The Philips CD-i 220 console and controller
|Manufacturer||Philips, Sony, Magnavox|
|Type||Home video game console|
|Media||CD-i, Audio CD, CD+G, Karaoke CD, Video CD|
|CPU||Philips SCC68070 @ 15.5 MHz|
|Memory||1 MB RAM|
|Display||384×280 to 768×560|
|Sound||MCD 221, ADPCM eight channel sound|
|Predecessor||Philips Videopac + G7400|
The Philips CD-i (an abbreviation of Compact Disc Interactive) is an interactive multimedia CD player developed and marketed by Dutch company Philips, who supported it from December 1991 to late 1998. It was created to provide more functionality than an audio CD player or game console, but at a lower price than a personal computer with a CD-ROM drive. The cost savings were due to the lack of a floppy drive, keyboard, mouse, and monitor (a standard television is used), and less operating system software. "CD-i" also refers to the multimedia Compact Disc standard used by the CD-i console, also known as Green Book, which was co-developed by Philips and Sony.
In addition to games, educational and multimedia reference titles were produced, such as interactive encyclopedias and museum tours, which were popular before public Internet access was widespread. The CD-i was also one of the earliest game systems to implement Internet features, including subscriptions, web browsing, downloading, e-mail, and online play. This was facilitated by the use of an additional hardware modem and "CD-Online" disc (renamed Web-i in the US), which Philips initially released in Britain in 1995 for $150 US.
Development of the CD-i format began in 1984 and it was first publicly announced in 1986. The first Philips CD-i player, released in 1991 and initially priced around US$1,000, was capable of playing interactive CD-i discs, Audio CDs, CD+G (CD+Graphics), Karaoke CDs, Photo CDs and Video CDs (VCDs), though the latter required an optional "Digital Video Card" to provide MPEG-1 decoding. Philips also licensed the CD-i format to other manufacturers for use, and there were also CD-i players by Sony under the "Intelligent Discman" brand. Philips marketed the CD-i as a "home entertainment system" in Europe, but more as a games and educational machine in the U.S. The CD-i was abandoned by 1996 and was a commercial failure, estimated to have lost Philips as much as one US billion dollars in the American market.
Philips at first marketed CD-i as a family entertainment product, and avoided mentioning video games to not compete against game consoles. Early software releases focused heavily on educational, music, and self-improvement titles, with only a few games, many of them adaptations of board games such as Connect Four. However, the system was handily beaten in the market for multimedia devices by cheap low-end PCs, and the games were the best-selling software. By 1993 Philips encouraged MS-DOS and console developers to create games, introduced a $250 peripheral with more memory and support for full-motion video, and added to new consoles a second controller port for multiplayer games.
The attempts to develop a foothold in the games market were unsuccessful, as the system was designed strictly as a multimedia player and thus was under-powered compared to other gaming platforms on the market in most respects. Earlier CD-i games included entries in popular Nintendo franchises, although those games were not developed by Nintendo. Specifically, a Mario game (titled Hotel Mario), and three Legend of Zelda games were released: Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda's Adventure. Nintendo and Philips had established an agreement to co-develop a CD-ROM enhancement for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System due to licensing disagreements with Nintendo's previous partner Sony (an agreement that produced a prototype console called the SNES-CD). While Philips and Nintendo never released such a CD-ROM add-on, Philips was still contractually allowed to continue using Nintendo characters.
Applications were developed using authoring software produced by OptImage. This included OptImage's Balboa Runtime Libraries and MediaMogul. The second company that produced authoring software was Script Systems; they produced ABCD-I.
Philips also released several versions of popular TV game shows for the CD-i, including versions of Jeopardy! (hosted by Alex Trebek), Name That Tune (hosted by Bob Goen), and two versions of The Joker's Wild (one for adults hosted by Wink Martindale and one for kids hosted by Marc Summers). All CD-i games in North America (with the exception of Name That Tune) had Charlie O'Donnell as announcer. The Netherlands also released its version of Lingo on the CD-i in 1994.
In 1993, American musician Todd Rundgren created the first music-only fully interactive CD, No World Order, for the CD-i. This application allows the user to completely arrange the whole album in their own personal way with over 15,000 points of customization.
CD-i has a series of learning games ("edutainment") targeted at children from infancy to adolescence. Those intended for a younger audience included Busytown, The Berenstain Bears and various others which usually had vivid cartoon-like settings accompanied by music and logic puzzles.
Although extensively marketed by Philips, notably via infomercial, consumer interest in CD-i titles remained low. By 1994, sales of CD-i systems had begun to slow, and in 1998 the product line was dropped. Philips had by then already sold its gaming subsidiary, Philips Media BV, to French publisher Infogrames in 1997.
A large number of full motion video titles such as Dragon's Lair and Mad Dog McCree appeared on the system. One of these, Burn:Cycle, is considered one of the stronger CD-i titles and was later ported to PC. The February 1994 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly remarked that the CD-i's full motion video capabilities were its strongest point, and that nearly all of its best software required the MPEG upgrade card.
By mid-1996 the U.S. market for CD-i software had dried up and Philips had given up on releasing titles there, but continued to publish CD-i games in Europe, where the console still held some popularity. With the home market exhausted, Philips tried with some success to position the technology as a solution for kiosk applications and industrial multimedia.
In addition to consumer models, professional and development players were sold by Philips Interactive Media Systems and their VARs. Philips marketed several CD-i player models.
There also exist a number of hard-to-categorize models, such as the FW380i, an integrated mini-stereo and CD-i player; the 21TCDi30, a television with a built-in CD-i device; and the CD-i 180/181/182 modular system, the first CD-i system produced in collaboration with Kyocera in 1988, before the actual debut of CD-i.
In addition to Philips, several manufacturers produced CD-i players, including Philips subsidiary Magnavox,GoldStar / LG Electronics, Digital Video Systems, Memorex, Grundig, Saab Electric, Sony (Intelligent Discman, a hybrid home/portable CD-i player), Kyocera, NBS, Highscreen, and Bang & Olufsen, who produced a television with a built-in CD-i device (Beocenter AV5).
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Recognizing the growing need among marketers for networked multimedia, Philips partnered in 1992 with Amsterdam-based CDMATICS to develop TeleCD-i (also TeleCD). In this concept, the CD-i player is connected to a network such as PSTN or Internet, enabling data-communication and rich media presentation. Dutch grocery chain Albert Heijn and mail-order company Neckermann were early adopters and introduced award-winning TeleCD-i applications for their home-shopping and home-delivery services. CDMATICS also developed the special Philips TeleCD-i Assistant and a set of software tools to help the worldwide multimedia industry to develop and implement TeleCD-i. TeleCD-i is the world's first networked multimedia application at the time of its introduction. In 1996, Philips acquired source code rights from CDMATICS.
In 1995 Philips introduced CD-Online, a service which provided the CD-i with full internet access (with a 14.4k modem), including online shopping, email, and support for networked multiplayer gaming on select CD-i games. The service required a CD-i player with DV cartridge, and an "Internet Starter Kit" which initially retailed for £99.99. Andy Stout, a writer for the official CD-i magazine, explained CD-Online:
It is very much Internet-lite. The main advantages are that it's cheap - probably working out at a third of the cost of a PC or Mac solution - and incredibly user-friendly. The downside though is using a browser that doesn't support Netscape, and coping with all the drawbacks of the machine's minuscule memory - you can only ever access 10 articles on Usenet at a time, it'll only support 80 bookmarks maximum and for all that trouble all your saved games, preferences, and high scores will have been written over in RAM. ... It's got the full access right now but with only about 40% of the functionality, which will probably be fine for people who don't know what they're missing. But the virtual keyboard is a complete nightmare to use ...
The CD-Online service went live in the UK on October 25, 1995 and in March 1996 in the Netherlands (for 399 guilders). The system was reportedly scheduled to launch in the US as "Web-i" in August 1996.
Although Philips had aggressively promoted CD-i, by August 1993 Computer Gaming World reported that "skepticism persists about its long-term prospects" compared to other platforms like IBM PC compatibles, Apple Macintosh, and Sega Genesis. The magazine stated in January 1994 that despite Philips' new emphasis on games "CD-i is still not the answer for hardcore gamers", but the console "may yet surprise us all in the future". It recommended the CD-i with video cartridge for those needing to buy a new console as "The price is right and there is more software to support it", but 3DO was probably better for those who could wait a few months. An early 1995 review of the system in GamePro stated that "inconsistent game quality puts the CD-i at a disadvantage against other high-powered game producers." A late 1995 review in Next Generation criticized both Philips's approach to marketing the CD-i and the hardware itself ("The unit excels at practically nothing except FMV, and then only with the addition of a $200 digital video cartridge"). The magazine noted that while Philips had not yet officially discontinued the CD-i, it was dead for all intents and purposes, citing as evidence the fact that though Philips had a large booth at the 1995 Electronic Entertainment Expo, there was no CD-i hardware or software on display. Next Generation scored the console one out of five stars.
After its discontinuation, retrospectively, the CD-i was overwhelmingly panned by critics who blasted its graphics, games, and controls. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates admitted that initially he "was worried" about the CD-i due to Philips's heavy support for the device and its two-pronged attack on both the games console and PC markets, but that in retrospect "It was a device that kind of basically got caught in the middle. It was a terrible game machine, and it was a terrible PC." The CD-i's various controllers were ranked the fifth worst video game controller by IGN editor Craig Harris.PC World ranked it as fourth on their list of "The 10 Worst Video Game Systems of All Time". Gamepro.com listed it as number four on their list of The 10 Worst-Selling Consoles of All Time. In 2008, CNET listed the system on its list of the worst game console(s) ever. In 2007, GameTrailers ranked the Philips CD-i as the fourth worst console of all time in its Top 10 Worst Console lineup.
Games that were most heavily criticized include Hotel Mario, Link: The Faces of Evil, Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, and Zelda's Adventure. EGM's Seanbaby rated The Wand of Gamelon as one of the worst video games of all time. However, Burn:Cycle was positively received by critics, and has often been held up as the standout title for the CD-i.
CD-i started life as an ahead-of-its-time multimedia player, but ended up an under-powered game machine.