In 1990 Kodak and Philips joined forces on a method of storing still photographs on a recordable CD, with quality to match 35mm film. Philips saw the system as an extension of CD-i, the interactive CD system.
Kodak was responding to the threat of electronic cameras that use a recordable disc instead of ‘wet’ film. Photo CD was a hybrid system. Photographers would continue to shoot on 35mm film, but pay a photo lab to scan their pictures digitally and record the code on a write-once CD. They could then watch them on a TV screen.
Kodak said that Photo CD would replace the shoe box under the stairs in which snapshotters dump a muddle of negatives, prints and slides.
The company promised a £300 player that plugged into a TV. Photo CD was launched in September 1992 – with a handicap born of corporate pride. Philips’ CD-i players would play Photo CDs; Kodak’s Photo CD players cost almost as much but would not play CD-i discs.
Kodak had also overlooked something rather obvious. People want to carry pictures of their family in their purse or wallet (or now on a mobile), and show them round, not fire up a home CD player and TV set. Within a year Photo CD was dead as a consumer format. Picture players were flogged off as CD audio players for under £100.
Kodak then tried to interest the PC market, but most people had the wrong kind of CD-ROM drives and Kodak’s control software was very hard to get working. When the company re-launched Photo CD as a PC tool, few PC owners were let in on the secret. Kodak’s Customer Services Coordinator explained at the time: “There was no press announcement. It is up to dealers to promote it to customers”.
Kodak did consumers one very big favour with Photo CD; mass production of blank CDs for all types of home recording was driven down dramatically.