“Welcome to tomorrow”, said the label on a golden CD, inviting the press to “celebrate…the launch of a new phenomenon” at a swish Kensington night club in September 1987.
The phenomenon was CD Video, cooked up by Philips and Polygram, and not the same as Video CD. While VCD recorded sound and video on a 5in CD as digital code, CDV stored the sound digitally and the pictures as analogue waves like a laser video disc. And whereas a 12in Laser Disc stored an hour on each side, the 5in CDV could store only around 5 minutes of video. But it could also hold 20 minutes of digital stereo.
The idea was that a record company would record a pop video on a CDV, along with a sound-only version of the same music. An ordinary CD player ignored the analogue video and played the audio; a CDV player played the video. Confused? So were consumers. So CDVs were pressed from gold-coloured plastics to distinguish them from audio CDs. There was also a plan to sell 12in CDVs, like Laser Discs. A Combi player, costing £500, would play all types and sizes of disc.
Philips officially “launched” CDV in America at the Consumer Electronics Show in June 1987, and in September at the Berlin Funkausstellung exhibition and London nightclub. Guests saw high quality video pictures on a large projection screen. But the party pictures were coming from broadcast-quality Betacam tapes. CDV’s own pictures were poor because even enhanced servo control would not let a single turntable cope with all disc sizes and spin speeds.
Pioneer used two turntables and got better pictures, but judged the name Compact Disc Video confusing when applied to 12in discs. So Pioneer called them Laser Discs. Players and discs went on sale in 1988, but none of the other record companies backed Polygram’s lead, so CDV quickly disappeared. A few players re-surfaced, revamped as super-hi-fi CD players thanks to the enhanced servo.