40 years of the CD

Exactly 40 years ago, a technology was born that literally changed the world. It was on this day, October 1, 1982, that Sony and Phillips released the first CD to the Japanese market. On the same day, Sony announced the world’s first CD player, dubbed the CDP-101.

Surprisingly, the technology of laser data recording onto optical media could hardly be called fundamentally new even in 1982. The method of storing information on a light-transmitting medium was invented by David Paul Gregg in 1958 and patented in 1961. In his research, Gregg used the principle of optical reading and writing data “through the light”, which was not very accurate and efficient – a much higher storage density of information and a higher speed of its processing could only be achieved using reflected light. This is exactly the method that Philips used to create its LaserDisc technology, which debuted in 1972 and was intended to replace the VHS standard, despite the fact that home video recorders of this standard appeared on store shelves only two years earlier. Unlike the later CD, LaserDisc used analog recording and did not support an all-digital data storage format. The discs had a rather large diameter – 30 centimeters, and outwardly looked like vinyl records.

The first LaserDisc, on which the Hollywood blockbuster “Jaws” was recorded, went on sale on December 15, 1978 in Atlanta, USA. However, in America, and throughout the world, this technology did not gain popularity, and did not displace VHS and Betamax video cassettes from the market – primarily because users did not have the opportunity to record videos and TV programs on optical media. This format has received some recognition only in Japan, South Korea and Singapore, mainly due to the distribution of video disc rental points there. However, LaserDisc players were too expensive, although they were produced in many countries, including the Soviet Union. In the USSR, there were even several models of LaserDisc players: “Amfiton VP 201” manufactured by the Yaroslavl plant “Mashpribor”, “Rus-501 VIDEO” and “Rus VP 201” (State Ryazan Instrument Plant), and discs for them were produced by the Leningrad Scientific and Production Association “Vanguard”.

Compared to its predecessor, the Compact Disc (CD), which appeared in 1982, was really “compact” – it had the usual diameter of 120 mm, but at the same time retained the same recording density due to the fact that the data was stored on the media in digital format. Initially, the media was used only for audio recordings, even called accordingly – Digital Audio Compact Disc, but later they learned to record other types of information on CD. On the readable surface of the CD, there was a spiral optical track of a fairly high density, which made it possible to store up to 75 minutes of audio. ABBA’s The Visitors album was released on the very first commercial CD.

At the time the technology was introduced in 1982, the CD could store much more data than the hard drive of a personal computer, which at that time had a capacity of 10 MB. This predetermined the fate of the format, ensuring its popularity.

Looking at the world’s first commercial CD player, the Sony Compact-Disc Player CDP-101, also introduced to the public on October 1, 1982, one could not help but notice the device’s striking resemblance to a VCR. At first, the device was sold only in Japan, and cost 168,000 yen (about 730 US dollars at the rate of 1982). The serial number of the model, 101, was personally chosen by Chairman and CEO of the Sony Corporation Group Nobuyuki Idei, since 101 in binary is 5, and Idei considered five to be a lucky number.

The American and European debut of the unit was delayed until November 1982 due to Sony’s technology partner Philips being unable to produce its own version of the Philips CD100 player for non-Japanese markets by the originally agreed launch date. Be that as it may, the Philips CD100 was an almost complete copy of the Sony CDP-101, and even contained many Sony-made components.

The player had an infrared remote control, a horizontal sliding tray and a digital indicator on the front panel showing the number of the track being played, or by pressing a button on the front panel – the elapsed or remaining playback time. The player played only audio CDs, and due to the high cost of digital-to-analogue converters, it had only one DAC for both stereo channels. The Sony CDP-101 also had an unfortunate design flaw: due to the imperfection of the electronic components of that time, the sound in the right and left audio channels was out of sync by about 11 microseconds. Four-channel sound in this device, as well as within the format in general, was never implemented.

Soon, the original audio format was expanded: the CD-Text format appeared, which allowed storing additional text information (for example, album title, song title, artist name), then manufacturers learned how to store graphic data on discs in addition to audio recordings – it became possible to burn photos of artists on CD and album covers. It was one step away from the distribution of video films and computer programs on CD.

Despite their advanced age, CDs and their successors, DVDs and Blu-rays, are still actively used today, mainly for storing and archiving data. Perhaps in another ten years we will celebrate another anniversary of this technology.

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