CD-ROM Mastering: What Are Your Publishing Options?

by BRYAN J. CARTER The University of Georgia Athens, Ga. CD-ROM technology is here and growing strong. Many parties are interested in producing CD-ROMs, but for newcomers, there is a great deal of confusion in choosing methods for production. There is technical terminology to be learned and decisions to be made. The topics discussed below are presented in order to acclimate someone interested in producing one or more CD-ROMs. The issues covered include equipment, manufacturing costs, a research and decision strategy, and example decision-support tools. In addition, the guides and support tools are designed to be flexible so as not to become quickly dated. A Bit of Background Emerging as a popular software-delivery medium is the Compact Disc-Read Only Memory (CD-ROM). A single CD-ROM can hold up to 650 megabytes (MB) of data -- enough space to store about 150,000 pages of text.1 This is particularly attractive to software development firms who distribute large packages, such as multimedia programs that incorporate high-resolution graphics, audio and/or digital video. Although CD-ROM technology has been around since the late 1980s, it is just now developing a mass market -- largely due to the drop in drive prices. It is now affordable for a much broader consumer population. In 1993, the number of CD-ROM drives sold with home computers exceeded 2 million.2 According to DataQuest, the number of CD-ROM drives sold worldwide in 1993 was over 4.8 million.3 Along with the expanding market, software companies wanting to publish their programs on CD-ROM enjoy another timely advantage. The ability to record single CD-ROMs in-house has become financially feasible for those who don't wish to mass produce discs. In 1991, the cost of CD-ROM recording systems (a CD-ROM Recorder records data onto a recordable compact disc) was nearly $40,000. Today, more technologically advanced systems can be had for under $6,000.2 Recordable discs now cost from $10 to $30 each, depending on where you shop and how many you buy. And the prices of both the media and CD-Recorders are expected to continue to drop. In addition, CD-R (CD-ROM Recorder) drives will soon be widely available in the standard half-height size, easily installed in a computer's internal drive bay just like a floppy drive. Pinnacle Micro's RCD 202 single-speed drive, for example, is already available in this size.4 And by the end of 1994, Sony was expected to debut a half-height double-speed reader/writer; 'EM price is below $600.2 (A single-speed drive has a data-transfer rate of 150K per second; double-speed drives move information twice as fast; quad-speed drives are four times quicker.) For large-scale duplication, it is still more economical to use a service bureau. They create a glass master for as little as $450 and replicas for $1-2 a piece.5 Occasionally a 100-disc deal for $1,000 to $1,500 can be found for those somewhere-in-between single presses and large volume releases. Logistical Issues Many logistical issues must be considered before beginning production as they will help determine what production path to embark on. These issues include target platforms, disc formats and data preparation. Each is considered below. Target Platform It is important to consider the type(s) of platform(s) to include as the target for the CD-ROM. Translated, this means what type of computer will be able to use the disc. The three most common are IBM, Macintosh and UNIX. If the intent is to support more than one platform with a single CD-ROM, then it becomes necessary to consider partitioning and size issues. CD-ROMs that can run on more than one computer are physically partitioned -- Mac content in one area and MPC/Windows content in another, for example. Obviously, this poses a dilemma for programs larger than half of the disc. But even if a program is small and size is not an issue, a decision still must be made. All partitions are not equal on a CD; one will be faster than the other because the geographic location of software on the disc affects retrieval time. So you must choose which platform gets the higher performance partition. Disc Architecture and Formats There are four layers in a CD-ROM's architecture. The first two layers of the disc are layers 0 and 1. They define the physical architecture. The last two layers, layers 2 and 3, define the logical architecture. The first layer is defined by the Red Book standard and the second is defined by the Yellow Book standard.6 The last two layers are standardized to the High Sierra format, the ISO 9660 file format, or the native HFS file structure for Macs. JVC RomMaker can also create hybrid discs that appear as HFS discs to a Macintosh but are still readable on a DOS computer.4 High Sierra was the first format introduced and is the only one supported by some older versions of MSCDEX, a driver commonly used for the DOS platform. ISO 9660 is the modified replacement of High Sierra. According to Magel, "The advantages of using the ISO 9660 format include the ability to apply standard DOS commands to the CD-ROM, which just becomes another hard drive (except read-only); faster performance of CD-ROM-based applications; standardized search and retrieval; the ability to read (but not always execute) files on the same disc under DOS/Windows, System 7 and UNIX." Some disadvantages of using ISO 9660 include: "limiting valid characters to 0-9, A-Z and _ (underscore)"; "a maximum subdirectory hierarchy depth of eight levels"; and extensions on subdirectories are not allowed. The ISO 9660 is a good format choice for DOS-only or cross-platform CD-ROMs. When the disc is to be solely for Macintosh, a native HFS file structure is recommended. Data Integrity and Performance Data integrity is absolutely essential before committing the software to CD-ROM. Data integrity refers to the validity of the program's files (i.e., D'es it work properly? Is it somehow contaminated or corrupted?). To insure data integrity two things must occur. First, the application software must be thoroughly tested before it is transferred to CD-ROM because once there, it cannot be changed. The second issue is computer viruses; data should be screened by as many up-to-date virus protection packages as possible. The last thing anyone wants to do is distribute a virus. This is particularly true of CD-ROM media since it cannot be "fixed." An infected disc can be rendered worthless or even harmful. Data preparation can increase a CD-ROM's performance dramatically. This is a nontrivial issue to users accustomed to 9-12 millisecond access speeds and transfer rates in the megabytes-per-second range, standard for today's hard disks. To insure optimum performance, first, defragment the files using a disk optimizing software package. Fragmented files can slow down applications, result in broken up playback of audio and video files, and can even crash a program. Next, by carefully arranging the files to be transferred, increased retrieval performance can be achieved. Files stored on inner tracts, located on the portion of the CD nearest the central hole, have improved retrieval performance.6 Some CD-ROM recording packages allow manipulation of file arrangements on the hard disk as well as emulation of the slower speeds and geography of a CD-ROM drive. This enables a truer assessment of the end product's performance before it is committed to CD. JVC has such a recording package, JVC RomMaker.7 When placement and emulation software are not available, a cheap alternative is to use a "speed disk" program to optimize the hard drive before transferring information to the CD-ROM. Production Issues Once the logistical issues have been settled, it is time to enter the production phase. Below are descriptions of CD-R recording systems, basic information concerning service bureau logistics and costs, and some important insurance issues. CD-ROM Recording Systems There are many CD-ROM recording systems on the market. Systems comprise a computer, a Recordable CD (CD-R) drive and recording software. The recording software is often bundled with the system. A CD-R disc is also required. It looks like a gold CD; since it is recordable, however, it is more prone to damage. Take extra care not to scratch or mar the bottom surface of the disc. Many features are common among systems. Although prices and technology are ever-changing, most of the same manufacturers will continue to make CD-R devices. And while new CD-ROM formats may be introduced in the future, CD-DA (audio), ISO 9660 and Apple HFS should remain viable for some time to come. To record CD-ROMs, adequate hardware power is needed to support the recorder. For IBM-compatibles, a minimum recommended configuration is a 33MHz 486DX CPU. On the Mac side, at least a 33MHz 68040-based model is needed, like a Quadra 650 and up. Any system should have at least 8MB of RAM and a hard drive with an access speed of 10 milliseconds or less when using a double-speed recorder to avoid thermal calibration problems. Thermal calibration is the process in which a drive adjusts itself to accommodate for platter expansion due to heat; it occurs on all drives.8 On slower units, however, this causes a pause long enough to interrupt the data being streamed to the CD-R drive, which can corrupt it. Some mastering software will test your drive to make sure the data stream is adequate.9 Both Gear for Macintosh Multimedia 2.4 from Elektroson and Easy-CD Pro 4x 1.4 from Incatsystems Software provide this feature. Keep in mind, the faster your recording speed, the faster your hard drive must be to accommodate the data stream. Your hard drive should also have a partition specifically designated for the information to be recorded to the CD-R and it needs to be large enough to hold the entire program to be recorded. Be aware of the finite amount of space on a CD-ROM. They come in two sizes, 63 minute and 74 minute, which hold 550MB and 650MB respectively. Actually, the discs have a higher capacity than this, but going beyond it increases the chance of corrupting the CD.10 A SCSI port is standard on a Mac but DOS-compatible owners will need a SCSI card if they do not already have one. Adaptec's AHA 1542CF adapter and EZ SCSI software are often recommended, but consult a dealer or manual to be safe. Manufacturers of CD-R Systems There are a number of CD-R recorder manufacturers. The drives can combine various features including speed, built-in dedicated hard drives for CD-ROM imaging, support for different formats, and the ability to read CD-ROMs as well as record CD-Rs. It is a good idea to contact manufacturers and request literature on their most current product line as well as vendor information. Chart 1 is a list of CD-R drive manufacturers and dealers. For each is at least one drive, list prices, and a way to contact the manufacturer to locate a local dealer if applicable. Some not mentioned above include Microboards, Philips, Pioneer, Ricoh and Todd Enterprises. Yamaha also sells a drive, the CD Expert CDE-100, that works at single-, double- and quad-speed. It is important to note that firms often repackage another manufacturer's drive under their name. Yamaha's quad-speed recorder is one commonly repackaged. A key technicality to remember is that the recording speed of the CD-R drive and the reading speed of a CD-R disc are independent of each other. A disc recorded at quad-speed can be read on a single-speed reader (at single-speed), and a disc recorded at single-speed can be read at quad-speed on a quad-speed drive.10 Higher speed recorders require a CD-R disc that is made for higher speed recording. While you can use a CD-R disc designed to accommodate lower speed recording in a higher speed drive, you will only be able to safely record it at the lower speed. Once recorded, the disc works the same regardless of the recording speed for which it was designed. The CD-R recording software needs to be compatible with the CD-R drive. Some packages support multiple drives, but check with the manufacturer or your vendor to confirm any software choice. Fortunately, most drives come bundled with recording software, which both eliminates this as a problem and passes on a substantial discount to the buyer. Sold separately, professional CD-R recording software sells for $1,200 to $10,000, although prices are dropping. Check out Corel's CD Creator and Optical Media's QuickTOPiX . CD-ROM Publishing Service Bureaus The most cost-effective way to produce large quantities of a single CD-ROM is a service bureau. The cost to produce the glass master and stamper needed to make the replicate CD-ROMs is $450 to $2,150, depending on the number of colors to be used on the disc's label and the turn-around time. Actual CD-ROMs created from the stamper run $1 to $2 apiece, again depending on the number of colors in the label and the quantity. Occasionally a special-run promotion for 100 discs can be found for $1,000 to $1,500. This suits those interested in pressing a smaller number without investing in equipment. The question that needs to be answered is: When d'es it become cost effective to produce a glass master? In considering this question, account for future projects. Do you plan to master several different CD-ROMs or just one? And how many of each? Keep in mind that the cost to produce the glass master and stamper is a one-time fee. If more of the same disc are needed in the future, that cost has already been incurred, although a setup fee may still be applicable. Another advantage to using a service bureau is that managing the production process and paying for mistakes lies on the shoulders of the bureau. Depending on the situation, this could be crucial. For example, if the project is on a budget that absolutely cannot afford time delays, mistakes or the other expenses that go with utilizing unfamiliar technologies, then it may be wiser to opt for a service bureau. Some service bureaus own CD-R drives and will record a CD-R for you. The fee usually runs $100 to $150 for each disc recorded.11 These discs are commonly referred to as "one-offs" since only one disc is recorded at a time. It is a good alternative to buying equipment or having glass masters made if a great number of CDs is not required. Packaging is also considered during production. Presentation can sometimes be an important issue. For example, if the discs are for promotional purposes, it may be wise to invest in more colors on the CD, its case and cover. A slick four-color cardboard shrink-wrapped package could cost $1.20 to $1.50 per disc.5 On the other hand, if the disc is destined for a drive connected to a server in a closet someplace, or if it is for backing up company data, then being "pretty" d'esn't matter. Plain white or color paper sleeves, also known as "teabags," may be fine. Teabag packaging only runs 5¢ to 10¢ per disc. A sample list of companies that offer CD-ROM mastering services is provided in List 1, most of which are compliments of Mark Protus, manager of Media Productions at Microsoft Educational Services.5 One Last Issue: Insurance Insurance can play a major role in a project, including the production phase. Although it may not prevent the pressing of a disc, it can influence a project in a number of ways. Without the appropriate insurance, some major and minor setbacks can be encountered. The following two situations are examples: Many companies will not rent equipment to those not properly insured. Nearly all professional rental houses will require General Liability insurance.12 Distributors sometimes will not distribute software unless the producer has Errors & Omission coverage, which covers being sued for something put in the final product. Coverage includes being sued for slander, invasion of privacy, copyright infringement, unauthorized use of trademarks, etc. This insurance runs as high as $4,500 per production.12 Although the latter has little to do with production, it precedes distribution and thus may require early attention. Step-by-Step Production Strategy The plan of attack presented here can be used as a guide for those considering putting an application on CD-ROM. Its purpose is to help one decide if, and how, CD-ROM media should be produced. STEP 1: Determine if distribution on CD-ROM is appropriate. Decide if your application lends itself to a CD-ROM format. Very large applications are particularly good candidates. Research the target market to determine if it supports CD-ROM media. Although CD-ROM drives are becoming more prevalent, there are some markets that do not have enough access to them to make it a feasible media choice. An alternative in this situation is to offer a CD-ROM version of the software as well as a floppy disk version. The traditional media version could be scaled down to fit the smaller amount of storage space. STEP 2: Know the difference between CD-R recorders and mastering facilities. Before embarking on a production project, it is important to understand the production options. The Production Issues section presented earlier can assist in this task. The vendors of CD-R recording hardware and software are another good resource. It is also beneficial to contact mastering facilities, who will often provide a tour of their facilities at no cost. STEP 3: Verify costs. Once the options are understood, it is time to gather details. Contact vendors and mastering facilities to nail down costs and timelines. When investigating mastering bureaus, find out exactly what they require and determine what your costs would be to meet them. Some bureaus may be flexible in terms of how they receive your data to be mastered and some may not. A service bureau will usually accept DDS or DDS2 DAT tapes or a one-off.11 After delivery details, find out what the turn-around time will be for an order. This is usually about 10 days, with rush orders higher priced. When determining costs, ask for a breakdown. As mentioned earlier, the glass master should be a one-time fee with discs carrying a per-item fee. One-offs should run around $100 to $150. For either in-house recording systems or data preparation for service bureaus, you will need to assess the costs for equipment, media, packaging, training and in-house production plus decide on timelines. STEP 4: Make a decision. Now, all the facts are gathered. How much it costs, benefits and advantages, timelines and personal limitations are all known. It is time to make an educated commitment. Cost Comparisons Below is a comparison of the cost effectiveness of producing a CD-ROM in-house versus contracting a service bureau to produce one-offs, or a glass master and replicas. The variables represented are: the cost of the media, mastering fees, cost of a CD-R drive for in-house recording, number of different applications to be transferred to CD and the total number of CD-ROMs to be produced regardless of the number of different originals. Costs for in-house equipment to prepare data (such as tape drives and DDS2 tapes), internal labor and packaging are not incorporated. The glass mastering figures are based on a four-color disc label and a turn-around time of ten days. Graph 1 shows trends for each production choice. The main expense of producing a glass master and replicas is the glass master itself. While the cost of glass master production seems very constant, it d'es increase as one increases the number of replicas pressed. However, since replicas only cost a dollar or two each, the increase is not dramatic. Note that glass mastering costs are greatly affected by the number of different applications produced. This is because a glass master has to be made for every unique CD-ROM. Thus, it can be very economical to produce high-volume orders for a single application, but extremely expensive to do low volumes. In-house production costs are similar to those of glass mastering as there is an initial investment and then a per-copy cost for the media. One main difference is that the initial investment, the CD-R system, is not repeated for every application. Another is that in-house production costs increase more dramatically than those of glass mastering as the number of replicas increases. This is because of the more expensive media. In this example, the cost of one CD-R disc is $18. An in-house recorder is best suited for multiple applications with a limited number of copies. Finally, production costs using one-offs directly corresponds (1:1) with the number of discs made. This makes it a great solution for very low quantity needs but inappropriate for high volumes. Figure 1 is based on ten applications, a $100 one-off rate, $5,000 for a CD-R recorder and $18 per CD-R disc. The glass mastering costs are based on figures by Mark Protus. Thus the following cost-effective table can be constructed. Spreadsheet as Decision-Support Tool It is highly recommended that a spreadsheet be constructed to calculate the production costs for a given situation. You can then make modifications "on the fly" and results are automatically calculated. This is because a spreadsheet holds both static and dynamic information and will recalculate and rechart ceaselessly. For example, enter all of your static information -- such as manufacturing costs based on turnaround time, volume and colors -- and link dynamic data (numbers you can change) such as CD-R recorder costs, the number of applications you would like to put on CD-ROM, turnaround time, number of colors on the disc's label and one-off costs. Expenses will be plotted dynamically as you enter numbers in the data cells. It is helpful to make the graph increment a dynamic number as well, so that you can survey production on a single-disc scale, thousand-disc scale or whatever scale is appropriate. This is an invaluable tool for playing "what if..." and keeping figures up-to-date. The spreadsheet used to produce the chart is shown in Figure 1. The dynamic cells in that spreadsheet are those listed under "Variables" as well as the increment for the graph. Summary Utilizing CD-ROM media to distribute programs or data is becoming increasingly practical as applications increase in size, production costs decrease and the installed base of CD-ROM drives grows. The important thing for anyone interested in utilizing this technology is to research the current user market, technology and costs to determine if it is the right choice for the given situation. With useful guides and literature to assist, the research and decision process should be considerably less difficult. It is already more affordable. Bryan Carter is a Masters student in Computer-based Education and a graduate research assistant developing electronic performance support systems (EPSS) for the Learning and Performance Support Laboratory (LPSL) at the Department of Instructional Technology, The University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. His expected graduation date is March 1995. E-mail: bc@m'e.c' References: 1. Tanner, D., "CD-ROM: A New Technology with Promise for Education," T.H.E. Journal, 16(1) 1988, pp. 57-60. 2. Strothman, J., "CD-R Hardware and Software Prices Plunge," Computer Pictures, 12(3), 1994, pp. s12-s13. 3. Stankiewicz, S., "CD-ROM Drives Sell with a Vengeance," Computer Shopper, August 1994, p 65. 4. Magel, M., "CD-ROM Recording Systems," Digital Video Magazine, July 1994, pp. 46-54. 5. Protus, M. "Insuring a Good Project, or: Protection from Murphy's Law," Digital Video Magazine, August 1994, pp. 72-74. 6. Pahwa, A., The CD-Recordable Bible, Wilton, CT: Eight Bit Books, (1994). 7. Reynolds, S., Unpublished interview with Steve Reynolds of Razza Digital, a multimedia production company, June 1994. 8. MicroNet staff, Unpublished interview with company representatives of MicroNet Technology Corp.


, a data storage company, June 1994. 9. Chan, A., "CD-Recordable Software Lets You Burn Your Own Discs," MacWEEK, 8(48), 1994, p. 46. 10. Loope, W., Unpublished interview with Walter Loope, of Data Disc, technical sales, a CD-ROM service bureau and CD-R VAR, December 1994. 11. Brackett, F., Unpublished interview with Fred Brackett, president of Computer Consulting and Management Systems, July 1994. 12. Holsinger, E., "Insuring a Good Project, or: Protection from Murphy's Law," Digital Video Magazine, July 1994, pp. 72-74. The author wishes to acknowledge the help and information he received from interviewing Dr. James King, associate professor of Instructional Technology at The University of Georgia, (July 1994); Bruce Howerton, office manager for Tropus, a digital imaging corporation, (Dec. 1994) and Bill Patrick, Apple Certified Technician, of the University of Georgia Computer Store, (July 1994). Other products mentioned: Gear for Macintosh Multimedia 2.4; Elektroson USA, Bala Cynwyd, Pa., (610) 617-0850 Easy-CD Pro 4x 1.4; Incatsystems Software USA, Inc., Campbell, Calif., (408) 379-2400 Adaptec AHA 1542CF adapter and EZ SCSI software; Adaptec, Inc., Milpitas, Calif., (800) 442-SCSI Playwrite; Microboards of America, Inc., Carver, Minn., (612) 448-9400 CD Creator; Corel Corp., Ottowa, Ontario, Canada, (613) 828-8200 CD-R drives; Philips LMS, Colorado Springs, Colo., (800) 777-5674 CD-R drives; Pioneer New Media Technologies, Inc., Long Beach, Calif., (800) 444-6784 CD-R drives; Ricoh Corp., San Jose, Calif., (800) 44-RICOH CD Expert CDE-100 drive; Yamaha Corp. of America, San Jose, Calif., (800) 543-7457 CD-R Cube, a single desktop CD-R unit including Pentium computer, CD-R drive, software & more; Todd Enterprises, Inc., Bayside, N.Y., (800) 445-TODD QuickTOPiX; Optical Media Int'l, Los Gatos, Calif., (800) 347-2664

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.