Optical disc recording technologies

Optical disc authoring requires a number of different optical disc recorder technologies working in tandem, from the optical disc media to the firmware to the control electronics of the optical disc drive.

There are numerous formats of recordable optical direct to disk on the market, all of which are based on using a laser to change the reflectivity of the digital recording medium in order to duplicate the effects of the pits and lands created when a commercial optical disc is pressed. Emerging technologies such as holographic data storage and 3D optical data storage aim to use entirely different data storage methods, but these products are in development and are not yet widely available.

The earliest form is magneto-optical, which uses a magnetic field in combination with a laser to write to the medium. Though not widely used in consumer equipment, the original NeXT cube used MO media as its standard storage device, and consumer MO technology is available in the form of Sony's MiniDisc. This form of medium is rewriteable.

The most common form of recordable optical media is write-once organic dye technology, popularized in the form of the CD-R and still used for higher-capacity media such as DVD-R. This uses the laser alone to scorch a transparent organic dye (usually cyanine, phthalocyanine, or azo compound-based) to create "pits" (i.e. dark spots) over a reflective spiral groove. Most such media are designated with an R (recordable) suffix. Such discs are often quite colorful, generally coming in shades of blue or pale yellow or green.

Rewritable, non-magnetic optical media are possible using phase change alloys, which are converted between crystalline and amorphous states (with different reflectivity) using the heat from the drive laser. Such media must be played in specially tuned drives, since the phase-change material has less of a contrast in reflectivity than dye-based media; while most modern drives support such media, many older CD drives cannot recognize the narrower threshold and cannot read such discs. Phase-change discs are designated with RW (ReWriteable) or RE (Recordable-Erasable). Phase-change discs often appear dark grey.

Another technology creates pits in an inorganic carbon layer, a "write-once" option. Created by Millenniata, M-DISC, records data on special M-DISC with a data life-time of several hundred years.[1]

Optimum Power Calibration (OPC) is a function that checks the proper laser power for writing a particular session in the media in use. More sophisticated is Active OPC, which calculates the optimum laser power and adjusts it in real-time.

Optical discs can be recorded in Disc At Once, Track At Once, Session at Once (i.e. multiple burning sessions for one disc), or packet writing modes. Each mode serves different purposes:

Unlike early CD-ROM drives, optical disc recorder drives have generally used industry standard connection protocols. Early computer-based CD recorders were generally connected by way of SCSI; however, as SCSI was abandoned by its most significant users (particularly Apple Computer), it became an expensive option for most computer users. As a result, the market switched over to Parallel ATA connections for most internal drives; external drives generally use PATA drive mechanisms connected to a bridge inside the case that connects to a high-speed serial bus such as FireWire or Hi-Speed USB 2.0. Nearly all modern drives, particularly Blu-ray drives use Serial ATA.

Standalone recorders use standard A/V connections, including RCA connectors, TOSlink, and S/PDIF for audio and RF, composite video, component video, S-Video, SCART, and FireWire for video. High-bandwidth digital connections such as HDMI are unlikely to feature as recorder devices are not permitted to decrypt the encrypted video content.

Overburning is the process of recording data past the normal, vendor-specified size limit of the recordable media. Structures in the ATIP do not allow such sizes to be specified.

Overburning may be used to determine the actual capacity limit of a recordable disc.[2]

Usually, the recorder must perform a complete write without pauses. Once the laser is on, stopping and restarting the recording process may introduce flaws.

A buffer underrun occurs during recording if the supply of data to the recorder is interrupted before the write is complete. Software typically moves the data to be recorded into a buffer; underrun occurs if the recorder processes data in the buffer faster than the software reloads it. Historically, buffer underrun was often caused by writing data obtained from a slow device, or by slowness of the recording software, from a slow processor or a processor executing other tasks concurrently.

Various recorders minimize or cope with buffer underrun in the following ways:

Buffer underrun is minimized by a strategy in which the recorder burns a packet rather than an entire session or an entire disc. When using rewritable media (CD-RW, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM), the UDF file system organizes the disc into packets that are written individually. The packets are referenced by a single, updated address table.

BURN-Proof (Buffer Underrun-Proof) is a proprietary technology for buffer underrun protection developed by Sanyo.[5]

FlextraLink is a proprietary technology for buffer underrun protection developed by Asus.[6][7]

FlextraSpeed™ continuously monitors the recording media and sets the optimal writing speeds to ensure best recording quality, for discs that can’t withstand high-speed burning.[8]

Power Burn is a proprietary technology for buffer underrun protection, developed by Sony. Features:

SafeBurn is a proprietary technology for buffer underrun protection developed by Yamaha Corporation.

Packet writing is a technology that allows optical discs to be used in a similar manner to a floppy disk. Packet writing can be used both with once-writeable media and rewriteable media. Several competing and incompatible packet writing disk formats have been developed, including DirectCD and InCD. The standardized formats for packet writing are the Universal Disk Format in the plain, VAT, and spared builds.

Using the simulated writing or simulated burning feature of optical disc authoring software, the writing process will be simulated, which means that the disc spins and the laser moves as if on an actual writing process, but without any data being recorded to the disc.

This feature allows for observing the writing speeds and patterns (e.g. constant angular velocity, constant linear velocity and P-CAV and Z-CLV variants) with different writing speed settings and testing the highest capacity of an individual disc that would be achievable using overburning.[9]

This feature is standardized on CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-RW, but not on DVD+R and DVD+RW, on which only Plextor optical drives support simulated writing so far.[10][11]

Retail recordable/writable optical media contain dyes in/on the optical media to record data, whereas factory-manufactured optical media use physical "pits" created by plastic molds/casts. As a result, data storage on retail optical media does not have the life-span of factory-manufactured optical media. The problem is exacerbated because as the writing laser of the recorder is used, its power output drops with age - typically after just a few years. Consequently, a disc written with a laser that is nearing the end of its useful life may not have a readable life that is as long as if a new laser had been used.

Dye based optical media should not be solely relied on to archive valuable data. MAM-A (Mitsui) claims a life of 300 years on their archival gold CD-R and 100 years for gold DVDs. Good alternatives would be to additionally backup one's media using other media technologies and/or investing in non-volatile memory technologies.[12]