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How does a CD work?

Laser beam
Like gramophone records, the information on optical discs is recorded on
a spiral track. However, with a CD the laser starts reading the disc from
the inside ring (table of contents) and ends up on the outside. When play
back starts, a laser beam shines on the ridges and lands on the data
membrane layer. If you look at the image on the right you can see the
data layer moving in gray.
During playback, the number of revolutions of the disc decreases from
500 to 200 rpm (revolutions per minute) to maintain a constant scanning
speed. The disc data is converted into electrical pulses (the bit stream) by
reflections of the laser beam from a photoelectric cell.

When the laser beam strikes "land", the beam is reflected onto a
photoelectric cell. When it strikes a "ridge", the photocell will receive
only a weak reflection. Thus the photoelectrical cell receives series of
light pulses corresponding to the ridges and lands in the disc. These light
pulses are the foundation of binary 'digital' data. A simple substitution
for the weak signal "0" and the in-focus signal "1" results in a pure digital
playback without alteration, every time, without failure or degradation.
In music playback, a D/A-Converter (digital to analogue converter; DAC)

converts the series of pulses (binary coding) from a decimal code to a
waveform, which can then be processed for amplification. The longer the
decimal code, the better the sound. Current standard CD audio is 44,100
pulses per second and 16 bit (decimal places) in digital word length. Thus
a 24 bit system sounds all that much better, in fact DVD audio is set to
allow 24 bit AND pulse at 97,000 times per second!
The Compact Disc player mechanism
When the laser beam hits land, all of its light is reflected and the cell
gives off current. When the laser beam shines on a ridge, half of the light
hits the upper surface and the other half hits the lower down service. The
difference in height between the two places is exactly a quarter of a
wavelength of the laser beam light, so the original beam is totally
eliminated by the interference between the beam reflected from the
surface of the disc and the beam reflected from the ridge. The photocell
does not produce current.
It should be noted that the ends of the ridges seen by the laser are
"ones" and all lands and ridges are "zeros"; thus turning on and off the
reflection is one, steady state is a string of zeroes. As it is not possible to
have two ones next to each other, Eight to Fourteen Modulation (EFM) is
used to convert 8-bit data bytes to 14 bit units that always have a
minimum of 2 and a maximum of 10 zeros between ones. This makes the
pits/ridges and lands separating them 3 to 11 bits long, no less, no more.
This conversion is done in hardware using a ROM lookup table. To
connect these 14 bit units 3 merge bits are used to make sure that there
are no "ones" too close to each other. In audio, the third merge bit is
used to make sure that the cumulative lengths of the lands and ridges
stay equal in the long run, otherwise a low frequency component is
created that the processing amplifiers can not handle. Thus 8 data bits
are actually 17 channel bits on the disc, but called 16 bit for naming
The scanning must be very accurate because the track of ridges is 30
times narrower than a single human hair. You can see the "ridge" in the
illustration above -it is the DARK ROUND CIRCLE. When the laser light is
over top of it, the light 'splits' in two, causing a weak signal. There are

20,000 tracks on one audio compact disc. The lens which focuses the
laser beam on the disc has a depth of field of about 1 micron (micron =
micrometer = one-millionth of a meter).
It is quite normal for the (compact) disc to move back and forth 1mm
during playback. A flexible regulator keeps the lens at a distance of +/- 2
micron from the rotating disc. For the same reason, a perfect tracking
system is required. The complex task of following the track is controlled
by an electronic servo system. The servo system ensures the track is
followed accurately by measuring the signal output. If the output
decreases, the system recognizes this as being "off track" and returns the
tracking system to its optimum state.
Many CD players use three-beam scanning for correct tracking. The three
beams come from one laser. A polarized prism projects three spots of
light on the track. It shines the middle one exactly on the track, and the
two other "control" beams generate a signal to correct the laser beam
immediately, should it deflect from the middle track.
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The disc
The CD is a plastic disc 1.2mm thick and 12cm in diameter, with a silvercolored surface that reflects laser light. The maximum playing time for
music recorded on compact disc is 74 minutes. The CD has several layers.
First, to protect the 8 trillion microscopically small pits against dirt and
damage, the CD has a plastic protective layer. On the top of this layer the
label is printed. Then there is the reflecting aluminum coating, which
contains the ridges. Finally, the disc has a transparent carrier through
which the actual reading of the disc takes place. This plastic forms a part
of the optical system. Mechanically, the CD is less vulnerable than the
analogue record, but that does not mean that it must not be treated with
The protective layer on the label side is very thin: only 0.002mm.
Careless treatment or granular dust can cause small scratches or hair
cracks, enabling the air to penetrate the evaporated aluminum coating.
This coating then starts oxidizing immediately at that spot. If the CD is

played extensively, it may be advisable to protect the label side with a
special protective foil, which is commonly available in shops.
A CD must never be bent, so care should be taken when removing it from
the jewel case. Even slight bending causes stress fractures. The aluminum
then becomes deformed, causing some ridges to be blocked. As a
consequence, error correction always has to be applied in that area,
affecting the final sound.
The reflecting side of the CD is the side that is read. People tend to set
the CD down with the reflecting side up. But the more vulnerable side is
not the reflecting side but the label side. On the label side, the reflecting
layer with its ridges has been evaporated. The sensitive layer on the
reflecting side has been protected better than the one on the label side.
It is therefore better to store CDs with the reflecting side down. It is best
to store the CD back in the jewel case, where it is safely held by its inside
Never write on the label side, even with a felt-tipped pen. The ink may
penetrate the thin protective coating and affect the aluminum layer.
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CDs are easily scratched, and should never be cleaned with just any cloth.
CDs should be cleaned radially: not along the grooves, but at right angles
to the direction of the grooves. If a smear, however small, should remain
on the CD, running along the direction of the grooves, much information
would be lost. It is advisable to use special CD cleaner that operates with
a rotating brush at right angles to the direction of the grooves.
Many people think that the digital CD is produced completely digitally,
but this is not always the case. Many CDs have an analogue master tape
as their source tapes still kept in the library of the record company, used
in the past to make records. The quality of a CD made from analogue
tape can be surprisingly high. A CD recorded, processed and dubbed
digitally does not always sound better than a CD produced with one or
two analogue processing stages.
To indicate what stages have been treated in what ways, a useful threeletter code is used on recordings. The letters represent: the recording,

the editing/mixing process, and dubbing, respectively. They are printed
on the CD and/or on the insert label in a rectangular box. There are three
possibilities: DDD (completely digital CD); ADD (analogue recording,
digital processing and dubbing); and AAD (analogue recording and
processing, digital dubbing). Many CDs carry the ADD or AAD indication.
This does not mean that they are inferior to the DDD CDs!

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How does a DVD work?
Extremely Dense with Much Capacity
DVD, popularly know as the Digital Versatile Disc (it really means Digital
Versatile Disc), is the next generation of optical disc media.Though a DVD
looks like a CD, inside it holds between 7 and 25 times the data. That
means a new level of quality and convenience for movies, music,
multimedia and interactive software. Never before has one new
technology changed so many aspects of home entertainment.
Minimum Seven Times the Data of a CD
DVD achieves its huge capacity by packing more data into the same
physical space as a CD. It does this in several ways. First, it's tracks are
closer together and the pits in each track are smaller. Second, new data
compression technology is highly efficient, minimizing the need to store
repetitive of unneeded data. Third, two separate layers of tracks can be
combined into a single DVD disc. For movies, this adds up to a minimum
of 2 hours and 13 minutes of video play. A dual-layer disc provides 4hour play, and doesn't need to be turned over. A single layered doublesided disc provides about 4 hours and 30 minutes.Longer playing times
are only the most obvious advantage. DVD's huge capacity also supports
ultra-realistic picture quality and hi-fi sound not to mention interactive

multimedia enhancements.

DVD 5 (4,7 GB)
One coat, one-side scanning

DVD 9 (8,5 GB)
Double coat, one-side scanning

DVD 10 (9,5 GB)
One coat, two-side scanning

DVD 17 (17 GB)
Double coat, two-side scanning

All the Advantages of an Optical Disc
Like a compact disc or laserdisc, DVD permits random access to any point
on the disc. There's no need to shuttle forward or backward through a
tape, and of course there's no rewinding. As an optical disc, DVD never
physically contacts the pickup. The disc is played by a beam of laser light,
so there is no wear and tear even if you keep replaying the same scene.
The tough plastic surface is forgiving of fingerprints, dust and dirt. Care is
the same as for compact discs - no special treatment needed. This means
that you can play your DVD collection thousands of times and continue
to enjoy the same beautiful picture and sound quality.
How is it Different from CD 's?
On the outside, a DVD is virtually indistinguishable form a CD. It has the
same 5" diameter and 1.2mm thickness. Like a CD, it's easy to carry, safe
to handle, and is just the right space-saving compact size for home
entertainment. The only difference is the format and the amount of
Smaller Pits, Narrower Track Pitch Inside

Compact Disc

DVD disc

On the inside, a DVD is totally different. Its pits are half the size of CD pits
(0.4µm vs. 0.83µm), and it's tracks are spaced about twice as closer
together (0.74µm vs. 1.6µm). See following image...
Thin-Substrate Bonded Disc
In a CD player, the laser bean has to pass through a relatively thick layer
of plastic to reach the data pits. To help a DVD player focus on its smaller
pits, a DVD disc uses a thinner plastic substrate. By itself, such a thin disc
would not stay flat or withstand handling. Therefore, every DVD is joined
to a second 0.6mm substrate, using bonding technology developed by
Panasonic. On a single-layer disc, one of the two substrates has no
recorded data.