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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
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