hundreds of other digital music markets like this around the world.

Meanwhile, CD is still in the fall of its years, as record stores that have built their business model on CD like HMV and Sanity are forced to close their doors across the country.

So tonight make sure to go home and pull out your favorite CD and play it, for the sake of the good old days.

Top image: John Ward