R.I.P. Norio Ohga, the man who helped propel the music CD: a history of the technology

Categories: In Memoriam

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Former Sony Corporation president Norio Ohga, the man widely attributed for pushing Sony into a new generation that led to the standardization of the Compact Disc format, passed away on Saturday from multiple organ failure. He was 81. While Ohga left Sony in 2000 to focus on music -- namely conducting orchestras like the Boston Symphony and Metropolitan Opera -- his contributions to the technological landscape of the industry are still being felt today. In honor of his passing, we've taken a close look at the surprisingly long (and technically still going) history of the compact disc.

Though neither Ohga nor Sony invented the CD, Sony, at Ohga's urging, was the first company to release a music CD. Ohga's reasoning was simple: He wanted to release a format that could play continuously for 75 minutes, the length of his performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. His push to make Sony a producer of hardware and content helped lead the company to several major label acquisitions over the years.

1981: The first test CD, a recording of Richard Strauss's An Alpine Symphony, was pressed by Polydor.
1981: The first public demonstration of a CD debuted on Tomorrow's World; the CD was the Bee Gees' Living Eyes.
1982: PolyGram produced copies of (but did not release) ABBA's The Visitors.
1982: Sony beat everyone to the punch with the first commercial release: Billy Joel's 52nd Street.
1983: CD players and discs hit the U.S. market.
1984: The D-50, Sony's first Discman, is released in Japan for 49,800 yen (around $200 U.S. at the time). Sony sold it at a loss in order to drum up interest in CDs.
1985: David Bowie is the first artist to have his entire catalogue converted to the CD format, when RCA Records released his fifteen studio albums at once.
1985: Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms" is the first-ever CD single. Amazingly, the format is still technically alive, but in 2010, major retailers declared Gabriella Cilmi's "On a Mission" to be the last of the format they'd ever stock.
1985: Perhaps not by coincidence, Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms is the first album to sell a million copies on CD.
1988: The 3-inch CD single is introduced, but never fully catches on outside of Japan. Still, singles are released from Madonna, Michael Jackson, Kylie Minogue, Nine Inch Nails and many more.
1995: Rykodisc releases the first-ever enhanced CD, Sugar's Besides, which includes video, website links and other added content. Many others follow suit, but the poor video-compression technology used to include short documentaries and music videos on the disc aren't as impressive as one would hope for.
1998: CD-R drives are finally affordable, coming in at around $450. This meant people were finally able to copy and burn their own CDs, reviving the mixtape culture of the '80s. They would come in especially handy come 2000, when Napster debuted and gave rise to the MP3 culture.
1999: Super Audio CD is introduced for super-fidelity fans by Sony and Philips. Understandably, it never really catches on.
2004: The first wave of DualDiscs hit the market. These were the discs that had a CD on one side and a DVD on the other. Initial releases included Nine Inch Nails, Dokken, AC/DC and more. Although they certainly had a "wow" factor, the discs cost more than traditional CDs, which were already seeing a decrease in sales.
2007: The vinyl CD, a record/digital hybrid, is created by Optimal Media Production. The first release included the music of Jazzanova.

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