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The Compact Disc turns 25

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August 16, 2007

First worldwide presentation of the Philips CD Audio made by Joop Sinjou, Head of Philips ...

First worldwide presentation of the Philips CD Audio made by Joop Sinjou, Head of Philips CD-Lab on March 9th, 1979 (Photo: Joop Sinjou (C))

August 17, 2007 In an event that marked the shift from analogue to the new digital era in the music industry, the world’s first compact disc rolled off the production line at a Philips factory in Langenhagen, Germany, twenty-five years ago today. Philips and Sony co-developed the CD (which was invented by American James T. Russell in the late 1960s) and an estimated 200 billion have been sold around the world in last quarter of a century - even at just 1.2mm thick, that's a stack big enough to circle the earth six times.

The first CD to be manufactured at the plant was “The Visitors” by ABBA and CDs hit the Japanese market in November 1982 and followed in the US and elsewhere in 1983 – and despite the advent of MP3 players they are hanging on as the dominant medium for the distribution of audio recordings. The collaboration between Philips and Sony based on open innovation helped position the CD as standard for the music industry.

Interestingly the original target storage capacity for a CD was one hour of audio content but the capacity was extended 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, commented on Philips’ and Sony’s collaborative work: “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 70s and early 80s, 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.”

Another milestone was reached in 1985 when Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms” became the first album to sell more than one million copies in the new format.

But there is another, earlier, chapter to the story. The person credited with the invention of the format developed so successfully by Philips and Sony was James T. Russell. An keen music lover, Mr. Russell became frustrated by easily damaged vinyl records and set out to find a way to record and replay sounds on a machine where no physical contact between parts was required. This led to the revolutionary idea of using light to replace a stylus.

About the Author
Noel McKeegan After a misspent youth at law school, Noel began to dabble in tech research, writing and things with wheels that go fast. This bus dropped him at the door of a freshly sprouted Gizmag.com in 2002. He has been Gizmag's Editor-in-Chief since 2007.   All articles by Noel McKeegan
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