Compact Disc celebrates 25th birthday

First discs rolled off presses August 17, 1982. So, if digital lasts forever.. or 5 years, whichever comes first, CDs may (may!) last forever.

The news story follows the way that CDs changed the music industry.. the rise.. and, with other digital formats, the fall. But the part that interests me the most are the techno-geeky deets about how the CD came to be, well, the CD:

Yet it had been a risky technical endeavor to attempt to bring digital audio to the masses, said Pieter Kramer, the head of the optical research group at Philips’ labs in the Netherlands in the 1970s.

“When we started there was nothing in place,” he told The Associated Press at Philips’ corporate museum in Eindhoven.

The proposed semiconductor chips needed for CD players were to be the most advanced ever used in a consumer product. And the lasers were still on the drawing board when the companies teamed up in 1979.

In 1980, researchers published what became known as the “Red Book” containing the original CD standards, as well as specifying which patents were held by Philips and which by Sony.

Philips had developed the bulk of the disc and laser technology, while Sony contributed the digital encoding that allowed for smooth, error-free playback. Philips still licenses out the Red Book and its later incarnations, notably for the CD-ROM for storing computer software and other data.

The CD’s design drew inspiration from vinyl records: Like the grooves on a record, CDs are engraved with a spiral of tiny pits that are scanned by a laser — the equivalent of a record player’s needle. The reflected light is encoded into millions of 0s and 1s: a digital file.

Because the pits are covered with plastic and the laser’s light doesn’t wear them down, the CD never loses sound quality.

Legends abound about how the size of the CD was chosen: Some said it matched a Dutch beer coaster; others believe a famous conductor or Sony executive wanted it just long enough for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Kramer said the decision evolved from “long conversations around the table” about which play length made the most sense.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on August 16, 2007 in • AudioAudio: HardwareDigitality
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