It was August 17, 1982, and row upon row of palm-sized plates with a rainbow sheen began rolling off an assembly line near Hanover, Germany.
An engineering marvel at the time, today they are instantly recognizable as Compact Discs, a product that turned 25 years old on Friday — and whose future is increasingly in doubt in an age of iPods and digital downloads.
Those first CDs contained Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony and would sound equally sharp if played today, says Holland’s Royal Philips Electronics NV, which jointly developed the CD with Sony Corp. of Japan.
The recording industry thrived in the 1990s as music fans replaced their aging cassettes and vinyl LPs with compact discs, eventually making CDs the most popular album format.
The CD still accounts for the majority of the music industry’s recording revenues, but its sales have been in a freefall since peaking early this decade, in part due to the rise of online file-sharing, but also as consumers spend more of their leisure dollars on other entertainment purchases, such as DVDs and video games.