Compact disc turns 30 this month

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Many tech products celebrated their 30th birthday this year, such as the Commodore 64, one of the best-selling PCs of all time. Another tech product celebrating its 30th birthday is the compact disc—which eventually overthrew cassette tapes as the biggest and cheapest selling media format, and still remains a popular media format to this very day.

The compact disc, or the CD, was the brainchild of the engineers over at Philips in the Netherlands, and started as early as 1974. The premise was to develop an optical audio disc with superior sound to that of the incumbent vinyl format. The original compact disc was a huge 20 cm in diameter. Many people who grew up in the late 70s and early 80s might also remember the LaserDisc—it was also developed by Philips and retained the 20 cm size. The only difference is that the LaserDisc was also capable of playing both audio and video, something the CD could not do (or at least do well) until later on.

By 1977, Philips was developing hardware for the CD and reduced the size of the CD to about 11.5 cm, but were still in the midst of making cassette tapes. Sony had also been developing the CD since around 1976, but by 1982, both companies partnered up and the CD was born. Well known musician Billy Joel was the first to debut his music on a CD—launching 52nd Street, his sixth album, on October 1, 1982. It came out in Japan alongside the first commercially available CD player, the Sony CDP-101.

Since the launch of the CD and devices that used the CD which ranged from (portable) stand-alone CD players to computers to game consoles (the Philips CD-i was one of the first consoles to use CDs instead of cartridges), the CD has evolved multiple times and taken on multiple functions. Around the mid-90s, the DVD started replacing VHS cassettes as the main format to watch movies, and eventually, the Blu-ray replaced the DVD in that aspect as well.

No one really knows what’s next after CDs, although USB flash drives have started taking their place as a medium to store data. However, the CD remains as a pioneer of the digital age and beyond.