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The Compact Disk Revolution Essay

3829 words - 15 pages

The Compact Disk Revolution

The use of computers was challenged, until recently, by a simple yet seemingly insurmountable problem: the transmission of data between one fixed hard drive and another. Traditional methods, such as floppy and ZIP disks, have extremely limited capacity. These are appropriate only for smaller documents and files. They are also fragile and prone to data corruption, notably I/O (input-output) errors. These flaws make them inappropriate for the transfer of large--or important--files. Removable memory drives have the opposite problem--they, in a sense, are `overkill.' That is, they can hold massive amounts of data, but are large, expensive, and very fragile. Both disks and memory drives must be formatted to a specific computer manufacturer's specifications: a 3.5in floppy disk, formatted to IBM standards, is unreadable to an Apple machine. The development of the compact disc solved the problems of storage capacity and transferability of data (Downs 129) .

In 1969, Klass Compaan, a Dutch physicist, devised the idea of an optical storage device to replace dated methods in use at the time. He did not include any technical specifications, however; his idea was merely a theory. During the early 1970's, Compaan and Peter Kramer, both working for the Phillips division of Royal Phillips Electronics, Inc., teamed together to further the development of what would become the compact disc. In 1970, they produced a glass prototype of the disc itself. However, they determined a laser would be necessary to read the data on the surface. In 1974, they completed work on a working, color (opaque) prototype. At the Tokyo Audio Fair in 1977, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and Sony highlighted their own efforts in optical storage technology. With many companies pursuing similar goals, it became clear that standards were necessary to ensure data could be transferred between computers produced by different manufacturers.

In 1978, thirty-five software manufacturers, computer companies, and record companies attended the Digital Audio Disc Convention in Tokyo, Japan. Phillips officially proposed a permanent, worldwide standard be set for Compact Disc (CD) production. PolyGram, a division of Phillips, determined that polycarbonate was the best material for CDs. The convention also reached other decisions, including the arrangement of data (an outward spiral from the center) and the type of laser used for reading and writing. Disc diameter was originally set to a maximum of 115mm.

The following year saw more compromises between leading CD developers Sony and Phillips. The maximum diameter was expanded to 120mm, a standard that still exists today. Phillips accepted Sony's proposed 16-bit stereo audio standard, in exchange for Sony's commitment to abide by the protocols already adopted by the 1978 convention. A sampling rate (the speed at which bits are read) of 44.1 KHz (44,100 per second) was also agreed upon. By 1981, all manufacturers conformed...

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