Sound and vision of the future on the everlasting CD

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The Independent Online
It will be the one-stop shop of consumer electronics - a single machine that can play, record and erase both music and videos - and according to the manufacturer, Philips, it will be here by the end of the decade.

Life was simple when grandpa played music on his old 78s. He used a wind- up gramophone with a little tray of spare needles, producing a sound which, if not exactly hi-fi, was at least intelligible enough to dance to.

Since then recorded music has seen more and more sound systems, with the poor consumer buffeted by companies eagerly hoping their new system would be the next big thing.

In recent years you could have bought digital audio tape, or digital compact cassette, or a mini-disc player, all heralded as a perfect partner to your digital compact-disc player - which half of us are still saving up for. Is there no end to the number of black boxes of electronics?

Apparently there is. The product now on the horizon which will be a CD recorder for both videos and music was mentioned by Philips executives 10 days ago when they announced that they would launch a CD player that will record music on a CD that could be erased and used again just like a cassette tape.

This player is significant in itself: it firmly establishes the compact disc as the format for the future, with good-quality sound, portable, reasonably robust and now fully recordable.

Prices will start at pounds 500 and discs will cost about pounds 5 for something that can only be used once and about pounds 15 for one that is erasable. Philips hopes to have the machines in the shops by Christmas.

During a sneak preview of this machine, to prove that the technology works, Frans van Houten, Philips's general manager for CD recordable and digital videodisc, said the next step was already planned - and that a machine that could record and erase TV programmes just like a VCR, as well as being a CD recorder, should be in the shops before Christmas 1999.

The advantages of such a machine are numerous. For a start, it means fewer black boxes which have to be built to match each other in terms of size and, er, colour; and it will allow designers to make a piece of furniture based around this single machine with a built-in amplifier. There will literally be no constraints on the style of such systems, and we could see a return to the wooden boxed gramophone styling that grandpa loved.

Secondly, it will make storage of music, videos, games, recordings of baby's first words or the wedding video easy: they'll all be on a 5in disc.

High sound and pitch quality will only be constrained by the cost of electronic components and the machines will play existing audio and video CDs. Gone will be the days of deterioration as with videotape - the erasable discs will re-record at least 1,000 times without any noticeable loss in quality, Philips claims.

Nor is there any reason why such machines shouldn't allow you to access the Internet, with computer links via your TV computer and a wireless laptop keyboard allowing you to download files as is presently possible with recording CD-Rom drives on the PC.

In fact, one machine linked to your television screen could also replace all those taupe-coloured computer peripherals as well.

Interestingly, Philips hasn't discussed these intentions with the recorded- music or film industries, which are already concerned about copyright protection, especially with music and films via the Internet.

But Mr van Houten isn't too concerned - rewritable CDs have a 3 per cent tax levy which is paid to the music industry, as per the copyright agreement reached nearly 10 years ago with the industry, and you can't digitally make a copy of a copy - so wide-scale piracy is deterred.

In fact, nothing changes except for improved sound and picture quality and the fact that one box will be doing what many boxes are doing already. It heralds the true convergence of technology. Grandpa would surely approve.