The ubiquitous CD (compact disk) has been the biggest driver in the shift to all things digital – from music to storage – and today it celebrates its 25th birthday.
This time 25 years ago, the very first CDs of what would become more than 200-billion sold in total rolled off a Philips production line in a factory near Hanover, Germany.
Co-developed by Sony and Philips, the CD has been a monumental success story but now – 25 years after its debut – it may be starting to lose out to online music services and USB storage.
The CD itself may have peaked but has been the catalyst for more recent developments such as DVD.
The Philips factory in Germany, where the world’s first CD was pressed, belonged to Polygram – the recording company, which Philips owned at the time.
The first CD to be manufactured at the plant was “The Visitors” by Abba. By the time CDs were introduced on the market in November 1982, a catalogue of around 150 titles – mainly classical music – had been produced.
The first CDs and CD players were introduced in Japan in November, followed by a US and European market introduction in March of 1983.
Philips and Sony set up their initial task force of engineers to design the new digital audio disk as early as 1979.
The original target storage capacity for a CD was one hour of audio content, and a disc diameter of 115 mm was sufficient for this, however both parties extended the capacity to 74 minutes to accommodate a complete performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
In June 1980, the new standard was proposed by Philips and Sony as the “Red Book” containing all the technical specification for all CD and CD-Rom standards.
Piet Kramer, who at the time was a member of the optical group at Philips that made a significant contribution to the CD technology, comments: “When Philips teamed up with Sony to develop the CD, our first target was to win over the world for the CD.
"We did this by collaborating openly to agree on a new standard. For Philips, this open innovation was a new approach – and it paid off.
"In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we never imagined that one day the computing and entertainment industries would also opt for the digital CD for storing the growing volume of data for computer programs and movies.”
As music industry sales of CDs started to take off in 1983, more than 1 000 different titles were on the market.
In 1985, one of the most famous bands in the world, Dire Straits, adopted the CD. The infamous album “Brothers in Arms”, as one of the first fully digital recording (DDD) to be brought to market, went on to become the top selling CD at the time, and the third greatest selling CD of the decade.
The joint collaboration with Philips entailed Philips and Dire Straits jointly promoting the sound quality of the CD to consumers, making “Brothers in Arms” the first album to sell over 1-million copies in this new format, marking the success of the CD as the emerging format of choice for music quality.
The CD is the forefather of today’s extensive family of optical disks for a wide range of applications such as CD-Rom, CD-R and CD-RW, DVD, DVD R, DVD RW and Blu-ray.
Philips estimates that over the past 25 years, since the first CD was pressed, more than 200-billion CDs have been sold worldwide.
Even though a single CD is only 1,2mm thick, if all CDs ever produced were piled up, they would circle the earth six times.