Introducing the CD-I (Compact Disc Interactive), The First Online Video Game Console!

(A model this writer owns, the CD-i 615, this model comes with a CD-i player and a floppy insert, with integrated Digital Video not needing a card.)

Launched in 1990 (1991 nationwide), The CD-i is a interactive system(s) that is highly underrated in its importance for being not only one of the first to have massive support for optical disc media, as well as the platform leading to  the creation of Video CD and more importantly, DVD, but also the first attempt at an inclusive entertainment ecosystem, and significant online capability for the home. Below we will discuss the history and the importance of Phillips’ creation, it’s features such as online gaming etc. An underrated system that had its history distorted for entertainment due to lack of knowledge.

HISTORY


The CD-i stands for “Compact Disk Interactive” in development during the late 80’s, this was when the main entertainment medium for optical storage was Laserdisc, and the alternative for non-optical storage being the growing VCR compatibles, other competition to each struggling to gain a foothold such as Betamax. Phillips though up the idea of creating a new format called Green Book, the Green Book format would be a combination of things, high quality digital video, Advanced sound, interactivity, imagining and Storage capabilities all into one. This idea at the time was an incredible feat as the growing CD, or Compact Disk, market at the time was limited in features, and VHS and Laserdisc were mostly strict video formats.

The CD-I slogan was “Television with a mind of it’s own” and the pre-launch ads features photos or commercials showing that the players and the disc format were able to play image CD’s, video CD’s, Music CD’s, and interactive media.

-LAUNCH-

The CD-i had gained a lot of attention from consumers and businesses a like. With models planned for the future in different price ranges, as well as portable players and TV’s with CD-i players built in. The CD-i would be a two part platform, the CD-i Disc, which was the name for the green book format. Then there was the CD-i players, some of which were manufactured by third party companies and not just Phillips. All having their own features outside the core, which was that all CD-I players must be able to read the format. The CD-i players were the precursor to the DVD players that would come later even in their looks, and an attempt to unseat Laserdisc (popular in parts of Europe and Asia and VHS (General popularity in many areas especially in North America).

Numerous partners had signed up to develop players or software for CD-I Platforms. From the top electronic manufacturers, too movie companies and so on. The CD-i was features in commercials and newspapers and was expected to be a big hit.

-SONY-

Most people don’t know that the CD-i player was technically Sony’s first video game system. It’s development before launch and reception after had gotten Sony interested in optical interactive media, which would be one of the factors pushing Sony to enter the video game industry with Nintendo and later themselves. The player was called the Intelligent Discman, and was avaialble around launch featuring portability and a cable for TV play offering a hybrid stance.

Other companies who made players included Kyocera, Memorex(whom would later attempt themselves to create an entertainment ecosystem), Grundig, DVS, and others.

-Digital Video Cartridge-

One of the latter additions to compete with the Video and Computer market was to enable CD-I players of various models to be up-gradable (some did not have that ability however) from adding floppy drives, to keyboard and mouse, and the ability to play other formats like Video CD’s later on (White book format) but one of the biggest was the Digital Video Cartridge (DVC) this allowed for clean 384×288 Mpeg video, the ability to (when launched) play Video CD’s, and adding an additional 1MB of ram to the CD-i console. Although certain games, interactive media, Photo CD’s, and CD–i movies didn’t require the DVC, it became a standard to show off the better video capabilities of the CD-i over the competition. The DVD would play Video CD’s better than it’s players at the time of it’s launch years, and could make a game run more smoothly, look better, or have enhanced audio due to the additional capabilities added by the cartridge along with the 1 MB of ram. Certain models came with DVC equal docks or had them built in. Phillips and their partners would later require the DVC for certain games or movies to gain inevitable favorable comparisons to other media.

-NINTENDO-

While the CD-i was trying to gain a platform to stand on, a couple years later, Sony introduced a stand alone CD console for Nintendo called the Play Station, notice the space. This was developed to replace the original agreed upon Add-on for the SNES console. Due to issues that had both sides blaming each other, including fans of both companies years and years later, the deal was blocked. Nintendo actually went to Phillips to continue the deal. While it was speculated in articles at the time, the talk between Phillips and Nintendo may have led to Sony basically vanishing from supporting Phillips on any part of the CD-I platform or other projects until they teamed up for the DVD format later.

Nintendo decided due to the piracy of Optical media, the expense of making the SNES CD-i compatible, and the average reception of Sega’s CD attachment, had Nintendo hold off on the deal, eventually ditching it entirely. Instead Nintendo decided to license some of its franchise to Phillips leading to the games Hotel Mario, Link the Faces of Evil, Wand of Gamelon, and Zeldas Adventure, as well as an uncompleted platformer, Super Mario Wacky Worlds. However revisionism has made these games seem like it was the CD-i’s spotlight, however these games were no where near the platforms best selling games and got little marketing, as Phillips ended up with relative hits on their own.

SOFTWARE


The CD-i had Photo CD’s, Movies, Games, Music and interactive media. From Frank Sinatra and sing a long fun for music, to Top Gun and Waynes World for movies. Phillips had a lot of partners and had released a ton of familiar content including movies such as Jaws which features superior video quality especially with the DVC.

Games were another medium that the CD-i used to gain more mainstream appeal, here are some of the popular games with positive media and player reception:

 

ONLINE GAMING AND FEATURES


The Dreamcast is wrongfully regarded as the first system to push significant online features for video game home systems. Infact, The Philips eb called CDOnline (Web-i in Europe) is actually more of an ecosystem similar to the later Microsofts Xbox Live for the companies Xbox consoles, in fact one of the discs to give online features was license by microsoft.

The CDOnline allowed you to connect keyboard and mouse for applications, features, a web browser, secure Email, and Gold memberships allowing demos, special offers, videos, and other goodies for members. It’s connection was better or on par with a lot of services at the average price ranges at around 45-50k, but slower than the mid to premium packages if you got the updated version, the entry level version that was more widespread and also sometimes came bundled saw speeds of 16k. Philips ran the servers mostly themselves, and the integration was far ahead of its time.

It even had online gaming with two games but only one was really pushed and that was Ram Raid a first-person shooter that had worldwide play if your connection plan allowed it. Below is a commercial describing some of the things CDOnline could do

CONCLUSION


(A good friend used to own a CD-I/TV built-in system. it had integrated DVC as well and ran games fast and smooth)

The CD-i is important, not only for the games industry with it being involved with companies that would later become huge in the industry as well as the future DVD disc format, but also for media in general, it was ahead of it’s time influenced many and started the careers of many companies either as a whole or in a particular industry. it led to the creation of Video CD’s (a cut down more enry level video only version of the CD-i) influenced advancement of CD technology (CD-R etc.) and laid down the foundations for DVD. It had some great games, music, had some hit movies, and allowed you to have a photo album. It gave us almost PC like functionality through it’s accessories, gave the biggest push for living room online until the Xbox in 2001,  and was used by businesses and consumers a like.

The CD-i players sold 1 million and sold millions of dollars in software, but although it was not the take off Phillips wanted, it was not a loss that was pointless, the CD-i is a very important format and the players were very important to setting the standard for hardware families sharing the same core design but containing different features from portability, online features, video and music customization, and more depending on which model or which company you chose to buy your CD-i player from.

I have not used it recently but CDonline worked for me as late as 2011 the last time I set it up. Fans had set up online play for Ram Raid and homebrew projects. While it wasn’t the big success that Philips, and many other companies thought, it left a legacy of importance. it did have its share of issues, but it laid the ground work for future technology and innovations.


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