Happy Birthday, CD Player!

On October 1, 1982, Sony Corporation released the first Compact Disc player. Few could have predicted just how much it would revolutionize not just the music world, but computer technology as well.

When the audio compact disc first hit the market, the consumer press naturally viewed the invention from a practical angle: as a small, durable medium for noise-free audio. Computer engineers looked at the same technology and saw a 4.7-inch disc that could store a staggering 6.3 billion bits of information.

Almost immediately, a half dozen computer media companies fell over themselves in a race to repurpose the CD as a medium for computer software. And here’s why: In 1982, a standard double-sided IBM PC floppy disk held 360 kilobytes, or about 2.6 million bits of data. A quick trip to a calculator will show you that 2390 IBM floppies’ worth of digital data could theoretically fit on a single CD (assuming you used no extra bits for error correction).

Computer-linked CD drive prototypes created by half a dozen different computer media companies showed up as early as late 1983 and continued through 1984. Sony and Philips recognized a potential sub-format war brewing and decided to create an official standard, which they called CD-ROM (for Compact Disc Read-Only Memory).

In 1985, the first commercial CD-ROM drives appeared in nonconsumer markets, but the question remained: What would people do with all that space? The natural application of CD-ROM technology involved the storage of anything that would normally take up multiple thick volumes if it were in print. Government, medical, and demographic databases constituted the first commercial CD-ROM discs out the door in 1985, and encyclopedias followed not long after.

This is a great article for fans of tech history, describing the CD development as high-volume media for both music and data.

Arguably, had the CD not been invented and streamlined, the DVD might also have failed to materialize.

Be sure to take a look at the Timeline at the end to put it all into fine perspective.


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