The Compact Disc (also known as a CD) is an optical disc used to store digital data. It was originally developed to store and playback sound recordings exclusively, but later expanded to encompass data storage (CD-ROM), write-once audio and data storage (CD-R), rewritable media (CD-RW), Video Compact Discs (VCD), Super Video Compact Discs (SVCD), PhotoCD, PictureCD, CD-i, and Enhanced CD.

Standard CDs have a diameter of 120 millimetres (4.7 in) and can hold up to 80 minutes of uncompressed audio or 700 MB of data.

The Mini CD has various diameters ranging from 60 to 80 millimetres (2.4 to 3.1 in); they are sometimes used for CD singles, storing up to 24 minutes of audio or delivering device drivers.

The Compact Disc is a spin-off of Laserdisc technology.

A CD is made from 1.2 millimetres (0.047 in) thick, polycarbonate plastic and weighs 15–20 grams. From the center outward, components are: the center spindle hole (15 mm), the first-transition area (clamping ring), the clamping area (stacking ring), the second-transition area (mirror band), the program (data) area, and the rim. The inner program area occupies a radius from 25 to 58 mm

A thin layer of aluminium or, more rarely, gold is applied to the surface making it reflective. The metal is protected by a film of lacquer normally spin coated directly on the reflective layer. The label is printed on the lacquer layer, usually by screen printing or offset printing.

CD data is stored as a series of tiny indentations known as “pits”, encoded in a spiral track moulded into the top of the polycarbonate layer. The areas between pits are known as “lands”. Each pit is approximately 100 nm deep by 500 nm wide, and varies from 850 nm to 3.5 µm in length. The distance between the tracks, the pitch, is 1.6 µm.

Scanning velocity is 1.2–1.4 m/s (constant linear velocity) – equivalent to approximately 500 rpm at the inside of the disc, and approximately 200 rpm at the outside edge. (A disc played from beginning to end slows down during playback.)

The program area is 86.05 cm² and the length of the recordable spiral is (86.05 cm2 / 1.6 µm) = 5.38 km. With a scanning speed of 1.2 m/s, the playing time is 74 minutes, or 650 MB of data on a CD-ROM. A disc with data packed slightly more densely is tolerated by most players (though some old ones fail). Using a linear velocity of 1.2 m/s and a track pitch of 1.5 µm yields a playing time of 80 minutes, or a data capacity of 700 MB. Even higher capacities on non-standard discs (up to 99 minutes) are available at least as recordables, but generally the tighter the tracks are squeezed, the worse the compatibility.

A CD is read by focusing a 780 nm wavelength (near infrared) semiconductor laser through the bottom of the polycarbonate layer. The change in height between pits and lands results in a difference in the way the light is reflected. By measuring the intensity change with a photodiode, the data can be read from the disc.

The pits and lands themselves do not directly represent the zeros and ones of binary data. Instead, non-return-to-zero, inverted encoding is used: a change from pit to land or land to pit indicates a one, while no change indicates a series of zeros. There must be at least two and no more than ten zeros between each one, which is defined by the length of the pit. This in turn is decoded by reversing the eight-to-fourteen modulation used in mastering the disc, and then reversing the Cross-Interleaved Reed-Solomon Coding, finally revealing the raw data stored on the disc.

CDs are susceptible to damage from both normal use and environmental exposure. Pits are much closer to the label side of a disc, enabling defects and contaminants on the clear side to be out of focus during playback. Consequently, CDs are more likely to suffer damage on the label side of the disk. Scratches on the clear side can be repaired by refilling them with similar refractive plastic, or by careful polishing.

The logical format of an audio CD is a two-channel 16-bit PCM encoding at a 44.1 kHz sampling rate per channel. Four-channel sound is an allowable option within the Red Book format, but has never been implemented. Monaural audio has no existing standard on a Red Book CD; mono-source material is usually presented as two identical channels on a ‘stereo’ track.

The smallest entity in a CD is called a frame, which consists of 33 bytes and contains six complete 16-bit stereo samples (two bytes × two channels × six samples = 24 bytes). The other nine bytes consist of eight CIRC error-correction bytes and one subcode byte, used for control and display. Each byte is translated into a 14-bit word using eight-to-fourteen modulation, which alternates with three-bit merging words. In total there are 33 × (14 + 3) = 561 bits. A 27-bit unique synchronization word is added, so that the number of bits in a frame totals 588 (which are decoded to only 192 bits music).

These 588-bit frames are in turn grouped into sectors. Each sector contains 98 frames, totaling 98 × 24 = 2352 bytes of music. The CD is played at a speed of 75 sectors per second, which results in 176,400 bytes per second. Divided by two channels and two bytes per sample, this results in a sample rate of 44,100 samples per second.

For CD-ROM data discs, the physical frame and sector sizes are the same. Since error concealment cannot be applied to non-audio data in case the CIRC error correction fails to recover the user data, a third layer of error correction is defined, reducing the payload to 2048 bytes per sector for the Mode-1 CD-ROM format. To increase the data-rate for Video CD, Mode-2 CD-ROM, the third layer has been omitted, increasing the payload to 2336 user-available bytes per sector, only 16 bytes (for synchronization and header data) less than available in Red-Book audio.

For the Red Book stereo audio CD, the time format is commonly measured in minutes, seconds and frames (mm:ss:ff), where one frame corresponds to one sector, or 1/75th of a second of stereo sound. In this context, the term frame is erroneously applied in editing applications and does not denote the physical frame described above. In editing and extracting, the frame is the smallest addressable time interval for an audio CD, meaning that track start and end positions can only be defined in 1/75 second steps.

The largest entity on a CD is called a track. A CD can contain up to 99 tracks (including a data track for mixed mode discs). Each track can in turn have up to 100 indexes, though players which handle this feature are rarely found outside of pro audio, particularly radio broadcasting. The vast majority of songs are recorded under index 1, with the pre-gap being index 0. Sometimes hidden tracks are placed at the end of the last track of the disc, often using index 2 or 3. This is also the case with some discs offering “101 sound effects”, with 100 and 101 being indexed as two and three on track 99. The index, if used, is occasionally put on the track listing as a decimal part of the track number, such as 99.2 or 99.3.

Current manufacturing processes allow an audio CD to contain up to 80 minutes.

CD-Text is an extension of the Red Book specification for audio CD that allows for storage of additional text information (e.g., album name, song name, artist) on a standards-compliant audio CD. The information is stored either in the lead-in area of the CD, where there is roughly five kilobytes of space available, or in the subcode channels R to W on the disc, which can store about 31 megabytes.

Compact Disc + Graphics (CD+G) is a special audio Compact Disc that contains graphics data in addition to the audio data on the disc. The disc can be played on a regular audio CD player, but when played on a special CD+G player, can output a graphics signal (typically, the CD+G player is hooked up to a television set or a computer monitor); these graphics are almost exclusively used to display lyrics on a television set for karaoke performers to sing along with. The CD+G format takes advantage of the channels R through W. These six bits store the graphics information.

Compact Disc + Extended Graphics (CD+EG, also known as CD+XG) is an improved variant of the Compact Disc + Graphics (CD+G) format. Like CD+G, CD+EG utilizes basic CD-ROM features to display text and video information in addition to the music being played. This extra data is stored in subcode channels R-W. Very few, if any, CD+EG discs have been published.

Super Audio CD (SACD) is a high-resolution read-only optical audio disc format that was designed to provide higher fidelity digital audio reproduction than the Red Book. Introduced in 1999, it was developed by Sony and Philips, the same companies that created the Red Book. SACD was in a format war with DVD-Audio, but neither has replaced audio CDs.

Titles in the SACD format can be issued as hybrid discs; these discs contain the SACD audio stream as well as a standard audio CD layer which is playable in standard CD players, thus making them backward compatible.

CD-MIDI is a format used to store music-performance data which upon playback is performed by electronic instruments that synthesize the audio. Hence, unlike Red Book, these recordings are not audio.

For the first few years of its existence, the Compact Disc was a medium used purely for audio. However, in 1985 the Yellow Book CD-ROM standard was established by Sony and Philips, which defined a non-volatile optical data computer data storage medium using the same physical format as audio Compact Discs, readable by a computer with a CD-ROM drive.

Video CD (VCD, View CD, and Compact Disc digital video) is a standard digital format for storing video media on a CD. VCDs are playable in dedicated VCD players, most modern DVD-Video players, personal computers, and some video game consoles.

352×240 (or SIF) resolution was chosen because it is half the vertical, and half the horizontal resolution of NTSC video. 352×288 is similarly one quarter PAL/SECAM resolution. This approximates the (overall) resolution of an analog VHS tape, which, although it has double the number of (vertical) scan lines, has a much lower horizontal resolution.

Super Video CD (Super Video Compact Disc or SVCD) is a format used for storing video media on standard Compact Discs. SVCD was intended as a successor to VCD and an alternative to DVD-Video, and falls somewhere between both in terms of technical capability and picture quality.

SVCD has two-thirds the resolution of DVD, and over 2.7 times the resolution of VCD. One CD-R disc can hold up to 60 minutes of standard quality SVCD-format video. While no specific limit on SVCD video length is mandated by the specification, one must lower the video bit rate, and therefore quality, in order to accommodate very long videos. It is usually difficult to fit much more than 100 minutes of video onto one SVCD without incurring significant quality loss, and many hardware players are unable to play video with an instantaneous bit rate lower than 300 to 600 kilobits per second.

Photo CD is a system designed by Kodak for digitizing and storing photos on a CD. Launched in 1992, the discs were designed to hold nearly 100 high quality images, scanned prints and slides using special proprietary encoding. Photo CD discs are defined in the Beige Book and conform to the CD-ROM XA and CD-i Bridge specifications as well. They are intended to play on CD-i players, Photo CD players and any computer with the suitable software irrespective of the operating system. The images can also be printed out on photographic paper with a special Kodak machine. This format is not to be confused with Kodak Picture CD, which is a consumer product in CD-ROM format.

The Philips “Green Book” specifies the standard for interactive multimedia Compact Discs designed for CD-i players (1993). This format is unusual because it hides the initial tracks which contains the software and data files used by CD-i players by omitting the tracks from the disc’s TOC (table of contents). This causes audio CD players to skip the CD-i data tracks. This is different from the CD-i Ready format, which puts CD-i software and data into the pregap of track 1. CDi was the leading format of its time but was supplanted by the politics of competition. Philips Interactive Media lead the way in producing breakthrough titles, including the first interactive coloring book, Sesame Street Disc and children’s programs, Groliers and Comptoms encyclopedias and many more pathbreaking programs.

Enhanced CD, also known as CD Extra and CD Plus, is a certification mark of the Recording Industry Association of America for various technologies that combine audio and computer data for use in both Compact Disc and CD-ROM players.

The primary data formats for Enhanced Compact Disc’s are mixed mode (Yellow Book/Red Book), CD-i, hidden track, and multisession (Blue Book).

A bootable CD, or Live CD, is a CD that can be used to boot a computer system. The CD can contain an operating system installer (eg. Windows 2000, Windows XP), or even a full usable operating system, very common in the Linux world, with most distros, like Ubuntu or Fedora offering fully usable Live CDs.

Physical size Audio Capacity CD-ROM Data Capacity Note
120 mm 74–99 min 650–870 MB Standard size
80 mm 21–24 min 185–210 MB Mini-CD size
85×54 mm – 86×64 mm ~6 min 10-65 MB “Business card” size
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