The Philips CD-i was a system slightly ahead of its time. It tried to do it all – play top-of-the-line games, play movies in the best quality available, use all of the CD-ROM resources a PC had at its disposal, and also provide casual internet access in the living room. In the early-to-mid ’90s, a device that could do all of this at a reasonable price was a pipe dream. That’s why this thing initially cost $700, with expensive add-ons if you wanted the full capabilities it promised. It was also a “jack of all trades, master of none” as a device, being outperformed in gaming by gaming consoles, outmatched in PC functions by PCs, and so on.
Spoiler alert: it ultimately failed.
Philips made a decent go of trying to get this thing off of the ground, though; a licensing deal with Nintendo (good move) led to the independent non-Nintendo development of some Zelda and Mario titles (bad move).
They banked on non-traiditional, digital media (good move) by developing unique interactive kids content (good move), game shows and workout videos (good move) and interactive music CDs that let you rearrange the music (bad move).
They also advertised on cable (good move) with a full length infomercial (good move) that creates a weird narrative and tries to humorously portray middle-class lifestyles and provide solutions to those exaggerated lifestyles (bad move).
It’s that last one that we’re talking about here, a 30-minute infomercial called “A Day with Sid, Ed and CD-i” that aired in late night cable in the mid 1990s. There’s a rivalry between a CD-i representative and an electronics repairman that, for some reason that we’re not privy to, exists. Sid, the CD-i guy, listens in on Ed’s repair calls and poaches them, getting there first and giving them a CD-i and a full library of games and peripherals so that they don’t need Ed’s services by the time he gets there.
It’s a pretty clear way of breaking out the CD-i’s advantages in different multimedia scenarios. In the first of three segments, little Timmy’s destroyed the family PC and it’s unrecoverable. Sid shows up and marches right in. Mom’s okay with this. He hooks a CD-i into the television, telling them they don’t need a computer anymore. Mom’s okay with this. He suggests kid-friendly games to Timmy. Mom’s okay with this.
Part two: some believably rad dudes hanging out together playing video games, reading comics, and dancing to rock music on headphones all at the same time, all independent of each other. Headphones dude trips over the video game cable, destroying the console. A quick call to Ed’s repair results in Sid barging in and, again, giving a CD-i console to the dudes along with a run through of the amazing games available.
Burn:Cycle was a pretty solid game, as are Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, but the rest don’t even look that good by 1990s full-motion-video standards. Sid hangs out and games with the dudes, then moves on. Sid’s about $2500 in the hole at this point, considering that he’s given away two consoles and who knows how much software.
Part three: date night. Peter and Gina are watching a “Forrest Gump” VHS in full daylight when the tape gets eaten by the machine. Cue Sid and his free CD-i to extol the virtues of digital media. It’s worth noting that Sid has used “Four Weddings and a Funeral” as a selling point of the CD-i to all three groups at this point. Peter and Gina get more of an overall taste than the other groups do, as a run through the system’s digital board games draws out Gina’s murderous tendencies. Hilarious! I’d be interested in checking that “Clue” title out, though.
The “Feature Presentation” screen, a direct lift of a VHS copy, is the real highlight of this segment.
Ed, throughly defeated at this point, gets on board with CD-i. He and Sid team up, equal partners in Sid’s unprofitable nightmare of a business.
Each segment is punctuated by wonderful infomercial hard-sells, run-throughs of the system’s features, 800-numbers, and payment plans.
Here it is. So bad, so good.