(Ehanced Compact Disc, CD Plus or CD Extra)
Sometimes called a CD Plus (CD+), CD “Extra” or an Enhanced CD (ECD) these are disks that have regular CD audio files (called CDA) that play in any home or car CD player as well as on any PC or Macintosh computer. They also have “extras” such as pictures or video files that only play on a computer.
DVD disks, you see, only play in special DVD players or drives. They are also quite expensive to fabricate. DVD-R disks are still as expensive as $5 each (although they are coming down in raw costs). To make a DVD requires creation of a special indexing file and then turning your videos into little tracks that get accessed by the index. The process of doing this at home is still very much an infant art. The process of doing this commercial is common place, but the charges are often $100 or more per hour to set up the DVD.
You may have heard of these “video CDs” that are known as the Chinese equivalent of a DVD. These are easy to make on most home CD-R burning software, but they don’t play in many DVD players and they generally lack a good index, so their potential for use has major limitations.
Thus, we come back to the ECD which can be made on many CD-R burners for about $1 or less with existing software. Here the limitation for home made CD-R disks is that they are generally PC or Mac specific, although either machine can access some of the materials including audio files, sometimes pictures and maybe even the video. But the runtime software you see in professional ECD disks is not something you can do at home easily. But, since Macintosh makes up 7% of less of the computers out there in the world, your odds of getting good response from an ECD are quite good.
There are two types of ECD disks you can burn. Passive (those containing only raw file information) and active (those that do things for the user automatically).
A passive disk is made by simply clicking on the “multi media” or “ECD” or “CD Plus” option of your burning software, selecting your audio files to play in a regular stereo system, then selecting what pictures, documents, Adobe PDF files or video materials you also want to add. The user can play the audio tracks like any normal CD in almost any computer or player – even a Macintosh will sense CD audio burned on A PC and spawn their internal player. For the rest of the materials the user needs to know they are there and has to have the tools to access them. These tools might include Windows Media Player, Music Match, Winamp, Kazaa, Real Player and many other shareware or demo packages can use most if not all the files on the PC disk. Even a Macintosh can access some of these files.
An active disk has runtime software that works just like professional ECD disks from Jewel, No Doubt, Sarah McLaughlin and from our latest issue Omar Sosa. Expensive, professionally made ECD disks have both Macintosh and Windows compatible runtime software and they can burn the disks to meet compatible standards.
CD audio, CD video, CD photos, CD for PC and CD for Mac all have different “standards” which are known as books and identified by their colors. There is red book, green book, blue book, yellow book, orange book, etc., each "book" details how the index is created, the track size, the packet information, etc.
While you can burn a disk to two or more different books on either a Mac or a PC that whole disk is burnt to a book standard for the platform. This is something you can fake or emulate. Professional fabricators have ways of getting around this, but they charge a lot of money to make such a disk.
To create an active ECD you either need to get a specific runtime package. Real Player and Quick Time from Apple both offer production software that will generate a final package. You can buy these packages (and they are not cheap, Real Producer Professional retails for over $500) or find someone who owns a legal copy and have them help you make a direct run program file.
Another way to do it is how I did it for the Clarissa J Rawkis ECD package, using Visual Basic, a dedicated software programming language used by a lot of people out there, even in the music world.
Visual Basic (pictured below) has tools to create a web browser. Tools to create several media players. It even has tools to create a picture viewer.
I decided on using the web browser and making a mini version of the Rawkis web site ( http://www.rawkis.com. This site had her bio, pictures and other items we felt would make for a nice ECD. We also packed in two medium quality, full length videos and made two custom players to help the user view them.
One player worked quite nicely, it was the standard Visual Basic Multi-Media (MM) control. This will play wave, midi, CD audio, some AVI and MPG files. It does not support some MPEG types nor does it play MP3 (which is a form of MPEG compression). Basically this control is a first generation tool from Microsoft dating back to the early 1990’s and Windows 3.1. We made a player that could sense and handle various files from the disk. Put her picture on the form. Included all the runtime materials on the disk in the same directory as the program and files. That way the user didn’t have to install Visual Basic 6.0 to make the program work. We did include an installation package, but the files in this are a little behind the times and we didn’t want to hurt anyone’s modern system by throwing them back 4 years with an old file that still works, but is old.
We made another player that launched Windows Media Player, but this one required a runtime component to be installed on the system (some people will have that components other will not) so with several of our beta testers we found they got zero results from this player. We kept it in the package, just in case, but pushed in our detailed instructions to get the user to work directly with Windows Media Player or use our other smaller player instead.
That one we knew worked. During alpha testing we took it to a 1998 IBM PC we found in upstate New York at a local small village library. That was a bare bones computer with a 15x CD drive and no media components installed. We put the disk in, it launched our browser, with the push of a button our player was launched and in seconds the small MPG video was working just fine on a 5 year old, Pentium II running at 233 M Hz with no media equipment installed.
We also included a link to the video on the web page index. This, too, works on some computers but not all. You have to have the MPG or AVI file type associated with an installed media player. Then when you click on the link (which calls up an AVI file) it would run the software and pass the file name over for loading. This, too, failed on some of our beta test copies, but we kept it in place because it did work for some and it let the user know there was a video on the disk.
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