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Manifest Technology: Record Your Own CD’s

This article by Douglas Dixon was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on March 17, 1999. All rights reserved.

Technology marches on. You’ve built up an extensive new collection

of CD’s to replace your old record albums, and you’ve become used

to computer software distributed on CD-ROM, so you might expect that

it’s time to throw them all away and start over again with the next

new thing. Surprise! The good news is that you actually can take


of broad standardization and continued price drops for CD’s, and start

recording your own CD-ROM’s. You can make your own audio CD’s, or

multimedia productions for family and friends with graphics and


photos and even video, or actually get in the habit of actually making

regular backups because it’s so convenient.

Yes, the next new thing is here, but everything is still OK. You may

have heard of the new DVD format, and how it’s bigger and faster and

better. Over time, DVD does promise to replace audio CD’s, and


and even VCR’s. But for now, the DVD market is still shaking out,

and the manufacturers are still fighting over formats and standards.

In addition, DVD drives are compatible with CD-ROM, so you should

be able to read today’s CD’s on tomorrow’s DVD players. So this looks

like a good time for you to think about diving into CD-ROM. We’ll

leave the future of DVD as a topic for another time.

Why are CD-ROM’s interesting? First, they’re pretty big, with over

650 MB (mega-bytes or million characters) of data. That’s about 450

times larger than standard 3 1/2" high density floppy disks, which

hold what is now a measly 1.45 MB. Second, you can use them for both

storing computer data, and for recording audio CD’s. You can record

a full 74 minutes of audio, from your baby’s cute gurgles and first

words to your grunge band’s latest creation. Third, CD’s are getting

reasonably fast, so you access data from a CD-ROM at up to 32 times

faster than the audio playback rate (which over 3 times faster than

your Ethernet Web connection at work), and record an entire CD in

less than 20 minutes.

CD’s are also ubiquitous. Most computers shipped over the past few

years, both desktops and laptops, have included CD-ROM drives. You

can also buy CD-ROM upgrades and portable CD drives for your computer.

These drives let you play both computer CD-ROM and audio CD discs,

so you can access all the applications and data available on CD-ROM,

as well as listen to your audio CD’s on your computer.

Playing CD’s is good, but it’s even more interesting to record your

own CD’s. The first recording technology for CD-ROM’s to settle down

was CD-R, or CD-Recordable. The modified laser in CD-R drives let

you "burn" your data into a phase-changing layer on the


CD-R disc. You can record a whole disk in one shot, or add on more

data after material you have already recorded. However, CD-R discs

are "write-once," so you can’t reuse them to write over data

once it has been recorded. As a result, CD-R is particularly useful

for making discs for permanent storage and backups.

Meanwhile, a second technology called CD-RW, or CD-Rewritable, has

been developed to permit CD’s to be recorded more than once. CD-RW

drives give you the best of both worlds: you can record permanent

CD-R discs, and use CD-RW discs like a big floppy disk that you can

write over and over again.

The problem with CD-ROM’s in the past has been compatibility, when

older CD-ROM drives could not handle the newer formats and disc


These days you should be able to reliably record CD-R discs and expect

to be able to read them on most computers and newer audio CD players.

CD-RW discs are more difficult, since only other CD-RW drives and

recent CD-ROM’s can read them.

So, how about recording CD’s on your own computer. It’s as easy as

hooking up an external CD-R drive box to your parallel printer port

for under $300. You can also step up to a CD-RW drive for around $350,

and get the advantages of both formats. If you’re adventuresome, you

can install an internal drive within your PC, or an external SCSI

drive for faster playback and recording speeds, at prices up to $600.

Examples of companies that have been producing CD recording drives

include Hewlett Packard, Phillips, Yamaha, and Smart & Friendly.

To add to the choices, CD-ROM drives play and record at different

speeds. CD speeds are specified relative to the original audio


rate (150 KB/sec). These days high-end computers ship with


32X CD-ROM drives, which access CD data 32 times faster than the base

rate. CD-R drives run slower, and are listed with two different rates

for writing and reading speeds, typically ranging from 4×8 for


parallel drives to 8×20 for high-end drives. CD-RW drives have three

speeds, for CD-R and CD-RW writing and also playback, and typically

range from 2x2x6 to 4x4x16. CD-RW drives can also take 30 minutes

or longer to erase and format the disc.

CD’s are becoming so ubiquitous and so accessible that they may well

become the next floppy disk, the standard medium for sharing data

between computers. They’re big enough, they’re fast enough, and they

are very cost-effective (see table). Current floppy disks cost around

13 cents per MB (think about that – 13 cents for a million characters

of data!). Not bad, but we can do a lot better. The popular Iomega

Zip disks sell for around eight cents per MB, and the larger Iomega

Jaz disks are even more cost effective at five cents per MB, or less

than half the floppy.

But now look what’s happening with CD’s. With strong competition and

major rebate programs, pricing for name-brand discs has been driven

down to near the levels of bulk purchases of generic brands.


CD-RW discs are available for around $10 each, or a couple pennies

per MB. (CD-RW discs have less usable space in order to keep track

of files being added and deleted). Write-once CD-R discs cost even

less: they are available for around $1 each, or a fraction of a cent

per MB. That’s almost 450 times more data than a floppy for less than

1/10 the cost per data item!

Disk Capacity Cost Per Cost Per MB

Type (MB) Disk (Cents)

Floppy 3.5" 1.45 $0.20 13 cents

Zip 100 100 $8.50 8 1/2

Zip 250 250 $17 6 1/2

Jaz 1G 1,000 $90 9

Jaz 2G 2,000 $100 5

CD-RW 500 $13 – $9 2 – 3 cents

CD-R 650 $2 – $0.85 1/3 – 1/8 cent

Table: Cost per disk and per million characters of data for common

removable disk formats. (Current pricing for reasonable quantities,

and with available rebates.)

This means you can save and archive your data on a more permanent

medium than magnetic disks. You can create your own CD-ROM productions

to distribute to family and friends in a standard format that any

recent PC (and even Macs) can access. You can even mix your own audio

CD’s that will play not only on any computer, but also in audio CD

players. Since CD-R discs only cost around $1 each, there’s not much

pain in burning extra copies. CD-RW discs are pricier at $10 each,

so they’re better for daily backups.

Of course, video production houses and interactive multimedia


companies have been producing material on CD-ROM’s for a while now.

Duplication services are also starting to become available for


that will transfer your memories to CD-ROM, including photos, audio

recordings, and video tapes. You can then access your material more

easily than searching through tapes, and also edit them on your PC.

Independent writer / producer Andy Kienzle prefers CD-ROM for


material on clients. "The CD is almost as ubiquitous as VHS,"

he says, "and it’s more flexible; the user can play it right on

their own computer." He and his wife, Claudia Kienzle, founded

Television Ideas and Software Inc. in Hamilton, NJ more than ten years

ago. As the company name suggests, they anticipated the convergence

of television and computers. "We thought TV was just another


content," he explains.

Andy Kienzle does marketing communications writing for corporate


and also produces corporate videos and multimedia. "CD’s are


for working with, and as a delivery platform," he says. "They

are cheaper and more compact than tape, and can be stamped out in

quantity; you don’t have to wait to copy the length of a tape."

Claudia Kienzle is a writer covering the television and multimedia

industries for magazines including TV Technology and Post. She


in writing user stories about technology, for which she uses service

mark "technomonials".

Television Ideas and Software Inc. 225 Elizabeth Ave., Hamilton, NJ

08610 (609) 394-4818 e-mail:

Does your business have technology that is transforming our personal

and business lives? Send your suggestions for this column to U.S.

1 Newspaper, 12 Roszel Road, Princeton 08540, fax 609-452-0033, or


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