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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A History of the Compact Disc

Monday, June 10th, 2013

The compact disc, or CD, was developed as a result of the evolution of LaserDisc technology. Both Philips and Sony scurried to develop prototypes during the 1970s and they later worked together to produce a standard format and player which was eventually made available to the public in 1982.

The Dawn

The origin of the CD has many stories and several trailblazers to thank for experimenting and figuring out ways to make a disk like the CD available to the public. Although many people claim different inventors of the CD, the early credit should go to three men: Emil Berliner for his proving that flat discs work better for transmitting sounds than the round phonograph, Thomas Edison for his invention of the gramophone record and Antonio Rubbianifor his experimentation with digital video.

However the actual CD was not produced until L.Ottens constructed a team of seven people to create an audio disc that produced a better sound quality than the vinyl record. They set out in 1974 and eventually developed a lab that allowed for more testing and prototypes than ever expected.

The original thought was to develop a CD that had a diameter of 20cm, however this was later changed to 11.5cm to match the diagonal length of a cassette tape.

During that time, Sony joined the race by displaying an optical audio disc in the fall of 1976.

Joining forces

In 1976, Philips and Sony created a joint task force of experts and engineers to create a brand new disc. The task force was headed by ToshitadaDoi and KeesSchouhamerImmink, and after a year of testing, they released the Red Book CD-DA standard which was released in 1980 and later recognised as the international standard in 1987.

The small team was split by representatives from each company and each person was there for their own area of expertise. Representatives from Sony focused on error-correction and Philips representatives focused primarily on the manufacturing process.

The first CDs and players

Langenhagen, Germany was the sight of where the first CD was pressed. The Poydor Pressing Operations plant created the CD with a recording of Richard Strauss’s EineAlpensisfonie. Mass production began in 1982. The first musical album to be release on CD was Billy Joel’s 52nd street, which was sold beside Sony’s brand new CD player CDP-101. This release occurred on October 1, 1982 and led to an explosion of sales in CDs and CD players.

Physical media: between human nature and futurology

Monday, February 14th, 2011
CD and punched card - the speed with which one technology is supplanted by another is determined by many factors

CD and punched card - the speed with which one technology is supplanted by another is determined by many factors

It’s hard to answer prediction questions concerning physical media, letting alone assigning the exact date of their expiration. We might be laughed at by the future generations. Since the total disappearance of existing technologies is a sociological matter rather than technological, it’s always safer to predict the order of changes than to give exact rates.

It sounds trivial, but implementing a new technology into the market is always up to people. Those who live in big metropolies of the developed world may have an impression that certain technology (like Blue Ray) is so common that everyone and their dog is using it.Obviously, this is not the full picture.What about billions of people living in rural areas and in other places of the world?

Secondly, the speed with which the old technology can be supplanted by the newest one depends also on how well it fits the existing infrastructure. And the level of country’s existing infrastructure depends strongly on the level of its economic development, but also on the local business, politics, culture, even climat. Various technologies can be targeted at different groups of people and sectors of market, like cell versus land line phones. An intresting phenomena is observed in some developing countries of Africa with no previous landline infrastructure – they shifted directly to developing cell phone business.

And lastly, the human factor mentioned in the title. Basically, people vary as far as adopting new technologies is concerned. Not everyone is novelty-seeking, many wait to let the market verify the real value and suitability of the newest shiny gadget. Some simply attach sentimental value to items they possess and physical access is very important to them.There will always be traditionalists, sentimental collectors and fans of vintage. And this also stimulates the producers’ creativity. The more niches in the market, the better.

The History of the War Between Blu-ray and HD DVD

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

The battle between the HD DVD and Blu-ray discs was hard-fought

As new technology is constantly brought onto the market, it stands to reason that sometimes you will get products which clash.  Sometimes, these two variants on the same product can co-exist quite happily, but other times a vicious battle of merchandise ensues and one product will knock the other off the market!

This was the case with the fight between Blu-Ray and HD DVD, and the war goes back further than you’d think:  All the way back to the year 2000!  During this time, new blue lasers were being experimented with in optical disc systems.  Companies found that by using these blue lasers, rather than the previous red ones, more information could be stored on a disc in less space.  This is because the wavelength of a blue laser is smaller than a red one, therefore less space is needed to store the same piece of information.

But why were they experimenting with this new technology?  What was wrong with the good old DVD?  Well, as is often the case, advances in other areas were forcing disc technology forwards:  High definition televisions and television services had come onto the market and the disc industry did not want to be left behind.  They, too, wanted to provide high-definition products but found that there was simply not enough room on an ordinary DVD.  Thus, new technology had to be found to cater for the changes in the market.

But here’s the catch:  More than one company was making the same discoveries at the same time!  The result:  Two competing products were brought onto the market and began a battle that would last for almost a decade.

Sony and Pioneer seem to have been the main instigators of research, unveiling the DVR Blue at Japan’s Ceatec show on October 5th 2000.  It was this disc which would form the basis for Blu-ray, which was proposed some two years later, on February 19th 2002.  The plans for the disc were put forward by nine very successful electronics companies, headed by Sony.  However, only a few months later, NEC and Toshiba put forward plans for a competing product, the high-definition disc which was to become HD DVD.

That year, at the 2002 Ceatec show in Japan, both discs were unveiled.  The Blu-ray was shown by Sony, Sharp, Panasonic, JVC and Pioneer whilst the HD DVD, at this time called the Advanced Optical Disc (AOD), was shown by Toshiba.  I can almost imagines the competitors scowling at each other across the room:  This meant merchandise war!

At first, things were slow.  New technology is very expensive and the licensing for Blu-ray was extortionate (and necessarily so considering all the money that had been sunk into the disc’s invention!)  Perhaps due to this, or perhaps simply in a clever marketing move, Sony created a disc which would allow data storage, not only in terms of film, but in terms of business: Companies could now store documents, presentations – whatever they wanted – on these discs, like memory-massive versions of the CD.

The technology to be able to write information on discs at home and in the workplace was then used to create the first home BD recorder.  It was based upon the BD-RE disc and cost almost $4000!  It was a mistake, however, as the machine did not support pre-recorded films and simply served as an extra expense for the companies involved.  Despite this mistake, the BD was obviously making headway, however, as Mitsubishi joined the group in May of that year.

But what of the HD DVD during this time?  Well, truth be told very little happened with the HD DVD of note until early 2004, when Toshiba unveiled the first prototype HD DVD player.  The player was well though out as it was backwards compatible with DVD, a customer pleasing feature which brought it attention.  However the success was not to last, as only five days later, on january 12th, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, major electronics companies, made public their decision to back the Blu-ray disc.

Then, on September 21st, Sony announced that their PlayStation 3 would support Blu-ray discs.  This was a canny business move on Sony’s part, as they knew that many of the people who play PlayStation games are also a major section of the film-buying market.  Therefore, by cornering the gamers into watching Blu-rays simply because they already had the player, they sectured an enormous amount of business in one fell swoop.

But in late November, several world-famous film studios came together to give their support for the HD DVD.  This was a massive boon for the HD DVD; getting the backing of Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, HBO, Universal Pictures AND Paramount Pictures secured for them a massive portion of the film-making industry.  However, they had missed off one of the most influential giants of movie-making:  Disney.  And ten days later, this titan of business gave its support, not to the HD DVD, but to Blu-ray.

In mid-2005, Sony’s president made a show of wishing to compromise or integrate with HD DVD, knowing as he did that consumers were becoming tired of having choose between the two rival formats.  But still the war dragged on, though talks were indulged in for several months between Toshiba and Sony.  Companies kept siding with one of the other format until, late in 2005, Paramount Home Entertainment decided to offer their films on both HD DVD and Blu-ray.  Some other companies followed suit but there was still an air of stagnation and irritation on the market.

So we come to March 2006, when Toshiba put their new HD DVD player on the market.  It had been in development for some moths by LG Electronics, no doubt also backed in part by Microsoft, who had decided to rival the PLayStation 3 and provide an HD DVD drive add-on for their Xbox 360.  The disc player was much more of a success than the initial Blu-ray model, as it was cheaper (by about $2000!) and also played all pre-recorded data.

2007 saw the HD DVD take over the market, stealing support from companies who had previously backed Blu-ray as their HD DVD-player sales rocketed to 100,000 in north America alone.  This was despite the fact that LG had put together a dual-format player and Warner Bros. had developed a disc which had two layers:  One HD DVD and the other Blu-ray, so that it was compatible with all players.  HD DVD player prices dropped dramatically and Sony were forced to follow suit, reducing the price of the PlayStation 3 in early November – just in time for Christmas!

So, things were looking up for HD DVD, but Warner Bros. had a bombshell to drop in the new year.  On January 4th 2008, the dropped their support of HD DVD and went over to Blu-ray.  “All of us at Sony are feeling Blu today!”  Said Sony CEO Howard Stringer later that week, smiling broadly.  It was a major blow to HD DVD’s confidence and success.  Though they cut the prices of HD DVD players, the market was simply not interested anymore and consumers began to side more and more with Blu-ray.

Companies NetFlix and BestBuy had said they would phase out HD DVD by June only a month after Warner Bros. announcement and five days later, Toshiba halted the production of their HD DVD players.  Blu-ray had won the war, and just when it looked as if they were about to lose!

How are BD-ROMs manufactured?

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Brand new BD technology means a brand new disc manufacturing techniques

From a consumer’s point of view, it can often appear that products simply appear on the shelves in our shops.  But the reality is that everything that we buy is made somewhere in a more or less complicated process.  For Blu-ray disc manufacturing, this process is long and tricky and must be done by state of the art machines.  On the surface the BD factory is mystery – so let’s satisfy our curiosity and take an in depth look at how these discs are made.

All BDs start life as a collection of tiny, clear granules of the plastic polycarbonate.  These granules arrive at the factory in trucks and are stored in silos, waiting for the process of Blu-ray disc manufacturing to begin.  They are then siphoned into pipes, which take them through the factory to ‘hopper’s which measure out a certain number of granules and melt them down, sending them to the moulding machine.

The moulding machine then compresses the liquified polycarbonate into a disc.  The mould for the machine is created from a glass master copy of the first layer of data data to be stored on the BD so not only does this machine create the basic shape of the disc, but it also punches the first layer of data into it.  The data takes the form of ‘bumps’ or positive and negative indentations on the surface of the disc, which will later be covered for protection, and then read by the ‘blue’ BD laser.

Moved by a robotic arm, the disc is now ready for the next stage in Blu-ray manufacturing.  The disc is then coated in a layer of silver.  This layer is miniscule – only 90 angstroms thick (and an angstrom is only 100 millionths of a centimetre!)  The layer is created by a process called sputtering.  In this case, ‘sputtering’ involves hundreds of thousands of atoms of silver being bombarded.  The particles of metal are ‘energised’ or made magnetic so that they will stick to the surface they are applied to.  In Sony Blue-ray disc manufacturing plant, their sputtering machine has a magnetic field so strong that it affects pacemakers that are brought nearby!

The disc is then coated in a layer of special UV resin, which is hardened by being exposed to a special kind of light.  Then, a second layer of data is added if needed and the disc is given another UV resin coating and a final protective layer.

But this is not then end of the Blu-ray disc manufacturing process:  Half the energy goes into making sure the product is reliable.  The discs are machine-checked for any sign of scratching or bubbling between the layers before being scanned and checked for playback integrity.
And what would a disc be without its artwork?  The discs then have to be loaded onto spools to go to the printing machines, which vary in technique according to the factory.  Finally, the BDs find their way to the assembly line where they are clothed in their cases, with any inserts and covers the designer has chosen.

So that is how Blu-ray discs are manufactured!  They don’t just magically appear, but are sent through a complex and highly scientific process before arriving on the shelves or our stores!

CD Mastering

Monday, March 1st, 2010

CD Mastering is complicated but worth doing for a high quality CD

CD mastering is the process of taking a song or audio file, editing out the bad bits and increasing the quality of the good bits! It is generally done by professional editors as it is a very complicated and technically advanced process involving editing each individual layer of the song. Mastering a CD can make a good song into a great one, giving you a final master CD that is ready to be sent off for duplication!

Generally, CD mastering takes place in three main stages:

Assembly Editing – This is the stage at which the layers of the track are aligned with one another. The technician will place proper spacing between the cuts and ensure that the song plays through with perfect timing. The places where you tend to get most noises, pops and clicks, the beginning and end of each cut, are generally faded so that the flaws cannot be heard, and any other unintentional sounds are also removed. The different layers can also be cross-faded, to create a marvelous disc ready for printing.

Sweetening – In this stage, the layers of the track are enhanced with special effects. You can apply echo, reverb, and many other effects to the song to make it sound just that bit better. This improving of sound, making the song sound more perfect than perhaps it really was, is known as ‘sweetening’. Many famous pop artists have been criticised for the degree to which the ‘sweeten’ their songs until their voices don’t actually sound like their real voices, but generally technicians only sweeten to a sensible level.

Output – Depending here on whether you are duplicating or replicating, this final process involves two different things. If duplicating, the technician produces a final CD-ROM copy of the disc which can then be played on a normal CD player. However, if replicating, a glass master disc must be created, which can be used on the replication machines almost as a stencil for further copies. The final mastered version of the song if usually ‘auditioned’ for the client to ensure they approve of the sound created.

Because of the high levels of technical knowledge involved in mastering a CD, it is generally advisable to get a professional company to do it for you. However, many disc duplication companies provide mastering as a part of their service, so you can master and duplicate all at the same time!

Home CD and DVD Burners – what has been their effect?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Get creative - burn your own CD!

Since the advent in the early noughties of the home CD Burner, their progress in technological importance has been astounding: From starting out as a simple replacement for floppy discs, being used mainly in the workplace to store data, they have become an intrinsic part of our technological lives. It used to be that they were a luxury for office men with a lot of money to spend on their computer to a regular feature in our laptops, desktops and even our CD players themselves! In fact, it would be very rare to find a computer which didn’t have a CD burning drive at all!

But what has the consequence been on, firstly commerce, and secondly, our own creativity?

In terms of business, the main issue that has arisen with the advent of the CD burner is that of copyright: We started out simply making each other mix-CDs but people quickly cottoned onto the fact that music could be illegally ripped and burnt from existing CDs and so started to share music this way! The music business has met the trend with full on force and often law suites are now heard of where people are sued enormous sums of money for illegally copying music. Even the film business is feeling the effect of home disc burners as, with the wider distribution of DVD burners, films are also being illegally copied and shared. However, the legal CD survives, first through a sense of honour and second because you will never get the same finish on a disc as you would with a professionally produced copy. The artwork and packaging can never have the same high quality finish as they do when you buy a professionally produced disc rather than using your home CD burner.

However, in this instance the pros far outweigh the cons of home CD burning: To start, CDs are just better than floppy discs for sharing information. CDs are more reliable, store more data and are slimmer. Aside from this, they have expanded creative opportunity for artists world-wide: You can now record and burn your own album at home or produce an amateur film! The opportunities presented to us on a musical and film-making front are now almost limitless! And we can create personal gifts with mix-CDs. I even know someone who keeps a diary through burning a CD each month of the music they were listening to to sum up the mood!

But don’t forget that sometimes in all this creativity that if you want many copies of a disc it is still often more economically viable to get someone to professionally burn your discs in bulk for you. And you will be guaranteed to get a professional finish which would be nearly impossible to create in your own home without great personal expense!

Have you ever wondered how a CD is made?

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Duplicating CDs is a complicated process

Compact Disc’s have become an intrinsic part of modern life.  They’re everywhere:  They carry our music, our work files, school projects, they come through our letterbox with adverts and hold the software for our computer programs.  In short, while twenty years ago they were a luxury, now we would be lost without them.

But haven’t you ever wondered how CD manufacturing works?  How are these discs put together and what are the resources that go into them?

The answer is not as complex as you might imagine:  There are five main layers to a CD.  However, because in the process of CD manufacturing, each layer must be produced separately so the manufacturing process has many stages and is quite detailed.

The first layer on a CD is thick and manufactured from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a soft, clear polycarbonate plastic.  Interestingly, this layer makes up 99% of the CD the other four layers making up only 1% of it!  Thus, this layer is very important, serving two purposes:  First, it protects the data layer from scratches and secondly, like the lenses in spectacles, it helps the laser beam to focus on the data itself.  This layer of the CD is manufactured by feeding small granules of PVC into a hydraulic press where they are heated until they melt.  The molten plastic is then forced by a screw into a mould cavity and it takes on the round, CD shape.  The plastic is then allowed to cool and harden and a robotic metal arm removes it and stamps the hole into the middle.  This is called the ‘stacking ring’.

Next comes the ‘data layer’, perhaps the most complicated part of CD manufacturing.  The data on a CD consists of many pits and lands, bumps which go up and down and represent either a one or a zero.  They work in a way very similarly to binary on a computer or simple on and off switches in a light.  These pits and lands spiral out from the centre of the CD and are read and interpreted by a laser.  Unlike the vinyl, however, the data is read from the inside to the outside on a CD and not the other way around.  To place these very important pits and lands on the CD during the manufacturing process, a glass master copy of the data is made in the image of how the CD will look, using a powerful laser and something akin to a CD writer.  The glass master is then pressed against a metal disc to create a negative image of the CD, making a mould, or ‘press’.  (Hence the term ‘to press a CD’, or ‘CD pressing‘.)  Once the press has been made, the clear PVC disc is pushed against it, so that the data is imprinted on the surface of the disk itself.

This part of the process of CD manufacturing is a little different if the CD is a recordable one.  In this instance instead of a data layer, a photosensitive dye is applied.  This dye, when exposed to certain light which can be emitted from the lasers in CD writers, creates the impression of a pit.  Similarly, a re-recordable disk uses a dye, but a slightly different one which allows the laser to polarize the layer back and forth between a pit and a land.

The next stage in CD manufacturing is to place a thin layer of metal onto the PVC disc.  The metal is usually silver or aluminium but it can also be made from gold or other metals.  It is applied to the PVC disc on top of the data using a process called sputtering, which means that a surface, here the disk, is bombarded with small atoms of a substance, in this case the metal.  This makes the CD act as a mirror, reflecting the CD player’s laser back to the reader.  It’s also this that gives the underside of a CD its shiny appearance.

The CD manufacturing process is nearly done now and the last major physical change to the disc takes place:  A thin coating of lacquer applied in a ring around the centre of the CD and spread out to the edges by spinning the disk very fast.  The edges are also coated with lacquer.  This coating ensures the safety of the data and the foil, which are the most important parts of the CD to protect.

All the other parts of the CD manufacturing process are almost purely cosmetic, including the final layer, the application of the label which contains information about what is on the disk, who made it and possibly a few graphics, especially if it is a music CD or a film.

The disk is now ready to be printed and packed and it is only after this that we, the consumers, see the disk!  It is very rare that we actually appreciate the time and energy that goes into manufacturing a CD.  But now, next time you use one (which these days will probably be very soon) you can look at it and know exactly how it was made!

A History of the CD

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

The history of the CD is fascinating and complex

In 1978, two of the greatest technological giants, Sony and Philips, were poised on the edge of a technological development war, both locked in a race to be the first to develop the CD (Compact Disc).

But to understand how this race began, we must look some years back in CD history, to 1957, when the digital video experiments of the Italian Antonio Rubbiani inspired a new generation of scientists to think about digital technology and the possibilities behind it.  CD history was in its infancy, but it had begun.  Twelve years later, in 1969, the experiments began in earnest and in 1970 Philips began to work on ALP (Audio Long Play), a new concept using digital audio as opposed to analogue to make longer playing discs in less space than a vinyl took up.

For a long time, however, the research was slow, and in 1978 Philips failed on its experiments with video disc technology.  Thus, to make up for this loss, it launched the new Compact Disc Project.  The idea behind the Compact Disc was that it would replace the previous vinyl analogue equipment which had dominated the market, and also replace the Compact Cassette Tape which had successfully been running alongside the vinyl for some years.  The name Compact Disc had been decided upon the year before (when Philips had begun to take more note of its digital audio research department), based on the idea that it would remind people of the Compact Cassette and it’s own success.

However Philips, though far ahead on the physical design of the CD to the point at which they had already developed commercial Laserdisc Players, simply did not have the electronic digital audio recording experience necessary to develop the technology any further.  At this time, Sony was also working on the development of the Compact Disc, but was having the opposite problem in that it had just over a decade of digital recording experience under its belt but not the physical understanding to make the CD possible.  So, at a meeting in Japan in 1979, Philips and Sony shocked the world and made a striking development in CD history by coming together to develop the Compact Disc in a joint effort.  The ceasefire was called on the developmental war and for a couple of years, the two companies worked together.  Philips was the primary designer of the disc itself; the pits and lands on the disc’s surface which are read by a laser, with no physical contact required.  On the other hand, Sony was responsible for the digital to analogue circuitry, especially the digital encoding an the error-correction code design.

In 1980, the pair brought out what is now referred to as the ‘Red Book’ format (because of the first publishment’s cover being red), which gave the standards for CDs, including specifications about recording, sampling and the size of the disc itself, which is still the same today.  At 120mm in diameter, the Compact Disc was a more portable, convenient size than the larger vinyl and could also hold more data than either vinyl or cassette tape.  The size, so legend has it, was decided on because Sony insisted that the Compact Disc must be able to hold all of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony without interruption.

However, once the CD had been developed, Sony and Philips began their race again, both rushing to be the first company to release a commercial CD audio-drive.  In the end, Sony beat Philips by just one month.  So it was that on October 1st, 1982, Sony brought out the CDP-101 Compact Disc Player, a landmark event in CD history.  It was released first in Japan, then Europe but, surprisingly, did not make it to the USA until early 1983.  This new CD player was soon followed up in 1984 by Sony making the first portable CD player, again beating Philips to making CD history.

The first CD to be pressed was The Visitors by ABBA and the first album to be produced was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street Album.  In fact, despite many music label’s initial concerns, CD’s took off very well, with over one thousand different single’s and albums being brought out in the first year alone.

Although Sony and Philips had raced again in terms of technology, the still collaborated on standard for some years to come and in 1983 released the ‘Yellow Book’ standard (that’s right, this cover was yellow!) which revealed the idea of the CD-R (Compact Disc-Recordable) which allowed, by modifying the de-coding electronics of the CD, for one to be able to store data on a disc which could be read by a computer.  This was  very exciting development in CD history and the implications for technology were astounding:  CD-‘s were more reliable than the previous floppy-disc technology and they could also store a lot more data for their size.  They were also faster.  However they weren’t developed to the standard of general public use until 1990.

After this, the next massive leapt forward came in 1995, when Sony pioneered a nine company investigation in standardising DVDs, a development which had been in the pipeline for a while.  DVDs (Digital Versatile Discs) were aimed not only at replacing the analogue form of video storage, video cassettes, but could also be used in place of CD-ROMs and CD-Rs to store data for computers.  Though to this day they are not wholly standardised (we still have both DVD-R and DVD+R on the market) the conglomerate Sony put together did ensure the accessibility of DVDs to all sectors of the public.

CDs have remained popular now for many years, being used as they were initially intended, replacing vinyls and cassette tapes, but also for many more things, for instance the storage of computer data.  The technological leaps which have come out of Compact Disc history are astounding, including the advent of DVD’s and digital video recording.  A simple disc had had such an impact on our technology, and it looks as if it isn’t done yet:  Blu-Ray discs have recently been brought onto the market, increasing the high definition standards of our films, and goodness knows what else in in the pipeline as an offshoot of the Compact Disc!

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