Creating audio/data combo CDs

The Blue Book is a name given to the standard specifications for multi-session CDs. It defines that such CDs (also known as Enhanced CDs, CD Extra or CD Plus) contain information such as interactive programs, movies, documents, pictures, etc. on a CD that is otherwise a standard audio CD. The disc should play on a conventional home CD player and also be able to display the other non-audio information when inserted into your computer and browsed as you would a normal CD. These Blue Book specifications are based upon the Red Book standards - which define the traditional audio CD format.

The other format option to use instead of Enhanced CD/Plus CD is MixedMode. The disadvantage of the single-session MixedMode format is that the first track on the CD is data, which means that conventional CD players will not be able to play the music located on the CD. In contrast, in Enhanced CD format the audio track is burned as the first track on the CD, allowing such conventional CD players to play the musical tracks.

CREATING A CD EXTRA/ENHANCED CD Blank CDs come in 74-minute and 80-minute variants. Some CD media are able to hold slightly more minutes or data than their marked capacity indicates. The advantages of using software such as Easy CD Creator 4 is that the software will put as much information onto the disc as it will hold. Easy CD Creator 4 (available at www.roxio.com) is one of the more popular and easy-to-use programs for creating CDs and comes bundled with many new CD-R drives.

Before opening Easy CD Creator 4, close any applications you currently have open, including antivirus software and screen savers that may be lurking in the background. This will help to prevent the dreaded "Buffer Underrun" error that can arise when the stream of data from the recording source (in this case, the hard disk) to the CD-R is interrupted. Next, place a blank CD into your CD-R drive and fire up Easy CD Creator 4.

As mentioned, CD Extra is multi-session. The first session will contain the audio information for CD players, the second session will contain the data/interactive elements to be read by a computer.

To begin, click the arrow next to New in the top left corner of Easy CD Creator and select CD Extra. Your first step now is to define which audio you wish to place on the CD. Click the Audio CD Layout icon in the lower left pane. Now use the top left pane to browse to a directory on your hard disk which contains audio information in such formats as MP3 or WAV.

Use the top right explorer pane to select the specific audio files you want and then press the + Add icon located on the top toolbar. (Tip: if you hold down as you select individual files, you will only need to press the Add icon once.) Notice how the bottom right pane will provide you with information such as track length, minutes remaining before you run out of space, track order and album title.

Once you've added all the audio files, select the Data CD Layout icon in the bottom left pane - the CD Layout Window. All you need to do now is use the explorer section again to add directories and files to your Data CD Layout just as you did with the audio files. Don't place anything in the CD Plus directory.

Now you're ready to start recording. To do this, click the Create CD icon in the top toolbar: the CD Creation Setup Box appears. There are various advanced settings in this area that can be tweaked for personal needs. For all intents and purposes, however, the default settings work fine and you simply need to click OK to begin recording.

SELECTING CD MEDIA A general rule of thumb is that best results derive from burning your CD at lower speeds (such as 1x speed); however, it is not always practical to wait an hour for a CD to burn. If you want your CD to be playable on most conventional CD players, the results of the burning process can vary depending on your selected burn speed, your CD-R drive and the type of CD media you are using. Your best bet is to experiment and find some sort of middle ground.

CD-R media can be read by most computers and conventional CD players, so this is the type of media to use to make your CD as widely supported as possible. CD-RW (ReWritable) media can only be played back on CD-RW drives or MultiRead CD-ROM drives and usually won't work with your home CD player.

The different colours used on the underside of a CD help to indicate its quality. For example, gold CDs are widely understood to be longer lasting than their mostly cheaper green-blue alternatives. It is always wise to buy the best quality CD media you can afford, as it can affect your results when trying to achieve wider compatibility for conventional CD players. This also applies to the burning process, where certain media will be able to burn at higher speeds with more positive results than others.

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Danny Allen

PC World
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