CD-i FAQ 2000 Edition
Section 4. CD-i players
4.1 Which companies sold CD-i players?
The CD-i standard was set up in the late 80s by Philips and Sony, the same companies behind the CD-Audio and CD-ROM spec. The idea was to establish a worldwide standard that could be lincensed by other manufacturers in a similar way as previous CD-standards. In the early development-stage, changes looked very promising for CD-i: almost all big consumer electronics companies announced plans to manufacture players, or showed prototype models. Among those companies were Pioneer and Matsushita (Panasonic), but the players that they showed were never actually taken in production. Sony sold some portable CD-i players for a very short period of time in 1991. But in the end, Philips became the major backer of the CD-i system, supporting the system with software titles, authoring tools and some 20 or so models of CD-i players, which were produced until June of 1999. By then, CD-i was already dissapeared from the consumer market for some years, but it was extensively used by a wide variety of companies in the professional field. Refer to CD-i applications for more information. Over the years, several companies joined Philips in producing players, or selling modified OEM-versions of existing players, such a LG Electronics, Kyocera, Bang & Olufsen, Grundig, Digital Video Systems, NBS and Memorex.
4.2 What CD-i players are available?
Philips alone produced some 20 models of CD-i players, including consumer models to fit in a regular stereo system, mini CD-i players, portable CD-i players with and without a screen, stereo systems with an integrated CD-i player, TVs with an integrated CD-i player, professional CD-i players and special authoring CD-i players. A complete list of all CD-i players ever made, including their subtle differences, is available at the Complete CD-i players overview at this site.
4.3 What is the difference between a consumer and a professional CD-i player?
Philips sold various professional CD-i players next to the standard consumer models. Both types of players comply fully to the CD-i standard as defined in the Green Book and were based on the same CPU and audio and video ICs, but the professional players usually offered some extra features. There were professional players with an integrated floppy disk drive, with a parallel port to connect a printer or ZIP-drive, with SCSI-ports, with ethernet network connections or with up to 5 MB of extra RAM. Some players had a feature that enabled the users to customize the startup screen of the player shell. Several professional players were especially made for CD-i development studios, since they included input ports to connect an emulator (see CD-i authoring) to simulate the playback of a CD-i disc from an external harddisk for testing purposes. Refer to the Complete CD-i players overview at this site for more information about the differences between the various players.
4.4 Does system performance differ between the various players?
No. Although there are various models of CD-i players, every CD-i disc will perform exactly the same in terms of system speed or audio and video quality on every CD-i system. The Green Book extensively specifies how and at what speed the audio and video data should be read from the disc and parsed trough the appropriate decoding ICs. Even if a faster CPU is used in a CD-i player (which is allowed by the Green Book, but so far never actually implemented in any CD-i player), system performance will only rise slightly because the realtime retreival of audio and video from a disc is not influenced by the processor. The seektime of the laser-unit in the CD player may, according to the Green Book, not be more that 3 seconds for a full stroke. It is possible for a CD-i player manufacturer to implement a CD drive with a faster seek time, but apart from getting faster to the desired data, also in this case the performance will not actually differ. Some CD-i players however are known to load the CD-i application faster than others (at startup of a particular CD-i disc), due to the internal system functions that need to be performed on a CD-i player with more integrated functionality, but this is also just a matter of seconds.
4.5 What are the differences between the various player shells?
The player shell is the startup application of every CD-i player that is displayed when the player is switched on. The player shell allows for the start of a CD-i application, for CD-Audio controls when a CD-Audio disc is loaded, for checking or deleting stored items in NV-RAM and for selecting general player settings.
In essence, there were 3 different versions of the player shell for Philips CD-i players. The first version was only used in the CDI 180 system, and offered only the basic functionality. The second version was especially developped for the first professional stand-alone CD-i players in 1990, the CDI 601 and CDI 602. This player shell was also used in a slightly adapted version in the first batch of consumer CD-i players like the CDI 910, CDI 205, the portables CDI 310, CDI 350 and CDI 360 and the first versions of the CDI 210 and CDI 220. The third version was made more attractive for consumer usage and included more colors, an introduction animation of the CD-i logo, button highlighting and a more intuitive interface. This player shell was used in all succesive consumer and professional CD-i players in one way or the other.
Philips continued to improved the player shell. That's why similar-looking player shells might contain subtile differences when compared from player to player. In the second generation player shell, the CD-Audio screen layout was often changed, as new on-screen controls like searching were added. The third version appeared in a version without background images and with subtile images in the background, like a small dragon, a movie camera and a moon. The version of the third generation player shell that is used can be found under the Copyright option in the General Settings screen.
4.6 What does the /00, /20, etc. after the type-indication mean?
Philips uses its version indication method for two reasons: to indicate the region for which a specific product is intented, and to indicate a revision change. The version is indicated behind a slash after the initial type number, eg. CDI 670/00. It is printed on the type number indication at the back or bottom of a device. You can never tell which version a device is by looking at the type numer which is printed on the front, since these do not include the version number. The numbers below 20 indicate the region for which a device was adapted. Mostly, changes consist of a different voltage or TV broadcast system, but they might include more regional changes. The most important regions used are /00 for Europe mainland, /05 for the UK, /11 for Japan and /17 for the US.
Numbers above 19 indicate versions. Usually 20 is added for each follow-up version, eg. /20, /40 and /60. Differences may for example consist of the usage of a different PCB, usually there are no big changes that are important to the customer. The region code number is added to the version number, resulting in a unique number that describes the region code and the revision change. For example /37 means a /20 version adapted for the American market (bacause the US indication 17 was added).
4.7 What do I need a Digital Video cartridge for?
Every Base Case CD-i player is capable of displaying high quality still images, cartoon style animations and partial screen moving video. However, when consumer CD-i players were introduced in late 1991, it became clear that the techniques to encode full screen, full motion video within the bandwith of a CD became available soon. Philips therefore equiped all CD-i players with an extension socket in which a Digital Video cartridge could be placed. When such a cartridge is installed, CD-i discs that are especially made for this extension and which include full motion video can be played back. To achieve this, the cartridge is equiped with MPEG audio and video decoding ICs, and an additional 1.5 MB of system RAM. This extra memory may also be used to improve the perfomance of certain titles, for example by using it to store images that do not need to be reloaded from the disc each time.
Although the Digital Video cartridge is in essence not a part of the Base Case CD-i specification, it is the most important extension for the CD-i system that was ever introduced. The full motion video extension is extensively specified as an optional extension from the March 1993 version onwards of the Green Book. Roughly 75% of all CD-i titles require the cartridge to be installed. Please note that a title should be made specifically for the Digital Video cartridge to use its features, standard Base Case CD-i titles do not look any different, nor will the quality of audio and video be improved, when a cartridge is installed in the player.
4.7.1 Is there a difference between the various Digital Video cartridges?
There were two models of the Digital Video cartridge available: the larger 22ER9141, and the slightly smaller 22ER9956. The first model was used in the first batch of players (CDI 910, CDI 205, first versions of CDI 210, first versions of CDI 220 and the portable players CDI 310, CDI 350 and CDI 360), the second one is used in all other players. The new cartridge was introduced in late 1994, to allow for a smaller design of a CD-i player (the CDI 450). By then it was possible to reduce the size of the cartridge because of large scale integration of the various components. In technical terms there is a small difference: the 22ER9141 delivers its video signal in an analogue way into the player, the 22ER9956 produces a digital signal that is parsed to the players internal DACs. In terms of performance there is absolutely no difference, all CD-i Digital Video titles look exaclty the same with both cartridges.
Due to problems with of decoding MPEG video that was not 100% according to the specifications using the first batch of 22ER9141 cartridges (errors in decoding, displaying of green "ghost sprites" on screen), a second version with a different decoding IC which was more tolerant was introduced slighly after. This new cartridge had /20 added to the type number indication, see Overview of Digital Video cartridges on this site for more information about all available cartridges and compatibility issues. To check which cartridge should be used in a particular player, please refer to the Comparison table of all Philips CD-i players on this site.
4.7.2 Is the extra RAM used by non-DV titles?
Every Digital Video incorporates an additional 1.5 MB of RAM. This memory consists of 1 MB of standard RAM, and 512 KB of decoding RAM for buffering data when decoding MPEG audio and video. All of this memory can be used by a CD-i application to improve performace. For example, a title can store data in RAM that does not to be reloaded from the disc each time. But since a Base Case CD-i title must work on every CD-i player, even if no Digital Video cartridge is available, the software must not depend on this extra RAM.
The best example of the usage of this extra RAM is the Photo-CD on CD-i application. When you select the thumbnail overview of a Photo-CD disc, all of the thumbnails that are generated from the pictures on the disc are stored in RAM. The more RAM that is available, the more thumbnails that can be stored without reading the pictures from the disc again. So, Photo-CDs benefit in this way from the Digital Video cartrigde. Besides this, I know of only one "Base Case" CD-i title (the game Christmas Crisis) that uses the extra RAM to load soundmaps (audio effects). These sounds can not be heared when no Digital Video cartridge is installed.
4.8 How much NV-RAM storage space does a CD-i player have?
According to the Green Book, every CD-i player should at least provide some way to store at least 8 KB of data. In most players, this storage space is implemented as battery-powered NV-RAM (Non-volatile Random Access Memory). The data is kept in this memory when the player is turned of or unplugged from the mains. NV-RAM can be used by an application to store high scores from games, personal presets, Favourite Track selections for Audio-CDs, Favourite Picture Selections for Photo-CDs, prefered language settings, etc. NV-RAM is also used by the system to store the CSD (see What is the CSD?)
Although 8 KB is the minimum storage space, some CD-i players have 4 times that capacity, resulting is 32 KB. Refer to the Comparison table of all Philips CD-i players on this site to see how much NV-RAM space a particular player has. Files are stored using standard OS-9 filenames of up to 28 characters in lenght with upper and lower case letters. When player memory is full, the application may provide a way to erase certain items. Maintenace of items in NV-RAM can always be taken care of by selecting Memory or Storage from the player's startup shell.
4.8.1 I cannot delete items from my CD-i player's memory, why?
You are probably suffering from the CD-i broken NV-RAM issue. Please refer to the article in the CD-i Articles section on this site for more information on how to solve this problem.
4.9 What pointing devices can be connected to a CD-i player?
The Green Book defines that every CD-i system should be able to control the cursor on screen using an X/Y control device, including two action buttons. It is not specified in what way this should be taken care of, or how pointing device should be connected or interfaced to a player. However, Philips defined a connector type and interface format for pointing devices that is used on all Philips CD-i players, even the ones with a bundled Infra Red remote control (except the early CDI 180), and most CD-i players from other manufacturers (LG, Grundig, Memorex, DVS, etc.). This connection type is not part of the Green Book, but just a recommendation from Philips. Note that the Infra Red remote control does not use this pointing device connector or interface, it is completely player dependend (see What is the difference between RC5 and RC6?)
All kinds of pointing devices were available. Among them were mice, trackerballs, kids Roller Controllers, game pads, touch pads, touchscreens, wired joypads and even a game laser gun. For a complete overview of all available pointing devices inlcuding a picture, please refer to Philips CD-i Pointing Devices on this site.
4.9.1 How many ports for pointing devices does a player have?
All Philips CD-i players provide at least one input port for pointing devices. Some players have an RS-232 port at the back that can also be used to connect a pointing device (CDI 910, CDI 205, early versions of CDI 210, early versions of CDI 220, among others). A few players provide two ports for input devices alongside this RS-232 port (CDI 740, CDI 615, CDI 660, CDI 670). All other players have either only one input port, or one input port and an RS-232 connector that can not be used for pointing devices. In this case, a port splitter should be used to connect two pointing devices to use for example in multi-player games (except the portable players CDI 310, CDI 350 and CDI 360). To make things even more complicated: this port splitter can not be used on players that already have to input ports for pointing devices. Refer to the colum I/O in the Comparison table of all Philips CD-i players on this site to see how pointing devices can be connected to a particular player.
4.9.2 What's the difference between RC5 and RC6?
Most Philips CD-i playes (except the CDI 450, CDI 550 and the CD-i/Hifi combination FW380i) provided an IR receiver for the usage of a wireless controller to point the on screen cursor and select options. The first batch of players used the Enhanced RC5 system and were bundled with the Thumbstick, a remote control with a small thumb-controlled joystick on it. Later models used RC6 and were bundled with the CD-i Commander, a stylish remote that allowed for pressure differences to speed up or slow down the movement of the cursor. A few players accepted both RC-formats. Refer to the Comparison table of all Philips CD-i players to see which remote can be used. Please note that both Enhanced RC5 and RC6 are Philips-specific developments, they are not part of the Green Book.
4.10 Can a keyboard be connected to a CD-i player?
Yes. Philips sold a keyboard for CD-i players called CD-i KeyControl. The keyboard could be used to enter Favourite Track Selection names for CD-Audio discs in the player's startup shell, for entering text in CD-i Internet applications and for searching in the Dutch encyclopedia and the Dutch medical encyclopedia titles. I know of no other titles that supported the CD-i KeyControl. CD-i developers please note: the CD-i KeyControl is not a terminal-style RS-232 keyboard, it cannot be used for text input using for example MediaMogul!
4.11 Can a CD-i player be used for accessing the Internet?
Yes. A CD-i Internet connection kit was sold by Philips in the UK, The Netherlands and Belgium as CD-Online, and in the US as Web-i. It consisted of a 14.4 Kbps modem with appropriate connection cables, a CD-i disc and the subscription data for the service which was provided by selected partners. The package allowed users to view web pages, browse trough newsgroups and send and receive e-mails. On the CD-i discs were all required software, several video clips that could be triggered from the CD-Online or Web-i homepages and some images from the most popular web sites. In that way, the CD-i disc functioned as a cache for this information. But due to the relatively slow CPU used in a CD-i player (an 68000 equivalent at 15 MHz), the decoding of simple JPEG and GIF images took a very long time and when done they looked rather jerky on the TV screen. Therefore, the CD-i Internet kit did not became popular among CD-i users. It was impossible to speed up the decoding process due to CD-i internal bottlenecks, nor was it possible to include a faster modem because it had to work with all excisting players, of which the first models were equiped with a UART that could not handle speeds above 14.4 Kbps. All in all, the CD-i Internet connection kit was a fun but not very usefull addition to the already extensive list of possible usage opportunities of a CD-i player.
4.11.1 What was Tele-CD-i?
Tele-CD-i had nothing to do with the CD-i Internet connection kit. Tele-CD-i was aimed solely at professional applications where the producer needed to access external data through a network connection. For this, the Tele-CD-i assistant, a 2400 bps modem, was introduced. Tele-CD-i could for example be used to send statistical information about the usage of a CD-i information kiosk to the head offices, or to gather the latest price information from a central location. One of the companies that used Tele-CD-i was Bose in its kiosk application about its Dolby Surround products. The kiosk in a store could be controlled from a central location using the network connection. Tele-CD-i was never sold as a consumer accesory.
4.12 Can a CD-i player read CD-Recordable (CD-R) or CD-ReWritable (CD-RW) discs?
Unlike some DVD-Video players, every CD-i player can read CD-Recordable discs with compatible content (eg. CD-Audio, CD-i, Video-CD, Photo-CD, etc.). The player makes no difference between regular pressed discs and CD-Recordable discs, there is no need for any adaptation like on the PlayStation. Because CD-ReWritable was not yet available at the time most CD-i players were introduced, they cannot read CD-RW discs. However, we found that the CD-i players based on the CDM-9 optical drive unit (CDI 910, CDI 205, early versions of CDI 210, early versions of CDI 220) were able to read CD-RW discs of good quality (we tested Philips-branded discs to be succesfull, but other cheaper discs which failed). Please note that there is no quarantee on this, just try some brands of discs if you want for some reason to play CD-RW discs on a CD-i player.
4.13 Can a CD-i player read multi-session CDs?
Yes, most players can. Multi-session was defined in the Orange Book part II for CD-Recordable when Philips and Kodak were working on the Photo-CD specification to allow for the addition of new pictures at a later time. Since Photo-CD was introduced as a subset of CD-i, multisession became a standard feature of all consumer CD-i players. Only some early professional CD-i players that were introduced before the Orange Book/Photo-CD spec was finalized (CDI 180, CDI 601, CDI 602 and CDI 605/00) were unable to read multi-session discs, those players only access and play the first session. Because of this multi-session capability, some CD-ROM discs with Audio-content (the so called CD-Plus or CD-Extra discs) can not play audio on a CD-i player. The CD-ROM part is contained in the second session which is ignored by a regular CD-Audio player, but not by a CD-i player. Since the TOC in the second session does not refer back to the CD-Audio tracks, a CD-i player is unable to play them. Multi-session capability is not part of the Green Book, but is implemented by all manufacturers of consumer CD-i players.
4.14 How can a CD-i player be connected to a TV or stereo system?
It is completely up to the manufacturer of a CD-i player how the player can be connected to a TV set. There are several connection methods available, such as (ranging from bad to good) RF (antenna), CVBS (composite video), Y/C (seperated chroma and brightness information, sometimes referred to as Hi-8 or SVHS) and RGB (component video for each of the red, green and blue color components). If available use RGB, which is available on most European players as a SCART- or Euroconnector. If not, use Y/C. Only in all other circumstances use CVBS or RF, since these provide a significant lower color reproduction quality and sharpness compared to RGB and Y/C.
Most CD-i player have two standard cinch connectors for audio output. These connectors can be connected to any stereo-system (make sure not to use the input port for a phonograph if still available, any other one like tape, aux or TV is fine). Some players (most notably the portables) have a mini-jack audio output instead of two cinch outputs. Make sure you get the correct cable set.
4.15 What is the Digital Out connector on some players used for?
Some players have a Digital Ouput connector (newer versions of CDI 220, CDI 740, CDI 615, CDI 660 and CDI 670). This connection provides a standard S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format) signal. It can be used to connect a CD-i player to a digital recording device like a MiniDisc-recorder or an Audio CD-Recorder. I would however not advise to use a CD-i player with digital recording, especially not with write-once media like CD-R, since the player shell does not allow for very accurate starting and stopping of playback. This is usually delayed some parts of a second, due to the fact that the player's shell first draws the information on the screen, and then executes the command. Please note: The Digital Out connector only provides a signal when playing a CD-Audio disc, not when playing a CD-i title, since CD-i uses a different audio coding scheme (ADPCM or MPEG audio) that differs from the standard S/PDIF format. The digital output connectors on the authoring players CDI 180 and CDI 605 are intented for connection to a CD-i authoring system or emulator, and can not be used for audio.
4.16 Is there a difference between PAL, SECAM and NTSC?
From a hardware point of view there is. A consumer CD-i player is localized for a specific broadcast system. The output signal of the video connectors is according to this local system. You can tell which broadcast system is used by looking at the version indication after the normal type ID (refer to What does the /00, /20, etc. after the type-indication mean?). Most professional and authoring CD-i players (CDI 180 and CDI 6xx) have a switch at the back panel which allows you to select the appopriate broadcast system.
From a software point of view, there is no actual difference between the three broadcast systems. Every CD-i disc can be played on every CD-i player. However, as with DVD-Video, some notes with respect to aspect ratio and safety area need to be take into account. Please refer to Does CD-i make a difference between PAL and NTSC?.
4.17 Can CD-i be used on DTV, IDTV and HDTV television sets?
Yes, they can. All future TV sets provide for some means of connecting an analogue video source like a CD-i player or VCR. Note that it is not possible to make a digital connection to for example a DTV (Digital TV) or HDTV (High Definition TV) set with current players, nor will the picture quality be improved when such a TV is used.
4.18 Is a CD-i player Y2K proof?
Yes. CD-i is based on the OS-9 operating system, which is very Unix like. It therefore does not suffer from Windows or DOS-style year 2000 problems. Since Unix stores a year in a 7 bit field which starts counting at the year 1900, the first problems (if some) will arise in 2027 (so then we have a Y2.027K problem :-). A CD-i player continues to count onwards from the beginning of 2000, but it needs to be switched off and on at least one time in the new millenium for the player to perform the necessary calculations at system startup. When displaying a post-2000 date from a file correctly, some calculations need to be made by the application (in most cases, this involves only adding a 100 to the results produced by the system). It is however very rare that an application displays file creation dates, and the Memory and Storage options in the CD-i player's startup shell have already taken care of this problem. The only problem-causing exception might be CD-i players equiped with a floppy disk drive (CDI 310, CDI 180, CDI 602, CDI 605 and CDI 615) when using MS-DOS formatted floppies. For this to be solved, an updated device driver (called PCF) is available from Philips. More information is available in a white paper from Philips that can be downloaded at the CD-i Technical Documentation downloads section on this site.