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Useful Notes / Philips CD-i

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The Phillips CD-i 220

"Look how huge it is! It looks like one of those old VCRs. It is the biggest video game console I've ever seen. Literally, you can fit two of these inside it. [the Nerd stacks the smaller CD-i console on top of the giant one] If you remember my Atari 5200 video where I commented how big it was, [cut to the CD-i and the Atari 5200 side-by-side] well, both consoles are ridiculously huge, but the CD-i just barely wins."

The CD-i (short for Compact Disc Interactive) was an attempt by Philips to create a multimedia CD player standard, released in 1991. Development was originally started in 1986 by Philips in cooperation with Sony. As multimedia functionality for the Compact Disc format was still in an early and experimental state, Philips decided to design their own standard for multi-purpose, multi-media discs: carrying over the player's "Compact Disc Interactive" name, the CD-i format was defined by what became known as the Green Book Standard. CD-i discs were capable of providing both pre-recorded videos and interactive software on a Compact Disc, acting as a prototype to both the Video CD format and the more widely popular CD-ROM format (despite being designed and debuting after the latter).

The idea behind the CD-i was immensely ambitious, with Philips aiming to create an all-in-one device and format that could combine a home computer, video player, audio player, and interactive software device into one unit. The CD-i was even able to access the internet, albeit only in Britain, via the CD-Online service (which remained in operation from its 1995 debut all the way until 2000). In hindsight, the idea seems rather prescient in light of the emergence of smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs during the 21st century and their ability to fulfil this same "all-in-one" niche to a far more effective degree; the only things the CD-i couldn't do, by comparison, was make phone calls and send text messages.

Since the system was barely aimed at traditional gamers, its library mostly consisted of educational titles, reference works, and board games like Clue or Axis & Allies. Philips tried to capitalize on its gaming capabilities when the edutainment titles failed to sell, but the arrival of more powerful systems, like Sony's PlayStation, the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64, made the change of direction too little, too late. The format did find some success as a kiosk application and remained in production up until 1998; where game-focused multimedia systems such as the 3DO were eventually made obsolete by more powerful dedicated game consoles, the CD-i was the only one to cover the electronic self-help niche. The CD-i would also be superseded on the video front by the DVD format with its higher resolution and greater capacity than the Video CD.

Like the aforementioned 3DO, the CD-i was conceived as a standard and thus several manufacturers produced their own versions, like Magnavox (though by this time, Magnavox was owned by Philips, so their version was essentially a badge-engineered version) and Sony. However, Philips was adamant on maintaining that every player and every disc be compatible with one another, which directly blocked any and all attempts at expanding the system's capabilities or streamlining its complex hardware due to the fact that it could've opened the doors for developers creating software only compatible with more powerful variants. While the notion of universal compatibility seemed altruistic to consumers on paper, it ultimately did more harm than good, causing the system's capabilities to stagnate almost immediately and preventing it from ever being able to hold its own against advancing hardware in the seven years between its debut and discontinuation. To give a point of reference as to how badly it was beat out by other video game systems, the Sega Dreamcast debuted the same year as the CD-i's discontinuation.

The system is best known today for its four Nintendo-licensed games (The Legend of Zelda CD-i Games and Hotel Mario), the result of a deal between Philips and Nintendo for a cancelled SNES CD-ROM add-on. Their Deranged Animation cutscenes are a popular source of YouTube Poop, lending them Watch It for the Meme status.

Today, the CD-i's reputation is formed entirely off of its middling-at-best video game titles, with its broader goals and better capabilities generally only being known by the most diehard of retro tech enthusiasts. The fact that the CD-i is still notoriously difficult to emulate also hampers attempts at getting it Vindicated by History, as it means that the only way to actually experience what the system is capable of firsthand is to go out and buy an actual unit... which introduces more problems given the system's high price point and the declining reliability of its hardware as the decades go on. At the very least, the popularity of the Mario and Zelda CD-i titles among YouTube Poop creators will ensure that the device maintains at least some degree of long-term legacy. For better or for worse.

Technical Specs

Hardware, Processors and Memory

  • 16/32-bit 68070 CISC Chip (68000 core)
  • Clock Speed of 15.5 MHz
  • CD-RTOS operating system (based on Microware's OS-9)
  • 1 MB of main RAM
  • Single speed CD drive, supported the following formats:
    • CD-i
    • CD-DA (Audio CD)
    • CD+G (CD+Graphics)note 
    • Photo CDnote 
    • Video CD (requires MPEG 1 cartridge)note 
  • The console supported two player mode, but the second controller port is inexplicably built into the back of the console.
  • Unlike consoles like the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the CD-i does not support sprite scaling or sprite rotation effects, which proved to be a handicap when developing the scrapped game "Super Mario's Wacky Worlds".
  • Collectors interested in the CD-i should be aware that the console is equipped with an internal battery (usually called a "timekeeper chip") that has more than likely died by this point. With the original 910 model a dead battery just removes the ability to save games but most other models will either refuse to read games or won't boot up at all. Replacing this battery is quite difficultnote , therefore it's recommended to find a CD-i that has already had the battery replaced when trying to purchase one.


  • Graphics Chip: SCC66470, later MCD 212
  • Resolution: 384×280 to 768×560
  • Colors: 16.7 million w/ 32,768 on screen
  • MPEG 1 Cartridge Plug-In for VideoCD and Digital Video
  • The CDI 220 and CDI 910 models of the console also had optional S-Video support.


  • Sound Chip: MCD 221
  • ADPCM eight channel sound
  • 16-bit stereo sound


  • CD-i mouse
  • Roller controller
  • CD-i trackball
  • I/O port splitter
  • Touchpad controller
  • Gamepad controller (Gravis PC Game Pad)
  • IR wireless controller
  • S-video cable
  • RAM expansion and Video-CD (MPEG-1) support with DV Cart


Original Titles


Movies (requires a DV Cart)

Music (requires a DV Cart)


  • Flawed Prototype: By all rights, what the CD-i was attempting to do would see widescale success... with the PlayStation 2. The PS2 is itself a multimedia system capable of playing games, movies, and music CDs, all of which the CD-i billed as a selling point. The difference is the PS2 was more focused on gaming with its early game lineup and had a lot of solid games to draw in gamers, and came out when video DVDs were just starting to become the new standard for video distribution. The CD-i by contrast wanted to include all that variety, but lacked a solid focus in any one specific area, while traditional VHS was still the largest standard at the time it came out. Additionally, the lack of copy protection for Video CDs made studios wary, since VHS at least had analog generation loss and playback degradation to deter consumers from over-copying tapes. This all lead to a lack of appeal in any specific category for the system, which would end up being its ultimate downfall.
  • Product Facelift: Thanks to Philips devising the CD-i as a standard that could be licensed out to other companies (like what the competing 3DO Interactive Multiplayer did), several different models of the system exist. Of the ones made by Philips themselves and their North American imprint Magnavox, there's the original CDI 220, the top-loading CDI 550 and CDI 450, and the CDI 910, which returned to the tray-loading configuration of the CDI 220 but featured a greater amount of visual flourish on its façade. In terms of the actual hardware beneath the cases, however, the models are all nearly identical, owed to Philips' requirement that every player had to be compatible with every disc. The only differences are the disc drives used and the fact that models after the CDI 220 remove the RCA port for outputting digital audio.