History of the Philips CD-i



Philips and Sony began independently to work on another derivative of CD which would combine audio, text and graphics.


The two companies joined forces to develop a draft standard at the beginning of 1985, and later that year Matsushita joined in to work on the development of integrated circuits.

The first public announcement of the new product - Compact Disc-Interactive - was made at the first industry conference convened in March 1986 to promote CD-ROM in the United States. A provisional standard (the ‘Green Book’) was issued in May.
A full functional specification of the system was issued in March 1987.
CD-i discs and prototypes were demonstrated to licensees in June 1987.
The first working samples of players were distributed to developers in Autumn 1988.
Philips introduced a range of hardware options and developers’ tools to encourage small software houses to enter the industry.
A package was released, aimed at users who wanted to evaluate CD-i, both through playing back existing software, and/or use the supplied software to emulate a CD-i disc. The package, launched in February 1990 in the United States, and from mid-1990 in Europe, comprised the 180 player/controller/interfaces together with a monitor, a 100 Mbyte hard disc, and basic authoring software which allowed the user to put together graphics, text and audio using a sequence editor. The price also included limited studio services for processing images and audio, as well as one place on two training courses for designers and programmers. For users who were already experienced at software development on PC systems, one of the erstwhile ‘taboo’ products — the PC Bridge — enabled video, audio and text files to be created within the PC operating system MS-DOS, and then converted to CD-i format.


The 16-bit CD-ROM based system was not promoted as a gaming platform. In advertising, Phillips highlighted the multimedia applications that the CD-i would be able to perform. Dutch electronics giant Philips, begins to introduce its Compact Disc Interactive (CD-i) technology to industrial users before marketing it as an entertainment system for consumers. It is based on CD-ROM ('Read Only Memory') technology which stores and reads information in the same way as a compact disc. CD-i systems can play audio discs and films as well as numerous other publications from computer games to illustrated encyclopaedias.

Philips sold various professional CD-i players next to the standard consumer models. Both types of players comply fully to the CD-i standard as defined in the Green Book and were based on the same CPU and audio and video ICs, but the professional players usually offered some extra features. There were professional players with an integrated floppy disk drive, parallel ports to connect a printer or ZIP-drive, SCSI-ports, Ethernet network connections or with up to 5 MB of extra RAM. Some players had a feature that enabled the users to customise the start-up screen of the player shell. Several professional players were especially made for CD-i development studios since they included input ports to connect an emulator to simulate the playback of a CD-i disc from an external hard disk for testing purposes.

Although there were various models of CD-i players, every CD-i disc performed exactly the same in terms of system speed or audio and video quality on every CD-i system. The Green Book extensively specifies how and at what speed the audio and video data should be read from the disc and parsed trough the appropriate decoding ICs. Even if a faster CPU was used in a CD-i player (which is allowed by the Green Book, but never implemented in any CD-i player) system performance would only rise slightly because the real-time retrieval of audio and video from a disc is not influenced by the processor.

By 1994, with low sales, Philips decided to alter its approach to advertising the CD-i. It was finally marketed as videogame platform. The console was redesigned to more resemble a standard gaming system. The price was lowered to $299 and a pack-in game named Burn:Cycle was included.
Philips' decision had been made too late. By this time there was heavy anticipation centered on the upcoming release of the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation systems. Sales for the revamped CD-i were poor. In the summer of 1995, Philips began to release versions of CD-i software for play on the Sega Saturn and PC. Also in the summer of 1995, Philips announced plans to release a modem add-on for the CD-I, though there was no set date.

In the summer of 1996, Philips announced that they would be discontinuing the CD-i system. Reportedly, Philips had lost close to one billion dollars on the console since its introduction to the US.

In early fall 1996; Philips did eventually release an Internet terminal designed for use with television sets. It retailed for $329.

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