[AI] The CD is 25 today

Rajesh Asudani rajeshasudani at rbi.org.in
Fri Aug 17 01:56:39 EDT 2007

The CD is 25 today 

- Photo: AP 
Pieter Kramer with a model of the CD player introduced in August 1982. 

EINDHOVEN: It was August 17, 1982, and row upon row of palm-sized plates with a rainbow sheen began rolling off an assembly line near Hannover, Germany.

An engineering marvel at the time, today they are instantly recognisable as Compact Discs, a product that turns 25 years old on Friday - and whose future
in an age of iPods and MP3 players is increasingly in doubt. 

Those first CDs contained Strauss' Alpine Symphony and would sound equally sharp if played today, says Holland's Royal Philips Electronics, which jointly
developed the CD with Sony of Japan. 

The project that brought digital audio to the masses was a risky technical endeavour back then, 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 said at Philips' corporate museum here. 

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, they published 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. 

The jump into mass production in Germany was a milestone for the CD, and two weeks later the companies announced their product was ready for market. Both
began selling players that year. 

Sony sold the first player in Japan on October 1, with CBS supplying Billy Joel's "52nd Street" as its first album. 

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 does not wear them down, it never loses sound quality. 

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

But Mr. Kramer said the decision evolved from "long conversations around the table" about which play length made the most sense. 

By 1986, CD players were outselling record players, and by 1988 CDs outsold records. "It was a massive turnaround for the whole market," Mr. Covers said.

Now, the CD may be seeing the end of its days. "The MP3 and all the little things that the boys and girls have in their pockets... can replace it, absolutely,"
said Mr. Kramer. - AP 

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