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Last Updated: Friday, 17 August 2007, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Compact disc hits 25th birthday
The compact disc was jointly developed by Philips and Sony

Exactly 25 years ago the world's first compact disc was produced at a Philips factory in Germany, sparking a global music revolution.

More than 200 billion CDs have been sold worldwide since then and it remains the dominant format despite the growth in digital downloads.

The CD was jointly developed by Philips and Sony and the disc has also become a key storage method for computer users.

The first CD produced was The Visitors by Abba.

Piet Kramer, who was a member of the optical group at Philips during the disc's development, said: "When Philips teamed up with Sony to develop the CD, our first target was to win over the world for the CD.

"We did this by collaborating openly to agree on a new standard. For Philips, this open innovation was a new approach and it paid off."

Dire Straits
Dire Straits' album Brothers in Arms helped popularise the CD

He said the companies had never imagined that the computing and entertainment industries would also opt for the CD as a storage system for content.

Jacques Heemskerk, who was one of the senior engineers involved with the optical side of CD players, said the team knew they were building a revolutionary product.

"It was revolutionary in many fields - the optics were new, the disc was new. At the start of development there wasn't even a laser that would work well enough for our needs.

"The most advanced laser at the time had a lifespan of only 100 hours."

He said the company had always planned on the format lasting at least 20 to 25 years.

"That was the model we had in mind although it seems that CD is going to last a lot longer than that. For many people the CD is still the original format, with others being derivative or back-ups."

The two companies began work on the format in 1979 and targetted a disc which could hold an hour of audio. The capacity was extended to 74 minutes, however, to accommodate a complete performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, forcing the disk to be made slightly larger."

We were suspicious and so were their engineers
Jacques Heemskerk, retired Philips engineer, on Philips working with Sony

"I always wish we had stuck with the original plan for an 11cm disc; it would have been more suited to the on-the-go age," said Mr Heemskerk.

He said that it had been a big culture shock for Philips when they had allied with Sony.

"The world was not as globalised as it is today. Our management had told us to be as open as possible and to share everything because that was the only way to have success.

"But we were suspicious and so were their engineers. But after a few days it became clear we could work together."

He added: "There were other companies working on similar technologies, so there was pressure.

"We always knew we could make the product but it was always about making it for the right cost and at scale."

The first CDs went on sale in November 1982 and were mainly classical recordings.

Classical music lovers were believed to be more affluent than pop and rock music fans, and Philips thought they would be more inclined to pay the price for the more expensive CDs and the very expensive CD-players,

The first models cost 2,000 Dutch guilders, about 1,000 at today's rate, taking into account inflation.

"When Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau recorded one of the first CDs for Polygram we discovered that he was grunting and panting while playing. Before on vinyl you didn't hear that but on CD it was crystal clear," said Frank van den Berg, a former member of the Polygram CD development task force.

In the last 10 years CD sales have been dropping worldwide while digital download sales are rising rapidly.

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), digital sales will account for a quarter of all worldwide music sales by 2010.

CD sales in the UK have dropped 10% in the first half of this year, while download purchases have increased by 50%.

Richard Gooch, head of technology at IFPI, said: "CDs remain a very popular format for buying music in the digital era - indeed as CDs are a digital format they actually kick-started the digital age.

"The CD remained the most popular Christmas present in Britain last year. Despite the rise of downloading we expect that the CD will be here for many years to come."

Mr Heemskerk said CDs remained his format of choice.

"I don't have an iPod, although my youngest son uses one. But CDs are still his preferred format and he copies them on to his MP3 player."

Report on the CD from 25 years ago

How the CD was developed
17 Aug 07 |  Technology
More pain for Sony over CD code
17 Nov 05 |  Technology
Is music safe on compact disc?
27 Aug 04 |  Entertainment
Can the CD single be saved?
23 Jul 07 |  Business
Music retailer fights CD downturn
19 Jul 07 |  Business

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