Ahead Of Their Time is a recurring feature by Rollin Bishop focusing on technology from the past that came a little too early for it to be effective, for whatever reason.
A major shift in video game consoles over the past decade has been from an almost purely game-focused piece of technology to something a little more … home entertainment, as it were. Sure, consoles like the PlayStation could also kick out tunes from CDs, and some consoles over the years could even play DVDs, but it’s become much more common for the companies manufacturing these gizmos to view them as an all-in-one device for music, movies, television, and games.
In a way, that’s what the Philips CD-i tried to do all the way back in 1991. Well, sort of.
The CD-i exists in the weird zone between being a game console and being a computer. It’s a little more powerful than the former, but not as powerful as the latter. These days, there’s not much functional difference between the two: the PlayStation 4 is effectively a computer you hook into your television with a special operating system. Heck, you could even install Linux on the PlayStation 2. The CD-i even predates the original PlayStation by three years.
But really, the CD-i’s ability to do a whole bunch of different stuff—like browse the Internet thanks to to a modem folks could buy at an additional cost that was released late into the device’s lifecycle—put it far and away ahead of its time. Never mind the fact that it didn’t do any of these particularly well, and the full-motion video (FMV) games the device is actually known for pretty much all required a special card that Philips sold for an additional cost. That’s kind of the nature of the problem when you’re ahead of your time: the rest of the world, including the technology to make what you’re trying to do easier, isn’t quite there yet.