The story of the CD-i began in 1979, when Philips and Sony joint their force to design a new digital audio disc. The task force published in 1980 the Red Book, which details the standard for a Compact Disc Digital Audio (CDDA). In 1982, Sony released the first ever commercial CD Player with the Sony CDP-101. Both Sony and Philips recognized that their invention could hold more than just audio and, in 1984, started to work on an extension of the Red Book (CDDA standard) call the Green Book. The Green Book, which defines the Compact Disc-Interactive (CD-i) standard from both a standard and hardware perspective, was initially created with the intent of revolutionize the training industry, the point-of-sale industry and the home entertainment industry.
In March 1988, the CD-i player 100 was first demonstrated at the CD-ROM Conference. The system produced by Philips in collaboration with Kyocera served as a development kit with authoring software produced by OptImage that was also released at the same time. As commercial software were not yet available, these units were mostly used for development or to run custom program.
It’s on December 3, 1991, that the CD-i finally was the light of day. Released first in the United States under the name CDI 910 (which would be released elsewhere as the CDI 205), the CD-i was marketed as a home entertainment system. The plan was to position the CD-i as a home device that would be cheaper than a PC and that could basically have the same offering, with software, games and the ability to play musics and video. To achieve this, first rely on educational title as internet connection was not standard at the time and such content were not readily available. Philips made sure not to mention video game in their initial marketing strategy as the device had no chance if it was perceived solely as a game console.
But the competition was more ferocious than anticipated. Not only other companies started to produce similar devices such as the Tandy VIS, but as PC components were getting cheaper, it was really hard for Philips to market their device as a cheaper solution than a home computer as cheap home computers were flooding the market. To stay competitive, Philips had no choice to drop the price from $799 to $599 even if the CDI 910 haven’t been out for a full year. In mid 1992, Philips decided to switch gear and to push the gaming aspect of the CD-i with the announce of multiple full-motion video titles that would be ported to the CD-i.
In 1993, Philips made another push into the gaming industry by releasing peripherals that provided the system with more memory, MPEG full-motion video support, but most importantly new consoles with a second controller port for multiplayer games. But these additions turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as while these peripherals did help convinced the developer to port games to the CD-i, it created a situation were the most popular games now required these upgrade which added to the cost to the systems.
By 1994, Philips made yet another push to increase the reach of the CD-i in the consumer market by making the Green Book (CD-i standard) free. The standard, which defined the hardware specification to read CD-i disc, needed until that point a license from Philips to be used. By making the standard free, Philips basically permitted any other manufacturer to create their own CD-i compatible system without the need to pay any royalties to Philips.
Philips continued to support the CD-i for quite some time, publishing numbers of software for it until 1998. In the end, the CD-i was never able to dominate any of the market segments it competed in. It was subpart as a gaming console and too expensive as a multimedia player. While in the end, the CD-i was not a total failure, it was certainly not the success Philips was hoping for.
Around 200 titles were released for the systems over the years and including some noteworthy titles:
- The Joy of Sex – Published by Philips Interactive Media, is an interactive software based on the book with the same name. While not truly a game, it is the only software that was rated Adult Only by the ESRB on a gaming console. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas also got this rating, but not intentionally. San Andreas was originally granted a Mature ESRB rating, but an adult min game (dubbed Hot Coffee) that wasn’t removed from the code could still be accessed by modding the game. While this was not possible on PS2 and XBOX, the ESRB still demanded that all copies to be recalled or that any store owner that still wanted to sell this game as is, needed to apply an Adult ESRB sticker on the games. A second edition of the game was soon after release, removing the code, and regaining the Mature rating.
- The Nintendo’s – In 1989, Sony and Nintendo started working on a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo. Dubbed, the Play-Station, the add-on would have provided the ability to release larger games for the SNES. Under their agreement, Sony would develop and retain control over the Super Disc format, with Nintendo thus effectively ceding a large amount of control of software licensing to Sony. Nintendo didn’t like the term of the agreement, so they secretly negotiated with Philips a more favorable agreement. At the June 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, Sony announced its SNES-compatible console based on cartridge and CD, the Play-Station. The next day, Nintendo revealed its partnership with Philips at the show, which surprised the audience, including Sony. After the poor reception of the Sega Mega-CD, Nintendo scrapped the idea of making an add-on entirely. As part of dissolving the agreement with Philips, Nintendo gave them the license to use several of their IP for games on Philips’s console called the CD-i. While it is not unheard to have some Nintendo IP’s on non-Nintendo devices and/or publish by another published, most of the time, Nintendo retains a right to ensure the quality of the games. But not in this case. Under this agreement, Philips released four games made from the Nintendo’s IP. While the first one, Hotel Mario is not a bad game, the three other titles “Link: The Faces of Evil”, “Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon” and “Zelda’s Adventure” and notoriously bad featuring atrocious cut scene either badly drawn in the first two titles or poorly acted in the last one.
Dozens of CD-i console were created under many different brands. I will slowly add here the ones that are more obscure and/or interesting: