CDTV – CD but no TV

In the 1980s – while CD-ROM was crippled by the lack of a plug-and-play standard – Philips, Sony and Matsushita planned CD-interactive. A novice would be able to plug a CD-i player into a TV set and get interactive “edutainment”. But CD-i was late on the market and the Japanese partners lost interest.

Commodore, then very successful in the home computer market, created a rival system called CDTV by taking the guts of the Amiga computer and building them into a CD player. CDTV was like CD-i but incompatible. This did not matter, argued Commodore, because CDTV would hit the shops ahead of CD-i.

CDTV launched in 1991 and was widely advertised. “Honey, turn on the TV, I’m trying to think”, said the American ads.

Early software was buggy, and programs crashed. Shops selling the system did not understand the new concept of interactivity so did not demonstrate the system. At over £500 the price was too high to compete with video games.

The CDTV discs had to be loaded into a protective caddy, of the type used on early professional CD-ROM systems. Caddies cost around £5 a time, so the software companies could not afford to give them away with CDTV discs.

The CDTV player was promoted as also playing ordinary CDs, but owners had to load their music albums into CDTV caddies before playing them.

By the time Philips launched CD-i, a year or so later, CDTV was dead. And most new PCs by then came fitted with a CD-ROM drive.