>> Monday, June 11, 2007
Do you remember Philips was the first company to connect a videoconsole to the internet, giving you the ability to browse the Internet on your TV set? Philips investigated the possibility of Online features of the CD-i early in the lifespan of CD-i. The catalogues hinted at the arrival of the Tele CD-i Assistant, a device that was later changed into a fully functional modem. It was SPC Vision who drawed the first lines to connect CD-i to the internet, which you can read in this article. Lost Boys, The team who brought us The Lost Ride, later in 1996 released the first version of the CD-Online Web Browser. CD-Online was born in Europe.
It was SPC Vision who had the first experience with CD-i and the Internet. Although Lost Boys developed the consumer cd-i websurfing tools, it was SPC who prototyped the idea. Their first version did not support graphics but half of the Philips Media crew were eagerly using the demo disc on the SPC modem-account. However, when it had to be developed for the commercial market, Lost Boys was again signed to develop it. Another dead end for the mighty SPC crew! A decision made by the all mighty Philips, who already had close contacts with Lost Boys and granted them the project to release a set of CD-Online discs to the market.
This disc contains a simple text-only WWW browser that connects to the Internet using SLIP over a serial line connected to a modem. Although the disc was set up to use NLnet, there is nothing NLnet-specific on the disc except some configuration information. The CD-i Internet Demonstration disc can still be used today, as shown by the photographs (see the Links below for more information). Instead of a modem, a direct connection to a PC running RedHat Linux was used. The disc supports the CD-i KeyControl keyboard although it didn’t even exist at the time! The demo disc was originally intended to be used with a professional CD-i keyboard, but those were extremely rare even in those days.
The Tele CD-i Assistant has also a little more history. 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 (PSTN, Internet or other) enabling data-communication and rich media presentation. Dutch grocery chain Albert Heijn and mail-order giant Neckermann Shopping 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 helping the worldwide multimedia industry to develop and implement TeleCD-i. TeleCD-i was the world's first networked multimedia application at the time of its introduction. In 1996, Philips acquired source code rights from CDMATICS. Unfortunately, The Tele CD-i Assistant was never fully released to the market, but overruled by the Internet Kit, developed by Philips and Lost Boys.
While Philips introduced the CD-Online service in Europe; The United States got their own version of the Online software: Web-i was born. In general, the service was the same but the software was different, and while CD-i was long dead even before Philips launched the Internet tools, it remains unknown in what form and for how long Web-i continued service for the consumer market. The review offered by CD-i Collective is based on the Web-i system, if you want to get an idea.
Announced August 1995, the first release of the CD-Online browser was released in February 1996. The CD-i Keyboard, going strong with the name "KeyControl" wasn't available yet so navigating was a little clumsy. CD-Online started in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands followed in May 1996. You needed a Digital Video Cartridge to use the extra memory which was highly needed for browsing online. To get things rolling, Philips and Lost Boys filled the CD-Online disc full with demos, videos and screens so you didn't have to download them, but a link on the website gave acces to this content. A sneaky way to pretend CD-i internet was a fast downloading service! Let alone this fact, it was just very smart to do it this way.
How did it work? The Internet Kit was a big box holding the modem in the first place, which was clocked at 14.4 kbps. Mind you, even in 1996 this was slow, and 28.8 was the standard and even 56.6 was available. Still, Philips chose to go for a standard speed of 14.4 kbps. Maybe this was limited by the hardware limitations of the CD-i, but anyway this was a real let down for the CD-i Internet feature. The modem had to be connected via the connector port on the back, the so called "I/O serial port". If you owned a 4xx player, like the 450 or the 470, there is no seperate second controller port available and you needed the additionally available port splitter to connect the CD-i modem to the CD-i player.
Philips introduced CD-Online to the public by means of Dave, a character featuring in videos on the CD-Online disc and the name of the webmaster of CD-Online. In this way, Philips used Dave to let people know new links, new websites and new updates about CD-Online. Every owner of a CD-i player in 1996 got a free demo CD featuring Dave explaining the benefits of browsing the internet without leaving your chair. The CD-Online website offered a special Dave's Place with contests, questions, tips, etcetera.
One year later, Lost Boys presented the second CD-Online disc, featuring again a lot of new content like videos and offline articles. Also, the disc hosted the first online CD-i game RAM RAID, something you've read about a couple of weeks ago at Interactive Dreams. Apparently, Philips planned to bring more online versions of games on CD-i, but they decided to drop the format before anything of this materialized.
CD-Online was meant to survive CD-i. That's a remarkable claim but actually made by Philips when they realized CD-i wasn't the big future they hoped for. Philips continued to develop seperate settop boxes for TV's offering the CD-Online service without an actual CD-i player. Unfortunately, CEO Boonstra decided to cut off all media activities, and everything related to it was shut down or sold.
Practically, Internet via CD-i was a slow service, and comparable how you can browse the Internet using the Nintendo DS. Innovative, but again, it was far ahead of its time. Recently we had an interesting discussion if and how we could get the CD-i back online. Later iterations like the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 are offering the same kind of service and succeeding pretty well. Thank you, Philips.