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Perfect sound forever.
The first form of digital Optical Disc, and one of the three most popular and ubiquitous forms (the others being DVD and Blu-ray.) Compact Discs, or CDs as they are generally known, are usually 12 centimetres (approx. 5") across and are shiny on at least one side (the one without a label painted or burned on.) They are mostly used for two things: Music and computer data. Yes, all those free coasters from your favorite ISP were compact discs, and the ones on sale for ten bucks at the checkout counter at the Korean grocery stores still are. The two can overlap —MP3 CDs are gaining popularity. They're "compact" because they're smaller than phonograph records. The CD is probably one of the most influential physical media formats in the world and probably the biggest format for any form of media prior to the advent of digital distribution, changing not only the way that music was distributed and listened to, but also affecting data distribution such as computer software and video games and serving as the basis of the DVD format, which itself would radically change home media for movies and TV shows during its comparatively brief period of popularity. As such, there is a lot to go over in regards to the Compact Disc.


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    A brief history: the birth and rise of the Compact Disc 

The Compact Disc was actually the result of two different formats for a digital optical disc coming together. In 1974, both Sony and Philips aimed to devise a successor to the vinyl record that eliminated the issue of surface noise and playback degradation, both of which were problems that both audiophiles and musicians long sought to minimize as much as possible. Philips initially started with an analog optical disc akin to their earlier LaserDisc video format (and shifted focus to their audio disc when LaserDisc began struggling), but due to a lack of satisfactory results shifted focus to creating an optical disc that used digital data to encode and play back audio. As their design evolved, the size shrunk down from around the size of a LaserDisc to 4.5 inches, approximately the same diameter as the diagonal length of their previous compact cassette format. Sony's design, meanwhile was about the same size as a 12" long-playing record, was digital from the get-go, could hold around an hour of audio, and based its digital audio format off of that used in pulse-code modulation technology that they had developed the previous year (though the audio format itself was more similar to the data encoding format used for floppy disks). Both companies based their prototypes off of a 1966 patent by American inventor James T. Russel, who envisioned the idea of using a halogen lamp to read optically-encoded data off of a transparent foil, and would license out this patent following litigation in the 1980's, with Russel earning 26 patents for CD-ROM technology by 1985.

Eventually, Sony and Philips caught wind of each others' ideas after publicly presenting them in the late 70's, and decided to join forces in 1979 to converge their ideas into a single unit. Following a year of discussions, the duo devised and published the Compact Disc Digital Audio format, better known as Redbook audio after the color of the book it was first printed in, in 1980. Philips coined the "Compact Disc" name after their compact cassette format, and devised a polystyrene "jewel case" evocative of contemporary cassette cases, right down to the black back tray (though both cassette cases and jewel cases would later go on to use clear plastic almost exclusively). This single, standardized format was created so that any company could license it out and create their own discs and players that could be compatible with discs and players created by other companies, thus lifting the earlier exclusivity problem that had plagued the variety of audio and video magnetic tape cassette formats throughout the 1970's.

The first fifty CD releases and the first CD player, Sony's CDP-101, arrived on store shelves on October 1, 1982, in Japan only. While all fifty titles were released simultaneously, the earliest-cataloged one in this batch (35DP-1) was a reissue of Billy Joel's 52nd Street; as a result, this album is often regarded as the first title to actually see commercial release on a CD. The original plan was for Sony and Philips to each manufacture their own CD players and a different batch of titles on CD for release in 1982. Sony's work would be released in Japan, Philips' in Europe and North America. However, Philips suffered delays manufacturing their debut CD player, partly owing to infighting with Sony that resulted in Philips having to modify the Red Book standard at the last minute by upping the size of the discs from 115 mm to 120 mm and the maximum capacity from 65 minutes to 74, and decided to let Sony to go ahead with their release on-time while they themselves continued work. Sony actually intended for Philips' work to be delayed so that they could gain a competitive edge over their Dutch counterparts, and given the CD format's enduring popularity in Japan, one might say that it worked. Philips' CD-100 and batch of 16 CBS Records titles would see release in March of 1983. Going off of the precedent set by the Japanese launch of the foramt, the first album that can be said to have been released in Europe and North America was ABBA's The Visitors.

The format didn't exactly take the world by storm at first; not only were players expensive enough to be a luxury item, but early CD mastering was notoriously sloppy, using multi-generation safety tapes EQ-ed specifically for vinyl rather than using the original master tapes, resulting in these early discs sounding noticeably worse than the very format they were supposed to succeed and resulting in certain audiophiles developing an anti-CD stigma that would culminate in the vinyl revival in 2007. However, as player prices gradually went down and CD mastering improved, the format gained greater and greater acceptance among mainstream music listeners, first indicated by the CD version of Dire Straits' 1985 album Brothers in Arms becoming the first to both sell a million copies on CD and sell more copies on CD than LP, leading it to be regarded as the Killer App for the still-nascent format (alongside a CD reissue of The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd which was so popular that it had an entire pressing plant dedicated to it). Part of this success is down to the fact that not only was the album specifically designed to take advantage of the format, but it also released at a time when CD players were first starting to become more accessible to the average music listener rather than being just a luxury item. The CD format continued to gradually make its way up in the world: in 1987, it outsold the vinyl record format for the first time, and in 1989 CD players finally became a commodity rather than a luxury. By 1991, the average music listener was expected to have a CD player and at least some CDs in their home, sourcing a CD release from the original master tapes was considered common sense, and the format would remain dominant for the remainder of the decade and the first few years of the next.

    Technical specs and similar know-how 

In its original form, the format can hold up to 650 megabytes of data or 74 minutes of "CD Quality" music, a figure allegedly chosen because it was just enough to hold all of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, specifically the 1951 Bayreuth Festival performance (this legend has since been debunked). Unofficial revisions pushed this limit up to 870 megabytes of data or 99 minutes of audio, though recording and playback problems with existing 99-minute CD-Rs have kept anyone from using discs that long for pressed CDs. Data CDs these days usually hold 700 megabytes. Music CDs are about the same as they ever have been, since the record labels rarely use all 74 minutesnote ; the emergence of the unofficial 80-minute CD did allow for certain double albums that were edited for lengthnote  or packaged across two discs on previous CD releases to be reissued uncut on one disc, though albums that go over the 80-minute mark still see edits or multi-disc CD releases. As the format gained traction in the consumer market after the mid-1980s, the inverse happened to vinyl, with LP releases being edited or spread across multiple discs as artists made longer albums for CD. Currently, the longest album to be released on a single disc is a 2016 compilation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's violin concertos, clocking in at 86:30. Not every CD a record label releases is a music CD, however; if it also contains music videos, then it's a data CD. That kind may be marked "enhanced."

CD drives use a simple multiplier to indicate how fast they could read data. The base specification, 1x (150 kbps,) is the minimum speed required to play CD quality music. CD players and drives are usually stamped with the maximum speed they are rated for; the higher the speed, the faster they can record (if the player is built for it,) and the faster a computer can read data off them.

Almost all drives that can hold a disc the size and shape of a normal CD can play a normal audio CD. Many of them also play data CDs; the popularity of the MP3 CD and the enhanced CD has killed some forms of CD Copy Protection.

The standard for CDs declares only a maximum size. Undersized and oddly shaped CDs did and still do fly around. Early on, there were hopes that the 8cm (approx. 3") audio CD would make a good single format, but these plans ended up slighted due to two prominent factors. Firstly, 12cm discs were simply cheaper to produce than 8cm ones. Secondly (and perhaps more prominently), there was the lack of foresight on account of the CD player manufacturers: most early players were only really built to fit 12cm CDs, with 8cm discs requiring snap-on adapters just to be able to fit in the tray (newer tray-loading drives no longer have this problem, as they either have a second, smaller ring in the tray to hold 8cm discs, or else - as with most laptop and USB optical drives - have a central spindle which the disc's central hole snaps onto, allowing them to use any discs small enough to fit in the tray), and most slot-loaders won't unload 8cm CDs thanks to not having compatible grips built into them.note  There are structural requirements when you spin a disc at thousands of revolutions per minute, but heart-shaped and square CDs are sturdy enough for novelty stores. Business card-sized CDs are still popular in some technical circles, especially for groups that provide electronic media. Slot loaders won't unload them, either, but most computer CD drives aren't slot-loaders.

Nearly every console with 32 bits or more uses CDs for some or all of its games, and all CD-compatible consoles are additionally able to double as CD players; some systems are even compatible with CD+Gs (a variant of audio CD that can display low-resolution graphics on a monitor) and Video CDs. The Sega Dreamcast used a custom one-gigabyte version of the CD-ROM called the "GD-ROM" format instead of CDs or DVDs as a cost-saving and anti-piracy measure— which would have worked better if their GD-ROM player didn't also play normal data CDs (often, the GD-ROM contents minus copy protection pieces would fit on a CD-ROM).

A standard for Video Compact Disc, or VCD, also exists. Both video quality and program length (about an hour) are less than with DVDs, though DVD players and many CD-based game consoles are capable of playing them. VCDs never really caught on in the Western world, where most people stayed with VHS until DVDs came along, but became very popular in some Asian countries, to the point where the Sega Saturn (itself also highly popular in Japan) supports the format via a special MPEG cartridge. Part of the reason VCDs didn't catch on in the West was because they had far worse picture quality than VHS tapes, with visible image compression and color distortion, and, most importantly, a complete lack of copy protection; part of the reason they did catch on in parts of Asia was because these were, generally speaking, the hot, humid parts of Asia, where videotape would be rapidly eaten by funginote , and, most importantly, a complete lack of copy protection.

Incidentally, the CD's odd sample rate (44.1 kHz, which is tough to convert from since it's not an even multiple of 8000 like most other formats) was chosen because it matches well with both NTSC and PAL monochrome video carriers. This is because early digital audio work used a VCR with a device called a "PCM adapter" attached for data transfer. Back in 1980, when the CD-DA format was being worked on, multi-megabyte hard drives were still very much the realm of data centers, and tape provided the needed capacity in a package that was far less expensive and more portable. The video tape connection is also why CDs give their block addresses in minutes, seconds and frames — it's carried over from the SMPTE time code used on U-Matic tapes, though running at 75 frames per second instead of the normal 25 or 30. Similar digital-to-analog converters that connected to standard VHS and Beta recorders were sold to audiophiles in the 1980s, with a few prerecorded titles on tape available, but digital audio on videotapes remained a niche format outside of recording studios. Some still use external DACs for their CD players today, out of a belief that they're better than the ones in the CD player.

    The longbox controversy 

From the format's launch until the early '90s, CDs in the U.S. were packaged in outer cardboard "longboxes" that were 12 inches tall, allowing them to fit in record store racks designed for LPs. Around the start of the 1990s, they attracted criticism for the waste of cardboard, as they were only designed to enclose the already sufficient jewel case and as such were typically discarded after purchase. Over time, however, concerns emerged among the public and especially environmentalists regarding the impact of this waste of cardboard, and some musicians even weighed in on the controversy. Among other examples, David Byrne affixed a sticker to the longbox of his 1992 album Uh-Oh reading "THIS IS GARBAGE" alongside a blurb denouncing the wastefulness of the longbox, R.E.M. affixed a petition to support the "Motor Voter" bill (which would allow people to register to vote when they applied for a driver's license) to the back of the longbox for 1991's Out of Time, and Sting initially released his album The Soul Cages earlier that same year in a custom refoldable digipak that could switch between longbox and jewel case sizes, eliminating the need for an oft-discarded outer case while still allowing consumers to store the CD on jewel case-sized shelves at home, and Spinal Tap released their 1992 album Break Like the Wind in an 18-inch "extra-long box" to poke fun at the controversy. Other artists, such as Raffi and Peter Gabriel, skirted around the issue by refusing to use the longbox whatsoever.

Despite all this, retailers resisted getting rid of longboxes because they believed their size deterred shoplifters, though most laypeople were aware by then that one could easily just cut an opening in the bottom and remove the CD without anyone noticing. Retailers also believed that the smaller jewel cases made for a less attractive display in stores, but most consumers didn't care, as an MTV news segment on the controversy at its height showed. In 1993, the major labels announced they would no longer manufacture longboxes, as by that point most record stores had adopted smaller racks built around the size of a jewel case. For stores that still used LP-sized shelves, longboxes were replaced by large locked plastic frames surrounding the CD jewel case that were removed by the cashier at purchase. Later, stores moved to affixing electronic tags on the shrink wrap of the jewel case that would sound an alarm if someone walked out the door without paying for it (at least in theory; these devices caused false alarms more often than not) that were deactivated at the register, eliminating the need for these frames altogther. Longboxes subsequently became collector's items because most of them were thrown away, making them rare in the wild. Used discs are worth significantly more with a longbox, even if the release is common. One legacy of the longbox design was the vertical orientation of some CD box sets. Costco also sold CDs in longboxes long after labels stopped issuing them, but these were just standard CD releases packaged in generic longboxes with windows cut out to show the front and the back of the jewel case. Longboxes with designs supplied by the studio were actually brought back for DVDs sold at Costco and other warehouse clubs. The longbox format also lingered in the designs of cases for games on early CD-ROM-based game consoles like the Sega CD, PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Longboxes were also occasionally used for budget-priced PC CD-ROM games.

    Super Audio CD: the failed successor 
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Since 1999, various attempts have been made by a number of companies to try and replace the CD with a higher-fidelity physical audio format. The first and most notable of these was the Super Audio CD (SACD), introduced by none other than Sony and Philips themselves and based on the Scarlet Book standard. Based on the then-nascent DVD format, SACDs traded out 16-bit Pulse-Code Modulation for 1-bit Direct Stream Digital (DSD), an encoding format touted to store higher-quality audio than its predecessor, at a sample rate of 2.8224 MHz. Audio on an SACD could be stored in up to six channels, and like DVDs were capable of utilizing up to two data layers, compared to the CD's one. What's more, because the second layer was as close to the label side as a CD's data layer, it was possible to manufacture "hybrid" SACDs that featured an outer Scarlet Book layer and an inner Red Book layer, something most releases on the format took advantage of to entice consumers who were interested in the format but weren't currently able to upgrade to an SACD player, similarly to the modern-day practice of including a DVD copy of a movie on a Blu-ray releasenote . As the technology to automatically differentiate a CD from an SACD still has yet to exist, SACD-compatible players require a manual toggle to switch between CD and SACD playback.

Despite Sony and Philips' best efforts however, the Super Audio CD was a market failure, due to a variety of factors that piled on top of each other:
  • A format war between it and the competing DVD-Audio and DualDisc/DVDPlus formats, similarly to the later Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war that impeded Blu-ray's ability to make mainstream headway.
  • Low interest among mainstream consumers. Similarly to what would later befall Blu-ray Discs against the DVD format, SACDs lacked the readily visible leap in convenience over CDs that CDs demonstrated over the much larger, surface noise, and playback degradation-prone LPs, and in fact where less convenient to invest in due to the greater expenses and labor required in replacing a stereo setup with a surround sound one.
  • Lack of support among hardware manufacturers. To this day, car SACD players are exceedingly rare, SACD-compatible music player software is limited to a single foobar2000 plugin, and portable SACD players are outright nonexistent; home SACD players and DVD & Blu-ray players with SACD compatibility remain the only relatively accessible means of listening to Scarlet Book audio.
  • Most significantly, the rise of digital downloads and streaming heavily overshadowed the race for hi-res audio. This was an especially big issue when coupled with the concurrent emergence of Apple's iPod, which replaced the first generation of clunky and cumbersome portable music players with ones that were relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use on a day-to-day basis compared to portable CD players and even portable cassette players.
  • While not an issue during the peak of the hi-res audio optical disc format war, the later development of uncompressed audio file formats such as FLAC and WAV additionally rendered the idea of SACD as a high-resolution audio format obsolete from a practical standpoint, as they could support digital audio recordings of the same quality as the Scarlet Book standard without being tied to a physical format.

All in all, despite its ambition, the SACD faced too many challenges against it, and it failed to make any real impact among mainstream music listeners. Sony tried to give the SACD one last push in 2006 by adding Scarlet Book support to the PlayStation 3, but in the end the format went belly-up and the PS3 removed SACD compatibility starting with the third generation revision. Despite all this, the SACD still maintains a stable niche with digital audiophiles, and new releases on the format are still coming out to this day (albeit at a much smaller scale), typically as limited-edition reissues on dedicated audiophile labels such as Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab and Audio Fidelity. Additionally, certain types of DVD, Blu-ray, and UHD Blu-ray players still maintain compatibility with SACDs, long after Sony themselves threw in the towel on the format.

Other attempts at supplanting the CD format include DVD-Audio, DualDisc & DVDPlus (which were ambitious in their intention to create a dual-sided CD/DVD-Audio hybrid disc, but were taken down by their own lack of compatibility with certain types of CD players), and "High-Fidelity Pure Audio" Blu-ray. Like SACD, all of them failed to effectively crack the mainstream market. However, also paralleling the SACD format, DVD-Audio still maintains a small niche with digital audiophiles and has occasionally been used in limited-edition releases and reissues, and HFPA Blu-ray seems to be slowly supplanting it as the go-to alternative for SACD. Currently, DVD-Audio and Blu-ray tends to be used more often for high-res audio on a physical format than SACD, largely because more consumers are likely to own a DVD or Blu-ray player than an SACD-compatible device, though SACD still maintains enough of a niche among audiophiles to ensure continued production of new SACD players and titles. Overall, while SACD and high-res audio as a whole was never quite able to crack the mainstream market, it still has a suitable enough place to stick around on the sidelines.

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    The decline and legacy 
CDs remained the most popular choice for music and smaller installation programs from 1988 until the mid-to-late 2000's, when digital distribution via the internet usurped the disc's position as the king of music distribution as well as data storage & transmission (and software that does still need to be installed via a physical disc, such as operating system installations, has mostly outgrown the size limitations of the CD and gone up to DVDs and thumb drives). Burned CDs were also a popular form of external storage before they were supplanted by USB drives, SD cards and cloud storage. While an exact start and end of the "CD era" has not been concretely defined, some music analysts choose to use The Beatles as the major Book-Ends of the era, with the massive reissue campaign of their British back-catalog in 1987 and the remastering campaign of this same series of releases in 2009 being arguable start and end points for the CD format's comparatively brief reign as the dominant music format in the world.

Conversely, vinyl records, which the CD formerly supplanted, have seen a market resurgence since 2007 due to a combination of nostalgia and backlash against the Loudness War; even cassettes have made a comeback, though just barely by comparison. Nowadays, CD sales are rather low and have only been declining, and the resurgence in analog enthusiasm has reduced the format to having a minuscule cult following at best; a "CD Revival" in the vein of the Vinyl Revival has often been touted by the press, but so far nothing truly indicative of such has come of it. CDs did outsell digital downloads for the first time in seven years in 2018, but they in turn were outsold by vinyl the following year, corroborating the ongoing mass pessimism from both the music industry and the public regarding the future of the format.

The market decline of the format prompted many observers to heap snark upon the CD's early slogan, "perfect sound forever," and declare Steve Albini's dismissal of the format as "the rich man's 8-track" as prophetic. The steep decline of the CD format was most vividly illustrated when Best Buy announced that it would stop stocking CDs in its stores in 2018; not long after, Target announced that it would only offer them on a consignment basis. Prior to these announcements, the two retailers were considered the last two big-name brick-and-mortar store chains to still widely support the distribution of music CDs after the collapse of Tower Records in 2006, and while some chains such as Barnes & Noble still widely support the format, none of them are as big enough as Target and Best Buy to make laypeople believe that there is still a place for CDs.

Nevertheless, the influence of the Compact Disc is impossible to ignore, and despite the format's curtailment by major retailers, the CD continues to be the go-to format for digital audio releases on a physical format; even if it's nowhere near as big as it used to be, it still holds a noticeable foothold in the world today, with independent record stores and thrift shops having shelves and shelves of new and used discs. Unsigned musicians and school bands & orchestras still sell self-produced releases in the format at gigs, and burned CD-Rs and even pressed CDs continue to maintain popularity for promotional releases (in part due to a physical format being more secure than emailing a data file, which helps prevent new releases from being prematurely leaked online).

It helps that new CDs are significantly cheaper than new vinyl and even out-of-print CD releases can be found relatively easily second-hand. Classical and jazz listeners, who were among the earliest adopters of the format, have stuck with it, largely ignoring downloads, streaming and even the vinyl revival due to the CD's sound quality making the inherently dynamic-heavy nature of classical and jazz music shine while showing the limitations of vinyl and lossy compression schemes (as the lack of surface noise and greater dynamic range allow for greater headroom when mastering recordings in these genres). It helps that they were also among the first genres to adopt digital recording. The format also remains popular in Japan and Germany (fittingly, the former is where the one of the format's inventors is headquartered), where the population consists mostly of older generations more averse to new technology and where classical and jazz music continue to have prominent followings. Japanese culture also values tangible ownership, which also helps keep the CD afloat there, to the point where Tower Records still operates in Japan. Both the format's inventors, Sony and Philips, also happen to operate major classical labels.

    Other milestones in CD history: 
  • The first recording pressed onto CD was a performance of Richard Strauss' An Alpine Symphony by the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan; the recording and CD were both made purely for testing purposes, with Karjan having been instated as an ambassador for the CD format in 1979.
  • The first public demonstration of the CD was on a 1981 episode of Tomorrow's World, which featured a test CD of The Bee Gees' Living Eyes.
  • The first CD manufactured for commercial release was a 1979 recording of Claudio Arrau performing various waltzes by Fryderyk Chopin on piano, aptly titled Waltzes.
  • The first popular music CD manufactured for commercial release was a reissue of ABBA's The Visitors.
  • The first CD played over the radio was Dire Straits' Love Over Gold in October of 1982.
  • The first CD manufactured in the United States was, fittingly, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., pressed by Sony DADC. The first CD released from this plant, however, was a compilation of Thomas Edison's wax cylinder recordings.
  • The first major artist to have their entire back-catalog available on CD was David Bowie, whose albums were released on the format by Deram, RCA Records, and EMI between 1983 and 1985.
  • The first record label centered around the CD format was independent label Rykodisc, formed in 1983 and initially marketed as the world's first CD-only label. However, Ryko's adherence to this title wouldn't last long, with them creating a "Ryko Analogue" imprint for LP and cassette releases on the label.
  • The first CD to surpass 78 minutes was a self-titled Mission of Burma compilation released by Rykodisc in 1988. The album's unusually long length was made into a marketing point, though it was also the subject of a warning on the packaging pointing out that some players would be unable to play the last track, a cover of The Stooges' "1970".

Alternative Title(s): CD

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