The Compact Disc is 40 years old, and for those of us who remember its introduction it still has that sparkle of a high-tech item even as it slides into oblivion at the hands of streaming music services.
If we could define a moment at which consumers moved from analogue technologies to digital ones, the announcement of the CD would be a good place to start. The public’s coolest tech to own in the 1970s was probably an analogue VCR or a CB radio, yet almost overnight they switched at the start of the ’80s to a CD player and a home computer. The CD player was the first place most consumers encountered a laser of their own, which gave it an impossibly futuristic slant, and the rainbow effect of the pits on a CD became a motif that wove its way into the design language of the era. Very few new technologies since have generated this level of excitement at their mere sight, instead today’s consumers accept new developments as merely incremental to the tech they already own while simultaneously not expecting them to have longevity.
The Origins Of The Format
The format had its roots in contemporary consumer video technologies, with which in parallel research programmes both Sony and Philips were working on next-generation audio products. Sony had showcased a digital audio system using its video tape format in the early 1970s, while Philips had investigated an analogue system similar to LaserDisc video discs. By the middle of the decade both companies had produced prototype optical audio discs that were not compatible but were similar enough for them to investigate a collaboration. The 1979 prototype players with their 120 mm polycarbonate discs containing over an hour of 44.1 kHz 16-bit stereo audio were the result, and books and magazines with a futuristic outlook featured the prototype players along with the inevitable rainbow shot of a CD as the Way of the Future.
TV shows such as the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World made extravagant claims about the new format’s durability compared to vinyl LPs, leading to an expertly marketed fever pitch of expectation The Philips silver top-loading player might have looked good, but consumers would have to wait a few more years until 1982 before the first commercially available models hit the stores.
How Does A CD Player Work?
The CD player’s mode of operation might have seemed impossibly high-tech to the general public in 1980, but when it is laid out…
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