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Typical CD Burning Applications

In common terminology, a CD recorder is called a "burner" (thanks to the laser beam that actually records the data). Thus, "burning" a CD is synonymous with recording one. These days, CD burning software often comes in all-in-one packages that are good for a wide variety of uses. Let's talk about some of those uses, and then about how modern CD burning packages support them.

We've already mentioned two typical CD formats:

  • CD-ROM. Used to capture block-oriented digital data (used to represent typical computer files).

  • CD-DA. Used to capture interleaving frames of digital music data (used to represent digital audio tracks).

There are other formats you'll encounter in the realm of CD burning as well, most of which are supported in CD burning packages. Typical uses for such packages include the following:

  • Backup. Software programs copy files, directories, or entire drives to CDs to create an extra copy of data from which originals can be restored (if other copies are lost or damaged). Many backup programs can write to recordable or read-write CDs; most CD burning software can back up to such media as well.

  • Archival storage. Old files or files that are no longer needed on a hard drive can be burned to a CD, then removed from the drive, to make room for new material.

  • Software or information distribution. A master image of a program, documents, or some other kind of data is burned onto a CD for delivery to others. Home users are less likely to need this kind of capability, but most CD burning software offers one-at-a-time generation of arbitrary numbers of copies of such data. Some CD burning software even works with special-purpose CD duplicator machines specifically for this purpose.

  • Music. This can be recorded on CD in a number of different formats, including the standard CD-DA (CD digital audio) format, but also other computer-specific uncompressed formats such as WAV digital audio files, as well as compressed formats like MP3 files. Whereas CD-DA and WAV formats can take up to 7 MB per minute of music, compressed formats like MP3 can reduce that by as much as a factor of 10 to 1. But the more compressed the music, the more audio fidelity is lost; that said, compression ratios of about 1.5 MB per minute sound almost exactly the same as uncompressed CD-DA or WAV files. There's also a special format called CD+G that's used with karaoke machines.

  • Video, movies, and animation. These can also be recorded on CD in a number of different formats, including QuickTime, AVI, and other multimedia formats. Here, file size can become a problem even for compressed formats on CD, which explains why Digital Video Disk (DVD) with its 4-plus GB of typical storage is more commonly used for full-length videos and programs. Nevertheless, CDs can record smaller amounts of video or multimedia, and are sometimes used for this kind of material as well.

Most CD burning software can handle just about any kind of purely digital files you can throw at it, which means that for backup, archive, file distribution, and some forms of music, everything you need is right at hand. But where some programs include built-in support for MP3—emerging as one of the most popular formats for digital music on CD—other programs require extra cost add-ins to convert WAV or CD-DA files to MP3 when burning CDs. Support for video and multimedia formats is often limited to file copying, and most CD burning software doesn't support any or many tools for creating or editing video or multimedia CDs.

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