Compact Discs: High Quality, Small Space

A compact disc (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
A compact disc (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1983, compact discs and their players were released in the United States.

Here are some things you may not have known about CDs.

They trace their roots to the LaserDisc player, which was a video format using a disc that looked like a vinyl record-sized CD. It was invented in the early 1970s and released to the public in 1978.

Two companies, Sony and Philips, were independently working on creating a smaller audio-only format with sound quality better than vinyl records. Sony demonstrated the first optical digital audio disc in 1976, however the disc was roughly the same size as a vinyl LP. Two and a half years later, Philips demonstrated a prototype that was a bit smaller than today’s standard CD. From this point, Sony and Philips collaborated in an effort to avoid a format war such as VHS vs. Betamax videotapes or, later, HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray.

A CD player works by using a laser to read a string of tiny indentations etched in the plastic disc in a spiral pattern. CDs have six parts. From the center, they are: the spindle hole, the clamping ring, the clamping area, the mirror band, the data area and the rim.

As opposed to vinyl records, CDs play from the center out. When the laser is reading data from the center, the disc spins at around 500 revolutions per minute, which decreases to about 200 rpm at the outside edge. Because they play from the center, CDs can be of various sizes. The standard CD is 12 centimeters in diameter and holds up to 80 minutes of audio. Mini-CDs, at 8 centimeters hold up to 24 minutes, while business-card sized discs hold about six minutes of audio.

Almost every disc format that has followed has also been 12 centimeters in diameter, including DVDs, HD-DVDs and Blu-Ray Discs.

The first test pressing of a compact disc was a recording of the Berlin Philharmonic playing a symphony by Strauss. The first popular music disc produced was “The Visitors” by ABBA.

The technology was launched to the public in Japan in October 1982. Five months later, CDs and CD players were released in Europe and North America.

Upon release, a CD player could cost as much as $1,000. The high cost didn’t slow sales, however, as more than 400,000 were sold in the United States in the first two years of production.

In 1988, the CD-ROM was made available to the public, making it the first non-audio application of the format. It allowed any type of digital data to be stored on optical discs.

Eventually, the CD player replaced the audio cassette player in automobiles. The last new car with a cassette player included was sold in 2010.  However CD players are now being phased out in new cars in favor of jacks that allow people to access audio stored on their mobile devices.

Our question: What was the first album to sell more than 1 million copies on compact disc?

Today is Texas Independence Day, Peasants’ Day in Burma and Read Across America Day.

It’s National Banana Cream Pie Day, National Old Stuff Day and World Math Day.

It’s the birthday of authors Dr. Seuss, Tom Wolfe and John Irving, and musician Lou Reed.

This week in 1983, the top song in the U.S. was “Baby, Come to Me” by Patti Austin with James Ingram.

The No. 1 movie was “Tootsie,” while “Space” by James Michener topped the New York Times Best Sellers list.


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