8th February, 2013
PICTURE: Diego Baseggio/www.sxc.hu
Having celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, the humble compact disc has revolutionised the way we think about music storage - and marked the start of the popular move to digital music storage.
While the origins of the CD really go back to the invention of the photograph in the late 1800s, it was only in the mid 1970s when both Sony and Philips independently developed prototypes for what would become the ubiquitous CD.
The two companies - the Dutch-based Philips and Japan-based Sony - joined in a collaborative effort to set standards, and on 1st October, 1982, the first commercially available CD (and CD player) was released in Japan followed by Europe and the US early the following year.
The discs - which are about 1.2 millimetres thick and are made from polycarbonate plastic - store data as tiny indentations known as pits. The data is accessed by focusing a laser through the bottom of the disc; hence the discs are 'read' by a laser.
Interestingly, the width of the disc - 12 centimetres across the middle - was determined by the demand that it contain sufficient running time for the whole of Beethoven's 9th Symphony (it has been said Sony made this demand to ensure Philips, which was already set up to press the 11.5 centimetre discs, didn't have a competitive advantage). The hole in the centre of the disc is said to be the same size as an old Dutch 10 cent coin.
The first album to be released commercially on CD was Billy Joel's 52nd Street (although recordings of Strauss's Eine Alpensinfonie and ABBA's album The Visitors had already been made) while the the first artist to sell a million copies of an album on CD was Dire Straits with 1985's Brothers in Arms.
While worldwide annual sales of CDs peaked at more than two billion in the early Noughties, the ongoing development of new methods of storing digital data - from internet clouds to portable flash drives - has seen its popularity decline in more recent years. What its long-term future is remains to be seen but as someone remarked at the 30th birthday of the CD last year - "The CD is starting to feel its age".
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