[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Kodak Photo CD

February 2nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Digtial Photo scan Kodak Photo CD advertisement Picture CD - kids next generation on a TV set - Scientific American February 1993Because the best place to look at photos has always been your TV set

In September 1990, Kodak announced a brand new system for storing and viewing photographs: Photo CD. At a time when Compact Discs represented the vanguard of consumer electronics technology, Kodak capitalized on the excitement by blending digitized photos with a custom CD format.

Kodak designed that format for viewing through special a Kodak CD Player device (think DVD player for still photos) that hooked to a standard TV set. Using such a player, one could view the digitized photos via a virtual slideshow.

It would not be until August 1992 until Kodak finally launched the system, releasing its first Photo CD player and beginning production of Photo CD discs for customers.

With a base image resolution of 512 x 768, Photo CD was far from an archival medium. It tried to offer convenience, but instead ended up adding needless cost and encumbrance to the photo viewing process. In an era before most people were equipped to view, edit, or print digital photos from a PC, the fact that the photos came in an electronic format did not add anything notable to the experience. Predictably, adoption of the Photo CD system never gained much steam. (Wikipedia’s article on Photo CD has some pretty good additional analysis of why Photo CD never took off.)

I personally remember encountering a Kodak Photo CD player in either a photography store or a Radio Shack as a kid. I thought it was amazing — your own photos on a TV set! But my dad, an experienced photographer, never bought into the system.

P.S. For more CD history, check out my Compact Disc 30th Anniversary article that I wrote back in 2012.

[ From Scientific American – February 1993, p.17 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever use the Kodak Photo CD service or own a Photo CD player?

10 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Kodak Photo CD”

  1. Jim Says:

    I don’t think I ever saw a Photo CD player “out in the wild.” Kind of a neat idea at the time, but it was probably too expensive ($400 for the player and $1-3 per image in 1992) for being a one trick pony to really succeed in the marketplace.

  2. Alexander Says:

    I’ve got one photo CD from about 1997 or 1998 in the odd Kodak Photo CD (PCD) format, but that’s the extent of exposure I’ve had to it. It would have been made for me by the local 1 hour photo place most likely.

    It has some unique properties in terms of how the images can be sized for export to more contemporary formats, and I end up having to use Photoshop 6 to make the conversion. But they look pretty good in my opinion.

    I’m sure a modern scan of the original negatives would yield a better digitization though…

  3. Intergalactic Says:

    “Did you ever use the Kodak Photo CD service or own a Photo CD player?”
    Nah, because: JPEG. 🙂

  4. Geoff V. Says:

    We may scoff now, but remember the alternative at the time was projection based. Slides and transparencies required specialized equipment too.

  5. Benj Edwards Says:

    I remember that time well. I think the slides/projection solution was cheaper and easier than a Kodak Photo CD setup (big enough TV + $499 player + special, expensive CD). And loading slides in a carousel wasn’t too hard, and you kept them there when you were done. If I had to pick between the two today (if we lived in a world with no giant LCD TV sets), I’d still pick slide projector + slides over a Photo CD presentation. Better quality photos and less tech lock-in too.

  6. Moondog Says:

    At least slides and negatives are analog, and do not require any proprietary technology to duplicate to a newer format. My parents have a closet full of slides that would be fun to see again. I’m debating on buying a slide scanner or just sending them out to someone with higher end equipment.

    Regarding the Kodak CD system, is there a way to migrate the pictures on a disc to a more standard format? I’d hate to imagine losing photos because they required a proprietary viewer or were created in a strange format. I guess that’s the joy of being a first adopter of a new technology.

  7. Benj Edwards Says:


    It looks to me like there are a number of programs for viewing/converting Kodak PCD files on a PC. Here’s one of them: http://www.easy2convert.com/pcd2jpg/pro/

    Kodak itself still provides (ancient) software to view Photo CDs on a PC:

  8. Jistuce Says:

    I experienced a PhotoCD once. My 486 wound up with, among other “multimedia” software, a PhotoCD viewer. And it came with a demo disk.

    Only time I ever saw a PhotoCD. It was neat, but not super fantastic or anything. It was years before I thought there was any sort of actual POINT to having my photos inside a computer.

  9. Mattel Aquarius Says:

    According to this questionable resource, even the Atari Jaguar CD drive was to have Photo CD capability.



  10. Ant Says:

    I remember my sophomore’s college roommate had a Kodak PhotoCD on his PowerMac. 😀

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