CD (Compact Disc)

Compact disc (CD) is a digital optical disc data storage format that was co-developed by Philips and Sony and released in 1982. The format was originally developed to store and play only sound recordings (CD-DA) but was later adapted for storage of data (CD-ROM). Several other formats were further derived from these, including write-once audio and data storage (CD-R), rewritable media (CD-RW), Video Compact Disc (VCD), Super Video Compact Disc (SVCD), Photo CD, PictureCD, CD-i, and Enhanced Music CD.


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

CD-DA (CD Digital Audio)

The 74-minute playing time of a CD, which is longer than the 22 minutes per side typical of long-playing (LP) vinyl albums, was often used to the CD’s advantage during the early years when CDs and LPs vied for commercial sales. CDs would often be released with one or more bonus tracks, enticing consumers to buy the CD for the extra material.

Playing times beyond 74 minutes are achieved by decreasing track pitch (the distance separating the track as it spirals the disc) in violation of strict Red Book standards. However, most players can still accommodate the more closely spaced data if it is still within Red Book tolerances. Current manufacturing processes allow an audio CD to contain up to 80 minutes (variable from one replication plant to another) without requiring the content creator to sign a waiver releasing the plant owner from responsibility if the CD produced is marginally or entirely unreadable by some playback equipment. In current practice, maximum CD playing time has crept higher by reducing minimum engineering tolerances.

Data Encoding
Each audio sample is a signed 16-bit two’s complement integer, with sample values ranging from −32768 to +32767. The source audio data is divided into frames, containing twelve samples each (six left and right samples, alternating), for a total of 192 bits (24 bytes) of audio data per frame.

This stream of audio frames, as a whole, is then subjected to CIRC encoding, which segments and rearranges the data and expands it with parity bits in a way that allows occasional read errors to be detected and corrected. CIRC encoding also interleaves the audio frames throughout the disc over several consecutive frames so that the information will be more resistant to burst errors. Therefore, a physical frame on the disc will actually contain information from multiple logical audio frames. This process adds 64 bits of error correction data to each frame. After this, 8 bits of subcode or subchannel data are added to each of these encoded frames, which is used for control and addressing when playing the CD.

CIRC encoding plus the subcode byte generate 33-bytes long frames, called “channel-data” frames. These frames are then modulated through eight-to-fourteen modulation (EFM), where each 8-bit word is replaced with a corresponding 14-bit word designed to reduce the number of transitions between 0 and 1. This reduces the density of physical pits on the disc and provides an additional degree of error tolerance. Three “merging” bits are added before each 14-bit word for disambiguation and synchronization. In total there are 33 × (14 + 3) = 561 bits. A 27-bit word (a 24-bit pattern plus 3 merging bits) is added to the beginning of each frame to assist with synchronization, so the reading device can locate frames easily. With this, a frame ends up containing 588 bits of “channel data” (which are decoded to only 192 bits music).

The frames of channel data are finally written to disc physically in the form of pits and lands, with each pit or land representing a series of zeroes, and with the transition points—the edge of each pit—representing 1. A Red Book-compatible CD-R has pit-and-land-shaped spots on a layer of organic dye instead of actual pits and lands; a laser creates the spots by altering the reflective properties of the dye.

Data Structure
The audio data stream in an audio CD is continuous, but has three parts. The main portion, which is further divided into playable audio tracks, is the program area. This section is preceded by a lead-in track and followed by a lead-out track. The lead-in and lead-out tracks encode only silent audio, but all three sections contain subcode data streams.

The lead-in’s subcode contains repeated copies of the disc’s Table Of Contents (TOC), which provides an index of the start positions of the tracks in the program area and lead-out. The track positions are referenced by absolute timecode, relative to the start of the program area, in MSF format: minutes, seconds, and fractional seconds called frames. Each timecode frame is one seventy-fifth of a second, and corresponds to a block of 98 channel-data frames—ultimately, a block of 588 pairs of left and right audio samples. Timecode contained in the subchannel data allows the reading device to locate the region of the disc that corresponds to the timecode in the TOC. The TOC on discs is analogous to the partition table on hard drives. Nonstandard or corrupted TOC records are abused as a form of CD/DVD copy protection, in e.g. the key2Audio scheme.

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. (Information Society’s Hack was one of very few CD releases to do this, following a release with an equally obscure CD+G feature.) The track and index structure of the CD were carried forward to the DVD format as title and chapter, respectively.

Tracks, in turn, are divided into timecode frames (or sectors), which are further subdivided into channel-data frames.

Frames and Timecode Frames
The smallest entity in a CD is a channel-data frame, which consists of 33 bytes and contains six complete 16-bit stereo samples: 24 bytes for the audio (two bytes × two channels × six samples = 24 bytes), eight CIRC error-correction bytes, and one subcode byte. As described in the “Data encoding” section, after the EFM modulation the number of bits in a frame totals 588.

On a Red Book audio CD, data is addressed using the MSF scheme, with timecodes expressed in minutes, seconds and another type of frames (mm:ss:ff), where one frame corresponds to 1/75th of a second of audio: 588 pairs of left and right samples. This timecode frame is distinct from the 33-byte channel-data frame described above, and is used for time display and positioning the reading laser. When editing and extracting CD audio, this timecode frame is the smallest addressable time interval for an audio CD; thus, track boundaries only occur on these frame boundaries. Each of these structures contains 98 channel-data frames, totaling 98 × 24 = 2,352 bytes of music. The CD is played at a speed of 75 frames (or sectors) per second, thus 44,100 samples or 176,400 bytes per second.

In the 1990s, CD-ROM and related Digital Audio Extraction (DAE) technology introduced the term sector to refer to each timecode frame, with each sector being identified by a sequential integer number starting at zero, and with tracks aligned on sector boundaries. An audio CD sector corresponds to 2,352 bytes of decoded data. The Red Book does not refer to sectors, nor does it distinguish the corresponding sections of the disc’s data stream except as “frames” in the MSF addressing scheme.

Bit Rate
The audio bit rate for a Red Book audio CD is 1,411,200 bits per second or 176,400 bytes per second; 2 channels × 44,100 samples per second per channel × 16 bits per sample. Audio data coming in from a CD is contained in sectors, each sector being 2,352 bytes, and with 75 sectors containing 1 second of audio. For comparison, the bit rate of a “1×” CD-ROM is defined as 2,048 bytes per sector × 75 sectors per second = 153,600 bytes per second. The remaining 304 bytes in a sector are used for additional data error correction.

Computer Data Access
Unlike on a DVD or CD-ROM, there are no “files” on a Red Book audio CD; there is only one continuous stream of LPCM audio data, and a parallel, smaller set of 8 subcode data streams. Computer operating systems, however, may provide access to an audio CD as if it contains files. For example, Windows represents the CD’s Table of Contents as a set of Compact Disc Audio track (CDA) files, each file containing indexing information, not audio data.

In a process called ripping, digital audio extraction software can be used to read CD-DA audio data and store it in files. Common audio file formats for this purpose include WAV and AIFF, which simply preface the LPCM data with a short header; FLAC, ALAC, and Windows Media Audio Lossless, which compress the LPCM data in ways that conserve space yet allow it to be restored without any changes; and various lossy, perceptual coding formats like MP3 and AAC, which modify and compress the audio data in ways that irreversibly change the audio, but that exploit features of human hearing to make the changes difficult to discern.

Format Variations
Recording publishers have created CDs that violate the Red Book standard. Some do so for the purpose of copy prevention, using systems like Copy Control. Some do so for extra features such as DualDisc, which includes both a CD layer and a DVD layer whereby the CD layer is much thinner, 0.9 mm, than required by the Red Book, which stipulates a nominal 1.2 mm, but at least 1.1 mm. Philips and many other companies have stated that including the Compact Disc Digital Audio logo on such non-conforming discs may constitute trademark infringement.

Super Audio CD was a standard published in 1999 that aimed to provide better audio quality in CDs, but it never became very popular. DVD Audio, an advanced version of the audio CD, emerged in 1999.[22] The format was designed to feature audio of higher fidelity. It applies a higher sampling rate and uses 650 nm lasers.

Optical Media Write Speeds

Media 1X speed Capacity (GB) Capacity (GiB) Full Read Time
Mbit/s kB/s KiB/s MiB/s
CD 1.229 153.6 150.0 0.15 734 MB 700 MiB 80
DVD 10.080 1,385.0 1,352.5 1.32 4.7 GB 4.38 GiB 120
Blu-ray Disc 33.000 4,500.0 4,394.5 4.29 25.0 GB 23.28 GiB 180


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