Why Do CDs and DVDs Add Data From the Center Outwards?

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When burning a CD or DVD at home, you might find yourself wondering why data is always added from the center outwards? Would it really matter if the data was added in the opposite direction like old vinyl records were fixed? Is there more to it? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a curious reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader Burgi wants to know why CDs and DVDs add data from the center outwards:

Recently, I had to burn a DVD for the first time in ages and I was wondering why CDs and DVDs start adding data in the center of the disc and work their way toward the outer edge.

Older rotating-disc media like vinyl records started from the outer edge and went in toward the center, so it could not have been for historical reasons.

I am looking for good sources that explain the reasoning for this data structure/setup.

Why do CDs and DVDs add data from the center outwards?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor DavidPostill has the answer for us:

Why do CDs and DVDs add data from the center outwards?

Note that the assumption made in the question above is incorrect.

Summary

  • For historical reasons, writing (and reading) from the inside makes sense (different sized discs are possible as explained in other answers).
  • For read performance reasons, modern discs may be written (and read) outside in or even in both directions (dual layer).

Notes

  • Most discs are a standard size.
  • Commercially produced CDs and DVDs are not written at all, they are stamped on a press.

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Source: The Difference Between Commercial and Home-Recorded DVDs

The rest of this answer concentrates on the performance aspect. The exceptions to writing (and reading) from the inside are Xbox games (and other game consoles’ games) and Dual Layer DVDs (movies).

Xbox Games

Xbox games have the data written from the outside in for performance reasons. Since the outside is spinning faster than the inside, the data can be read faster.

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Source: Hardware Behind the Consoles – Part I: Microsoft’s Xbox

Dual Layer DVDs (Movies)

Dual Layer DVDs can be written in either direction, there are two write modes. Most movies are written using the opposite track path technique. A movie will be split across across the layers, so no seek back to the inner edge is needed at the layer change point.

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Source: DVD-R DL


Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Image Credit: Freejpg (Flickr)

Akemi Iwaya is a devoted Mozilla Firefox user who enjoys working with multiple browsers and occasionally dabbling with Linux. She also loves reading fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as playing "old school" role-playing games. You can visit her on Twitter and .