1988 - When the compact disc was introduced at the Dusseldorf Hi-Fi Exhibition in 1982 it came as an revelation. Digital recording on an optical medium was something really new. The developments since then have confirmed the most optimistic forecasts.

As a consequence, optical recording has become a technology with a very bright future. Today we talked to Dr. Piet Berkhout, Managing Director of Philips CD System AG, about the background and future developments.

Dr. Piet Berkhout (39) grew up in a small town in nothern Holland. Studied physics and mathematics at the University of Amsterdam. Graduated in 1972 with a diploma in physics. Five years of research sctivity and dissertation in the field of light scatter on solid hydrogen under high pressure. Joined the basic research team of Philips in 1977; activities in the field of digital signal processing with gradual transition (1983) to research and development on optical disc mastering. Since July 1986 Managing adirector of Studer and Philips CD Systems AG founded within the framework of the joint venture agreement.

D.r Berkhout, although your background is in basic physical research, you have entered the field of optical disc mastering which is a specialty on the fringes of the electronic scienses. Is this normal?

At Philips it is quite normal that people with different backgrounds are given assignments where they can bring new insights into certain areas, e.g. physucusts in electronics, electronics specialists in physics, or chemists in physics or vice versa. In my previous assignment I was the only physicist in a group of electronics engineers, and as such I had experience of experiments with lasers, their optical systems, and all associated components.

Two processes are particularly critical for CDs: optical scanning and electronic signal processing.

Yes, and during the recording process the mechanical components are also extremely important because the blank master disc carries no information whatsoever. The substrate is simply coated with a photosensitive film on which the bits are recorded as a spiral in itervals of only 1.6 um (1.6 microns). The accurate layout of sucs a spiral imposes extraordinary demands on mechanical systems. But also the precision of the optical system is very important.

Was the well-known ODM Group (Optical Disc Mastering) of Philips created for the purpose of developing the CD invention into an industrial process?

Yes, the ODM Group evolved from the department for professional recording technique of the ELA Group. It was staffed with people who already had experience with laser technology for video discs, then called VPL. The first master discs were produced by this group, while the first CDs were produced in the Blackburn plan in Enlgand. The ODM Group had built a system for Polygram and around 1983 the ODM Group decided that mastering sytems should be produced for sale to third parties.

That was so to speak first technical decision that paved the way for the worldwide breakthrough of the CD.

Yes, one of the most important pioneers was my former boss, Wim Verkaik, who was convinced that Philips should introduce these systems to the market.

As a consequence, Polygram became our first customer. Only later did Sonopress, who already had experience with Laservision, enter the market in Germany. Also 3M had purchased Laservision systems from us and was one of the first to enter the field of CD mastering. And we must be aware that the price of such a system was in the magnitude of 5 million Dutch Guilders. Subsequently the market was penetrated rapidly. Europe is well represented: In Switzerland it is ICM, In Germany there are several installations, in England it is EMI Disctek, etc. Although many competitors from the Far East have in the meantime entered the market, Philips, with a market share of 2/3 is still the leader, and has even delivered mastering systems to Japan.

An incredible success for a completely new technology. Did this success lead to plans on how to progress in the future, plans which ultimately lead in the direction of joint ventures?

As soon as ODM has received inquiries for CD mastering systems from third parties, the time had come to give some thought to the organization. A product group structure was established into which also the departments for marketing, purchasing, logistics, and production were integrated. The marketing department was managed by Mr. v.d. Spank, a former TV broadcast marketing manager who proposed right from the start not only to build mastering units but also to expand the professional area. After extensive discussions with NOS, BBC, and WDR the first professional CD player was developed and introduced as the System LHH2000. The ODM group grew from 70 employees in 1983 to over 200 by t the beginning of 1987. However, we should also mention here that during this time we were strongly dependent on outside suppliers. With the creation of a professional CD line it also became clear that development, production and marketing of these products would be different from those of the mastering systems.

Again it was Wim Verkaik who at the end of 1985 took the initiative to find a suitable partner. The existing contacts with Studer proved highly opportune since the already ha a successful professional marketing organization in the audio and broadcast sector. Discussions took place at the end of 1985 and the beginning of 1986, and these seemed to be a good chance for future cooperation. Philips was able to provide optical technology and experience with CD systems, while Studer had experience in the production of small series at the professional level and the desired marketing organization. These finding subsequently led to the joint venture.

In your explanations so far you have given us a glimpse of the basic structure of CD development. Our talk has brought us to the beginning of the joint venture before the foundation of a special company, Studer and Philips CD Systems AG. In those days much thought must have been given to future development.

Yes, an important factor was to obtain as broad a perspective as possible, i.e. to develop not only CD equipment but also related products such as subcode generators. But if you think about the broadcasting industry, public demand is not limited to professional audio players, because there has been considerable interest in the in-house recording of CDs.

Having clarified this, we can now discuss the present. The state of the art has developed to the point where at the beginning of 1988 Philips and Sony jointly proposed a new standard for write-once compact discs. Basically, all broadcast programs could be written on a storage medium and implemented with CD changers and process control systems.

The new company has now completed its first business year: The principal task was the development of a rang of CD equipment that reflects a system concept. At the beginning of the joint venture we had our LHH2000 and the Studer A725, for which a successor, the A727, was already under development and subsequently brought to maturity within the framework of the joint venture.

At the same time Philips had plans for a desktop model. The basic development for this audio player originated in Eindhoven while the design, precision engineering, and final system development took place in Regensdorf. This unit will also be produced by Willi Studer AG under the designation A730. Another product worth mentioning is the Philips PQ editor for generating cue information. PQ editing was originally the exclusive domain of the CD manufacturing plants. The PG editor LHH3050 allows this technique to be transferred to the studio and consequently the Studer customer, which means that this equipment fits well into the product range of the joint venture.

As we look into the future it is only natural that we compare the optical recording process with other systems that are now available on the market, e.g. DAT, disc storage, etc.

Optical disc recording is at first glance a normal technical evolution of the well-known compact disc. Not only in the audio sector but also in data processing the optical disc is very successful, i.e. a low-cost 600 megabyte storage device is now in sight. This application, the CD ROM, also has a standardized format for storing data. The developments have proceeded in the direction of write-once discs which offer interesting possibilities for professional applications.

A key advantage of the optical disc is fast access in data processing and audio applications, particularly when we compare it with tape-oriented systems such as R-DAT which still requires 7 to 8 seconds for searching a specific address. Another eminently important advantage of optical systems is that they do not make any contact with the storage medium during the read or write operation. this greatly influences the reliability, also of the disc stored in the library.

Today we expect optical recordings to be able to be stored longer than magnetic recordings, even though the magnetic recording technology has proven that tapes can still be played back after 40 years (with a certain loss of quality). From the optical recording technology we expect archival storage capabilities of 50 of 0 years without playback difficulties.

Does this also apply to write-once discs?

Yes, the same expectations hold true for the write-once disc which has undergone climatic tests. In addition, experience with optical discs goed backmas far as 15 years. Many experiments have been conducted during this time. The joint venture, of course, was set up because a medium existed that is compatible with the normal CD; with simple modifications write-once is suited for reproduction on normal CD players.

Certain basic components such as ICs, player mechanics, etc. were originally developed for the consumer market. Is this of any significance?

It is true that the basic specificationsof such professional systems have been determined by consumer standards. This means, for example,that the parameters: 16 bits and 44.1 kHz of the CD will in the long run not be ideal for professional systems. The quality of the original recording should be higher, because additional performance capacity is required for audio dubbing. It is reasonable to expect that as soon as write-once systems have proven themselves, e.g. in the data processing market, a similar technology will be developed without today's CD specifications, but with its own formats for purely professional applications, as was the case with DASH format.

That is looking far ahead. Let us dwell on it for a moment. Imagine that other developments in CD and competitive products are open too.

Compitition is what the future is all about. By this I do not simply mean today's competitors and their equipment. Additional competitors are technologies that come from other fields; the Winchester systems for example, or the read- only memories or RAMS which can be expected in the future.

With respect to professional applications we have talked about possible systems with greater resolution, e.g. 24 bits. But there are also developments in the opposite directions, with so-called reduction systems.

Yes, that is also an interesting aspect. Experience has shown that 16 bit provide a dynamic range of over 90dB and that the low distortion is more than adequate for playback at home. The fact is that for many applications, in the car, as background music, or the walk-man, a far smaller dynamic range is sufficient.

The CDI (CD Interactive) for example which has already been standardized for interactive applications - data, image, audio (with reduced quality) - provides storage capacities of up to 8 hours for music (mono) or 16 hours for speech. This opens the way to totally new applications, for example libraries for the blind, voice logging systems, etc.

At the moment we do look forward to this development with much enthusiasm, because all these deviations require new formats. This is not necessarily conductive to compatibility.

For the professional media the developments go surely in the opposite direction, i.e. greater resolution and greater linear storage capacities.

What we can expect is development in two fields. On the one hand it is highly probable that today's capacities of optical discs can be increased by a factor of 2 to 4, analogously to what has been happening with magnetic tape. On the other hand we have the development of signal processing ICs for more intelligent data processing. Currently we are recording PCM singals linearly, we can process and store them linearly and we still have the original available. However, we must not forget that a 16- or 20-bit PCM recording is nothing more than a copy of the original. If we could achieve the same with fewer bits per sample and more intelligent processing, the question would also be valid in the professional area: Do we have the optimal system with a 16-bit linear record?

The problem of storage density faces everyone concerned with development regardless which field they afe engaged in.

In 1979 we had a large main frame comouter in the research laboratory. This computer was equipped with 250 megabyte disk drives for storing audio data. This machine was amazing. The disk drive alone cost at that time 250.000 Gulden. Today you can get a Winchester drive together with its PC at a proce of 1000 to 2000 Gulden, and portable systems with up to 100 megabytes can be put on a desk! We know today that storage capacity is no longer a problem for most applications; almost everybody can afford a 100 megabyte disk, and yet actual application has become more important than ever. This is alos the case in the field of audio.

The fascinating aspect is the interaction of physics, electronics and software engineering.

Correct. If we look at the basic strategy of the Philips Group, we see that the principle activities are found in consumer electronics, telecommunication, data processing and components. This produces considerable synergy effects; the technilogies are the sme, e.g. every engineer needs the same type of digital processing chip and uses his own algorithms for it.

The joint venture should also produce some synergy effects.

Certainly. Since the complexity of today's systems is so great that it is no longer possible or prudent for a comoany to undetake the development on its own, synergies in many forms are desirable. In the age of cross-disciplinary technologies it is necessary to know not only your iwn market but also to know how a given technology could be used jn other fields. For example: the liaison between Philips and ATT is very strong. We have in the past been very successful jn supplying Saudi Arabia, niw it is Indonesia, etc. These are markets with which Philips has been familiar for many years, but not the Americans. They have their new technologies, we know the market. How do you combine this?

At Studer the situation is similar: they know thr market, but there are also questions concerning technologies, what should be used and what are the competitors up to. This is an important task for the joint venture even though it isn't an easy one.

In closing we would like to ask a personal question: what, Dr. Berkhout, was the decisive factor for accepting the position of Managing Director in this joint venture?

I already outlined my technical background at the beginning. I like physics and have always considered it as a basis for acieving something. I have conducted basic research. At Philips I have seen its application, taken interest in it, and always had the impression that I should employ my skills very pragmatically. This was the prerequisite for transferring to the ODM Group, where not only research is conducted but where contsct to the customer, to production and field service are important. It was a real challange. When I was approached within the ODM Group to actively enter into the joint venture, I found a field of activity that was very much to my liking. The wide range of responsibilities, also organizational wuestions within both comoanies, were of great interest to me.

Also the international cooperation?

Naturally; but toray this had become almost a matter of course. Since my activities with ODM I have had many international contacts in the USA concerning subcode and CD-Rom, later on CD video standardization with the Japanese. And now the intensive contacts in Switzerland, where we have established common goals within the joint venture. This is indeed an attractive task for me.