CD-i was the Interactive CD system designed to bring order to chaos. The unholy mess of non-standards for interactive video inspired Philips, Sony and Panasonic – in 1986 – to set a tight standard for an interactive CD dubbed CDi.
CD-i would store computer data but ‘plug and play’ like a music disc. Later the backers adopted the MPEG digital compression standard as a way of storing moving video on a CD-i disc, as well as sound, text and still pictures.
But by the time the system was ready for launch in America in 1991, the Japanese had dropped out and Philips could only promise digital video as a future upgrade. And it was still a promise when CD-i launched in Europe, the next year.
Selling interactivity was very difficult. Philips then-President Jan Timmer compared it to “describing the smell of a rose to someone who has never smelled one”.
The launch discs were mainly worthy “edutainment” and “infotainment”. But customers wanted shoot-’em-up games, or movies.
“Fun is the name of the game,” promised Philips in 1993. But by then the PC industry was making CD-ROMs easier to use.
Philips never officially admitted that CD-i was dead, but in 1996 Dixons stores stopped stocking it and sold off £500 players for under £100 each. The Virgin Megastore also cleared out all of its CD-i discs.