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 (CD-DA) format, better known as Red Book 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 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 format, 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. Poor sourcing of master tapes was also an issue for analog releases of the era, but the CD format seemed to become a scapegoat, in part because of its nascent nature at the time and because the lack of surface noise made the faults of bad sourcing more obvious. As a result of this, CD releases throughout the 80's would include a disclaimer, particularly on Warner (Bros.) Records-distributed labels, reading "the music on this Compact Digital Disc was originally recorded on analog equipment. We have attempted to preserve, as closely as possible, the sound of the original recording. Because of its high resolution, however, the Compact Disc can reveal limitations of the source tape," as a means of reassuring consumers that the CD format itself wasn't at fault.
Despite these early hurdles, 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). These releases came on the heels of Sony's portable D-50/D-5 player, which did for the CD what Sony's own Walkman did for the cassette format. Part of this success is down to the fact that not only was Dire Straits' album specifically designed to take advantage of the format (not to mention the fact that The Dark Side of the Moon was already an audiophile favorite), but they were 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. Another part of the format's success was some Executive Meddling on the part of the record industry, who changed return policies for retailers so they would be stuck with any unsold vinyl they ordered. Record stores responded by dramatically reducing shelf space for LPs in favor of cassettes and CDs, with record companies deleting LP titles en masse in the late 1980s in North America. Apart from the machinations of major labels, consumers were astonished by the lack of surface noise, playback degradation, and need to change sides, as well as the ability to play tracks in any order, repeat them, and sequence out songs they didn't want to listen to (which made Album Filler-heavy titles far more bearable); consequently, one of the first things they did when they bought a CD player was buy new CD copies of favorite albums they already owned on LP or cassette. For vinyl diehards, that was just evidence of the labels' plan to drum up sagging sales in the early '80s following the American collapse of disco and competition from cable TV, home video, and video games by convincing people to repurchase their record collections.
Labels couldn't get their back catalogs out on CD fast enough. Record labels specializing in reissues like Rhino Records and Rykodisc rode the CD boom to great success, and major labels went back into their vaults to issue new Greatest Hits Albums and reissue long-out-of-print albums by even mid-tier acts. Many reissues would offer remastered sound and take advantage of the CD's longer running time to include bonus tracks. The reissue boom would find full flower in the growth of box sets through the '80s and '90s.
Unlike with the LaserDisc, the initial lack of ability for consumers to record on the CD didn't seem to hamper adoption, as many prospective buyers already had cassette decks for that purpose. The CD even complemented the cassette by making it easy to cue up tracks for making mix tapes, and the CD's clarity made it a perfect source for such home taping.
By the start of the 1990s, LPs had virtually disappeared from American record stores, but vinyl held on as a mainstream format for a few more years in Europe, in part due to the greater popularity of dance music there and the consequently bigger market for 12" singles and DJing (CD-based DJ turntables wouldn't emerge until 1993, and ones that could accurately replicate their vinyl counterparts would take another 8 years to appear on the market). Despite remaining popular with collectors due to the large album artwork, the LP had already started losing ground to cassettes in the 1980s due to the popularity of boomboxes, car cassette players, and personal stereos like the Sony Walkman as well as the higher storage capacity of tapes (reflected by a shift in focus to releasing extended versions of single-LP albums and multi-album collections on cassettes as many double albums over 74 minutes could already fit on a single cassette without edits, a practice that was concurrently—though more gradually—applied to CDs), but the CD appeared to hasten the demise of its mass market. Labels were already treating LP releases as an afterthought by this point anyway, as evidenced by the way that they edited or dropped tracks from the LP as well as the declining quality of vinyl pressings since the 1970'snote . As CD sales rose, vinyl sales were largely relegated to independent record stores through the '90s, and turntables were marketed more to people who had existing LP collections rather than people looking to buy new albums. Alternative Rock fans, artists, and labels on both sides of the Atlantic however stuck with the LP, even as major labels abandoned it, as a reaction against the consumerism they associated with the CD format as used LPs could be found cheaply at the time, setting the stage for the Vinyl Revival.
Attempts to provide digital recordable alternatives to the CD failed in the marketplace. Digital Audio Tape (DAT) was considered a contender to the CD at first, but the record industry uproar over the potential for piracy relegated the format to professional use, while the CD's creators, Philips and Sony were unable to come together to create a recordable format. Sony's MiniDisc and Philips' Digital Compact Cassette failed due to the lack of prerecorded material, the format war between them, and consumers perceiving conventional cassettes as perfectly adequate for home recording until CD burners became affordable in the late '90s.
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, bolstered by a high-profile reissue campaign of The Beatles' back-catalog that year, 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, often with input from the original artists and producers, was considered common sense, and the format would remain dominant for the remainder of the decade and the first few years of the next. Another signal of the arrival of the arrival of the CD as a mainstream format was the incorporation of CD players into low-end boomboxes, as well as portable players largely supplanting portable cassette players as prices dropped. At the same time, anti-skip buffers and car cassette adapters made them more practical for on-the-go use. Cassettes still remained popular for home recording and automotive use until CD burners and MP3 players became widely available toward the end of the decade at the same time in-dash CD players became standard in new cars. Portable CD players stuck around into the early 2000s in turn as a budget alternative to MP3 players as cassettes did for the CD, boosted by the aforementioned CD burners allowing the for creation of custom mix CDs, with some players able to read MP3 data discs for capacities that could rival solid-state MP3 players. The CD had its cultural moment in the 1990s, becoming as iconic of that decade's pop culture as cassettes tapes did for the 1980s.
In its original form, the format can hold up to about 650 megabytes of data* or 74 minutes of Red Book audio* , 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; among other things, the actual recording is too long to fit on a single Red Book-compliant CD). 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, with their audio equivalent usually going up to a maximum of 80 minutes. Again, this is considered unofficial due to it breaking strict Red Book standards, though that hasn't stopped anyone. 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 (typically the latter, though the former still pops up on rare occasions). 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 with the CD format in mind. Currently, the two longest audio CDs ever released are both discs of German Pop Punk band Die Ärzte's 2006 Greatest Hits Album Bäst of — disc one clocks in at 88:41, disc 2 at 89:07. 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."
A CD disc is typically divided into four layers. The first two are the exterior layers, which mark the outer ends of the disc and serve to both encase the inner workings and keep the middle parts in the proper places. The two inner layers are the data layer and the reflective layer; the data layer, as the name implies, stores the audio/data on the disc as a series of pits and lands, with the ones and zeroes being represented by the specific types of changes when going from one to the other. However, as the data layer is transparent, the CD reads the disc's information by bouncing the read head's laser off of the reflective layer and back into the drive, determining the 1's and 0's based on how the laser is distorted. An analog version of this technique was previously used for LaserDiscs, and would be carried over to all following optical disc formats as well. Because the read head and the disc need to be a specific distance apart in order to maintain consistent reading of the reflective laser, the outer layer at the laser's end needs to be at just the right thickness, with any possible wobbling being corrected by the read head itself moving up and down concurrently.
The reflective layer in a disc is typically made of aluminum, which was chosen because it's cheap to use and is far less vulnerable to corrosion than other common metals, though under extreme circumstances (typically via a particularly deep scratch, poor storage conditions, or an improperly sealed disc) the reflective layer can slowly oxidize away, rendering the disc unreadable over time in a process commonly known as disc rot. Because of this, many audiophile labels tend to use gold reflective layers instead of aluminum (as gold is the most inert metal on Earth, and therefore is far more resistant to oxidizing), with these discs appropriately being known as "gold CDs" (not to be confused with a gold sales certification); Sony and Philips did in fact briefly consider making gold reflective layers the standard from the outset, but cost issues resulted in them settling with aluminum. Disc rot isn't a CD-exclusive issue, and was in fact even more prominent with LaserDiscs due to the fact that they were never properly sealed at all; with CDs however it tends to get the most attention as it puts a noticeable dent into early marketing of the format as nigh-invulnerable.
On a spinning disc, objects move faster the further they are from the center, and the same applies to the data track on an optical disc. Thus, CDs are read via constant linear velocity (CLV), in which the disc gradually slows down as the laser moves further out, ensuring that data is constantly read at the same rate and preventing any hiccups in playback. Compare this to constant angular velocity (CAV), where the disc constantly spins at the same rate, but the position of the data track is spread out the further it gets to the outer edge to make up for the difference in speed per position; because of this, CLV allows for higher data capacity than CAV (the use of CLV is also what allowed for the creation of CDs that exceed the Red Book-standard capacity, as it doesn't matter how closely packed the data track is, as long as the CD drive can follow it and adjust its motor speed accordingly). CD drives use a simple multiplier to indicate how fast they can read data through CLV, with the speed of the disc per laser position being proportionally increased according to this multiplier. 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.
To produce the label on a CD, manufacturers typically use a silkscreen printer to provide a clean, uniform, and high-quality image. Early printing presses were only able to use up to three colors of ink however, and consequently most disc labels for CD releases at the time were relegated to standard labels consisting almost entirely of text listing the general basics about a release: the artist name, release title, tracklist, production credits, and copyright information. Some record labels stuck with a certain disc label design constantly, while others (including RCA Records and many Warner Music Group labels) changed their disc label designs as time went on, all of which paralleled earlier trends with vinyl record label designs. As time went on and silkscreen technology improved, more elaborate and colorful custom labels came into wider and wider prominence among both major and independent releases, eventually becoming standard by 1991 (though a few record labels remained stalwart with generic labels for the first few years of the 90's, with Columbia Records sticking with them well into the latter half of the decade). After that, generic labels would be largely relegated to single and promotional releases. With CD-Rs, manufacturers would either use silkscreen printing for the disc label or attach a paper label, the latter of which reportedly sees greater issue with slot-loading CD players. One CD-R manufacturer, LightScribe, designed their discs to allow the buyer to laser-etch a design onto the disc label with a CD burner and compatible software, though this failed to catch on due to the process being incredibly cumbersome, taking a long time to complete and leaving a faded image if the user wasn't just trying to print text or simplistic logos.
The standard for CDs declares only a maximum size: 12cm. Undersized and oddly shaped CDs did and still do fly around; 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. 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, and most slot-loaders won't unload 8cm CDs thanks to not having compatible grips built into them.note
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 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 (which helped business card CDs to thrive in the workplace; some even go the full 12cm lengthwise with curved edges to fit in standard trays). Top-loading drives run under a similar principle, and were around since the CD's western debut in 1983 (Philips' CD-100, for one, was a top-loader, as were all of its early prototype players): such players either have the CD fit onto the spindle and use a weighted puck on the lid to keep the disc stable as it spins, or, like computer drives, snap the disc onto the spindle. Some premium top-loaders, including early SACD players (more on those later), feature the weighted puck as a separate unit, though this is much less common due to how misplacing the puck would render the machine unusable. However, since top-loading drives can't easily be slotted into shelves or have other devices stacked onto them in home media setups, they tend to be limited to portable CD players and budget devices with built-in speakers (including most kid-oriented players). Most early disc-based game consoles were also top-loaders, though tray and slot loading drives ultimately became more commonplace in the 2000's.
Regardless, the difficulties with 8cm discs doomed them from ever taking off as the format for CD singles; they were, however, more popularly supported in Japan and Europe than in the US. Europe quickly shifted over to full-sized discs come the 90's, both because of the aforementioned technical hurdles and because the larger size was a better fit for the maxi singles that came to supplant 12" singles in the dance scene, since the larger capacity allowed for more and/or even longer remixes and B-sides per release. In Japan meanwhile, mini CD singles stuck around all the way into the early 2000's, later getting a small revival in the late 2010's. Since their decline, mini CD releases are generally limited to novelty appeal at most or to deliver software small enough to fit on one (with this practice also being carried over to mini DVDs and mini Blu-rays); a small number of physical Nintendo Switch games also include soundtrack samplers on mini CDs, as full-sized ones are too large to fit in the small keep cases.
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 audiophiles 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 advantages of the CD format are its digital and optical natures. As the CD is digital, there's no generational loss incurred in mastering as with analog formats. Every CD is in effect a first-generation copy of the source recording. The lack of friction as with a phonograph stylus or tape head means that the CD won't degrade with playback, and the stability of playback (thanks to the nature of digital audio) means that audio frequency remains stable on all areas of the disc. With a vinyl record, the needle has less room to vibrate the closer it gets to the center (given the aforementioned property behind CLV and CAV), which meant that recordings have to be re-equalized to account for the consequent diminishing of bass parts over the course of a side's runtime; because CDs don't suffer from this issue, it's possible to source the audio directly from the master tape without needing this extra equalization, allowing for higher-quality audio in the right hands. CDs are also less susceptible to dust and debris than vinyl because the disc is completely enclosed within the player, unlike on a turntable with the dust cover open, and is read from the bottom face rather than the top (players with upside-down disc configurations exist, but are rare and limited to novelty appeal at most).
What's more, any dust and debris that do get on the read side are easier to clean off, as the outer polycarbonate layer is smooth and flat, without any fine grooves on the surface for stuff to settle into and get stuck in (the grooves that are present for the data track are beneath the polycarbonate, typically out of dust's reach). CDs are also unaffected by strong magnetic fields, which can erase tape media. CDs had a more consistent sound than vinyl among different players, where a record could sound different on different turntables depending on the stylus and cartridge. there is also less risk of a malfunctioning or improperly configured/poorly maintained player damaging the media with a CD player than with a turntable or cassette deck. All of these factors ensured that CD-oriented home stereos would be much less cumbersome to set up, adding further convenience on top of the benefits of its design.
A CD will also play at a consistent speed due to the digital clock, where a turntable and cassette deck speed can vary, and is often calibrated at the factory without an obvious way for consumers to adjust the speed. This digital timing also virtually eliminates wow and flutter. While higher-end turntables allow listeners to fine-tune the speed, this feature is frequently absent on cheaper models.
As soon as the CD format was being finalized, Sony and Philips were already looking to give the Compact Disc capabilities beyond just music releases. Because of just how versatile digital data is, the two felt that CDs could become an all-in-one multimedia format, and spent a fair amount of time in the leadup to the CD's launch fine-tuning it for a variety of functions, many of which would gain their own color-based "book" standards; the full scope of these standards would encompass what is now known as the Rainbow Books.
Among the first attempts at expanding the capabilities of the Compact Disc were a number of expansions upon audio releases tied into the Red Book standard. The most notable of these was CD+G ("Compact Disc + Graphics"), which enabled audio discs to be encoded with 4-bit raster graphics that would be rendered in-time with the audio playback and displayed on a monitor when ran on a compatible player. The first such CD+G release was American comedy troupe Fireside Theater's 1985 album Eat or Be Eaten, which featured a number of comedic illustrations that would show up to match each skit on the disc. Following CD+G releases would typically vary in presentation, ranging from similar uses of lavish illustrations to simply duplicating the liner notes; some, like Fleetwood Mac, did both. The variant didn't pick up much steam, however, as CD+G players were rare compared to their audio-only counterparts, and the general public cared more about the music than any flashy visuals. Despite this, CD+G releases remained fairly popular in Japan, thanks to their applicability for karaoke events, and consequently a good number of CD-based game consoles would incorporate CD+G compatibility to capture the karaoke market. A later expansion called CD+EG ("EG" meaning "Extended Graphics") was subsequently developed, enabling similar functionality but with higher-quality graphics, though this variant never caught on at all.
In 1996, Sony and Philips later introduced another extension on the Red Book standard called CD+Text. As the name implied, it allowed manufacturers to encode text data onto a disc that could play back on compatible players' interfaces. Such text data mainly consists of the artist name, album name, song name, and any related credits. Since this didn't require the player to be hooked up to a TV monitor, adoption was much greater than with CD+G, since it meant that all one needed to access the text was a compatible CD player. That said, CD+Text adoption was still fairly small in the grand scheme of things given that most CD players people owned were built before the CD+Text standard's introduction, though new releases of this type still come out every so often. Many types of CD burner software also support CD+Text encoding, and most new CD players with an LED interface (and even many DVD and Blu-ray players) include support for displaying such text.
Probably the least successful foray of note that the CD tried to undertake was tapping into the home media market. The first such attempt at this was with the CD Video format in 1987, which divided the disc between an inner audio CD segment and an outer LaserDisc segment in an attempt to use the CD format's success to push greater sales of LaserDisc players. The format also enabled the creation of 7" and 12" video-only LaserDiscs that could sync up the analog video track with a Red Book audio track, with this variant being used for feature films as well as music releases (these also carried over the "CD Video" branding, even if the only "CD" element on them was the digital audio). To help buyers differentiate these from regular CDs and LaserDiscs, CD Video discs featured translucent yellow polycarbonate, giving them a faux gold appearance.
Thanks to some extremely Misaimed Marketing, the format never made any significant headway: because CDs were known as a music format, CD Video releases typically combined a CD single with a music video or short concert recording, leading the format to be pushed towards the teenage MTV crowd... who were completely uninterested in LaserDiscs and consequently neither owned nor wanted to own LaserDisc players (not to mention that the high price tags were well out of their budgets). Meanwhile, the videophile crowd that made up LaserDisc's primary consumer base didn't have much interest in the music releases that dominated the CD Video's already paltry market presence, and the fact that feature film CD Video discs were incompatible with older LaserDisc players quickly turned off the majority of LaserDisc owners who didn't want to have to splurge even more money just to be able to watch a movie already available on an all-analog disc (not helped by the fact that there were already LaserDiscs with both analog and digital audio tracks, allowing them to be played on both old and new players alike). The CD Video format ultimately was discontinued in 1991, just four years after it debuted; just to give it one last kick in the teeth, those who did own CD Video discs found that they were far more susceptible to disc rot than a standard CD thanks to them carrying over the LaserDisc manufacturing process that resulted in improperly-sealed discs, allowing air to easily get in and oxidize away the reflective layer.
While the CD Video format died an early death, it did pave the way for another video-based CD format: the Video Compact Disc, also known as Video CD or VCD, which debuted in 1993. Unlike CD Video discs, VCDs were all-digital, encoding video data in the lossy MPEG-1 file format within the White Book standard. 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. The discs were advertised as having VHS-level picture quality, and indeed the difference between the two tended to be tangential at most when using an actual VCD player or VCD-compatible game console; the lack of playback degradation also allowed a VCD's image quality to hold up after repeated plays. However, the format quickly faded into obscurity as a result of four major factors:
- The much greater market presence of VHS tapes and VCRs made the uphill climb for VCD was prohibitively steep from the get-go.
- VCDs had much lower storage capacity compared to VHS tapes, thanks to video footage occupying the same amount of storage space as Red Book audio of the same length. This meant that any movie that ran past 74-80 minutes (a.k.a. most movies) had to be split across two or more discs, which was a familiar hassle for LaserDisc buyers but an unnecessary source of irritation for any prospective VCD buyers who were used to the much longer storage size of videotapes.
- The complete lack of copy protection made home media distributors extremely wary of the format, resulting in only a small number of films being made available on VCD and in relatively limited quantities compared to VHS and even LaserDisc releases.
- Tied to the above, the ease with which one could rip the video from the disc and play it back on a computer meant that it was very easy to see that, without a muddy composite or S-video connection to soften the image, VCD footage could look noticeably worse than the very format they tried to supplant thanks to the prevalence of compression artifacts and color distortion.
Perhaps the most successful use of CDs for a purpose other than music was for data distribution. Introduced in 1988, the Yellow Book standard set out official guidelines for the CD-ROM format, which primarily focused on storing software data that could be read back on a computer. Because CD-ROM discs could hold far more data than conventional floppy disks and even entire computer drives at the time, it didn't take long for them to supersede preceding storage formats for distributing software, ranging from single programs to entire operating systems. However, as CD burners were still prohibitively expensive until the late 90's, most people still stuck with floppy disks until then to store their own data, and both computers and operating systems were accordingly built to support both functions simultaneously, a trend that remains in place even today (this in fact is the reason why a computer's internal hard drive is listed as "C"; "A" and "B" are delegated to floppy drives). That said, once CD burners reached commodity prices in the late '90s, their adoption was swift enough to quickly render floppies into obscurity beyond being "the save icon."
Nowhere was the success of CD-ROMs more prominent than with video games: nearly every optical disc-based console 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 and VCDs. 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). The use of CDs and optical discs in general as a storage medium for video games had a rocky start: the first CD-compatible system, the PC Engine CD, was a major commercial success in Japan almost immediately upon its 1988 introduction, but its 1989 international counterpart, the TurboGrafx-CD, failed to make any market headway (in part because the base TurboGrafx-16 never made any major market headway to begin with; more on that on its own page), and competing systems couldn't match even that level of success, if they ever came out at all. However, the huge Japanese success of the Sega Saturn and the even greater international success of the PlayStation (developed by Sony, sure enough), both in the late 90's, ended up standardizing optical discs for game consoles, with later generations incorporating DVD-ROM and BD-ROM technology as well.
Other Rainbow Book variants of the CD format include the following:
- The Green Book, used solely for Philips' "Compact Disc Interactive" format, abbreviated as CD-i. If that name sounds familiar, it's because it was designed specifically for the multimedia device of the same name as an early means of providing multimedia functionality to Compact Discs. It never got that far off the ground, and today it's only really remembered as a prototype for both the VCD and CD-ROM formats simultaneously.
- The Blue Book, an attempt at making an officially endorsed version of Enhanced CDs. It also didn't make any real headway in part because the "Enhanced CD" standard was already widely accepted by the music industry and thus made the Blue Book not only redundant, but also unfavorable in light of its rigid licensing requirements.
- The Beige Book, used solely for Kodak's proprietary "Photo CD" format that allowed consumers to transfer uncompressed digital transfers of film photographs to a CD. Such photos were only viewable on compatible players such as the Philips CD-i and Apple PowerCD, and thus couldn't be accessed on a computer in the same way as a typical image file.
- The Orange Book, which defines the specifications for CD-R, CD-RW, and CD-MO (Magneto-Optical) discs; the choice of color stems from the ability to burn both Red Book audio and Yellow Book data onto them.
- The Purple Book, used solely for "Double-Density Compact Discs," which were simply data-only CD-Rs and CD-RWs with twice as much storage capacity. The fact that it debuted after the emergence of the significantly more capable DVD format quickly rendered it into irrelevancy and obscurity.
- The Black Book, which isn't an official Rainbow Book standard but is rather an umbrella category used for any optical disc format that doesn't meet the standards of any of the other Rainbow Books. Nintendo's proprietary disc formats for the Nintendo GameCube, Wii, and Wii U are among the most well-known entrants in the Black Book, as are DVD and Blu-ray discs themselves (the Scarlet Book standard, described in more detail below, is incidentally an offshoot of the DVD format, though is still counted among the official Rainbow Books in part due to their compatibility with Red Book technology and because both Sony and Philips were the sole participants in its creation).
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 since most people's shelving could only accomodate jewel cases. 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, given the popularity of the environmentalist cause among musicians. 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. In 1991, Sting initially released his album The Soul Cages in a custom re-foldable digipak that could switch between longbox and jewel case sizes (thus eliminating the need for an oft-discarded outer case while still allowing consumers to store the CD on jewel case-sized shelves at home). Later that year, 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 Out of Time, and similarly stuck a petition for the release of Burmese anti-government protester Aung San Suu Kyi on the back of the longbox for Automatic for the People the following year (note that this was long before the genocide denial scandal that rendered Suu Kyi a pariah today). Spinal Tap meanwhile decided to poke fun at the controversy, releasing their 1992 album Break Like the Wind in an 18-inch "extra-long box" boasting more recyclable material. 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 after labels phased out LP releases. 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. Record stores had already employed similar devices for cassettes for years. 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 altogether.
Longboxes subsequently became collector's items because most of them were thrown away, making them rare in the wild, with custom-designed ones (as opposed to generic boxes that were just a small photo of the album cover against a plain backdrop, which were especially common for early CD releases) being especially coveted. Used discs are worth significantly more with a longbox, even if the release is common. After the curtailment of longboxes for mainstream releases, Sony used them for its "MasterSound" line of gold audiophile CD reissues. One legacy of the longbox design was the vertical orientation of some CD box sets released in that era. Costco and other warehouse clubs 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. That said, ones with designs supplied by the studio were eventually reinstated in these locations, albeit for DVDs (in part because that format has a more visible market today than CDs). The use of longboxes in this niche was likely a cost-cutting measure to save these stores the expense of those plastic frames and having to train employees to use them. The idea behind the longbox format also lingered in the taller, thicker jewel cases for games on early CD-ROM-based game consoles like the Sega CD, Sega Saturn, 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, and PlayStation (albeit only for early releases in the case of the latter two, which shifted to standard jewel cases shortly after). Longboxes were also occasionally used for budget-priced PC CD-ROM games.
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.
- Limited range of titles. While record labels were willing to jump into the race for hi-res audio, not all of them supported the SACD format, with many instead opting for DVD-Audio and DualDisc/DVDPlus, and the labels that did support SACD primarily opted to reissue a small handful of previously renowned and successful albums that had already been out on a standard CD for years. New titles on SACD were even scarcer, and they too were also available as a standard CD, even when the SACD version already had a Red Book audio layer included. As a result, the music industry's support for SACD came off as half-hearted, and to this day the total library of SACD releases feels relatively paltry and redundant in the face of the format's more omnipresent predecessor. Of course, CDs initially faced a similar hurdle against the once-omnipresent vinyl record, but combined with the other factors listed here, it was a far steeper uphill battle for SACDs.
- 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 were less convenient to invest in due to the greater expenses and labor required in replacing a stereo setup with a surround sound one.
- Findings from researchers that indicated that most consumers couldn't actually notice the improvement in quality between Red Book and Scarlet Book audio, due to the increased resolution only adding in frequencies outside the normal range of human hearing. Surround sound support was the only actually noticeable benefit the SACD carried, and as mentioned above, setting up for that was too cumbersome for typical consumers' tastes.
- Lack of support among hardware manufacturers and software developers. 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 in late 2001, which replaced the first generation of clunky and cumbersome portable MP3 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; the fact that the PS3 had an incredibly botched launch didn't help (more about that on the console's own page). 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 players and titles, with some record stores even having dedicated sections for the format and its rivals. 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.
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 Bookends 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 for physical music collections and backlash against the Loudness War making many media reports of the "death of vinyl" from the late 1980s and early 1990s massively Hilarious in Hindsight. Even cassettes have made a comeback, though just barely by comparison. Nowadays, CD sales are rather low and have only been declining. The dominance of streaming 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. The rise of nostalgia for the '90s, when the format had its cultural moment, doesn't seem to have revived interest as with vinyl. 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, breaking a 32-year streak of CDs having the upper hand over their analog counterparts and corroborating the ongoing mass pessimism from both the music industry and the public regarding the future of the format; some indie musicians have even gone on record refusing to release music on CD now as a result of how much more difficult it is to push sales on the format compared to vinyl and streaming. The public and industry seems just as pessimistic about CDs in the 21st century as they were about LPs in the late 1980s.
The market decline of the format prompted many observers to heap snark upon the CD's early slogan, "perfect sound forever," declaring 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. With the aforementioned Vinyl Revival, the LPs that the CD displaced are now often the only physical music format that can be readily found in "big box" stores. Around 2020, vinyl outpaced the CD in terms of revenue, even as physical music sales remain a drop in the bucket compared to streaming revenues.
With CDs apparently going the way of wax cylinders, changing consumer preferences have had an effect on the broader audio market. Even high-end audio manufacturers are largely abandoning the CD and the traditional component stereo system with it to focus on wireless speakers, premium headphones and home theater systems.
The Compact Disc appears to be a victim of technological progress. In the early 1980s, there were no hard drives large enough to hold the amount of data on a CD, but 700 MB is a mere drop in the bucket on modern hard drives. Combined with broadband internet, it makes more sense to stream or download digital audio directly rather than use an intermediate physical format.
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. Independent record stores and thrift shops still have shelves and shelves of new and used discs. Unsigned and student musicians still sell self-produced releases in the format at gigs. 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 to manufacture and sell 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 (with the exception of high-resolution audio formats like FLAC), 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). The average length of classical and jazz pieces meant that they often took full advantage of the CD's longer running time more than popular music did (and with less risk of Album Filler too), hence the aforementioned urban legend about Beethoven's Ninth. It helps that they were also among the first genres to adopt digital recording.
The format 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 (and other physical formats like DVD and Blu-ray, and the country has had its own vinyl revival for the same reasons) afloat there, to the point where Tower Records still operates in Japan. The format is so popular there that CD releases often have Japan-exclusive bonus tracks, making Japanese CD releases (especially with an intact "obi strip," a wraparound leaflet listing the release information for buyers only fluent in Japanese) highly prized by Western collectors. Both the format's inventors, Sony and Philips, also happen to operate major classical labels, and the Sony-owned Columbia Records still owns the archival works of iconic jazz acts once on its roster, including Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
As with DVD and Blu-ray video, CDs remain popular among collectors who like having physical copies of albums (at least those who haven't jumped on the vinyl revival bandwagon) as well as people who lack reliable access to broadband and thus lack access to digital music services. They also still have a niche in automotive use as cassettes did in the '90s, but again are being rapidly superseded by Bluetooth connections to smartphones playing streaming music in new cars. Even if the CD has fallen quite heavily from its peak in 2000, it's certainly far from dead. Sales and revenues of CDs in American actually grew in 2021, according to the RIAA, showing that the format does have some life yet 40 years from its introduction.
The Compact Disc paved the way for the modern digital media landscape we inhabit today. Without the CD, we might not have DVD, Blu-Ray, digital downloads or streaming media we enjoy today.
- 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 recording first saw release on LP and reel-to-reel tape in 1980, becoming publicly available on CD three years later.
- The first public demonstration of the CD was on a 1981 episode of BBC TV programme 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 fully digital CD release (i.e. recorded, edited, mixed, and mastered entirely with digital audio equipment) — and by extent, the first all-digital music release period — was Peter Gabriel's Security, which debuted on the format in the US and continental Europe in 1983, one year after its initial LP and cassette release; the US CD even boasted the album's all-digital nature on its front cover.
- 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 Records, 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 (79:15) 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".
- The longest song ever released on a CD was "Apparente Libertà" by Giancarlo Ferrari; published in 2008, the song clocks in at 76:47.
- On a more dubious note, the first CD to include copy protection software was White Lillies Island by Natalie Imbruglia in 2001. Widespread backlash against the overreaching effects of this software led to BMG having to recall the discs, reissue it without the software, and offer affected consumers replacement CDs for free.