DVDs – digital versatile disks – how they’re made and how they work

At first glance, a DVD disc can easily be mistaken for a CD: both are plastic discs 120mm in diameter and 1.2mm thick and both rely on lasers to read data stored in pits in a spiral track. And whilst it can be said that the similarities end there, it’s also true that DVD’s seven-fold increase in data capacity over the CD has been largely achieved by tightening up the tolerances throughout the predecessor system. Firstly, the tracks are placed closer together, thereby allowing more tracks per disc. The DVD track pitch (the distance between each) is reduced to 0.74 micron, less than half of CD’s 1.6 micron. The pits, in which the data is stored, are also a lot smaller, thus allowing more pits per track. The minimum pit length of a single layer DVD is 0.4 micron as compared to 0.834 micron for a CD. With the number of pits having a direct bearing on capacity levels, DVD’s reduced track pitch and pit size alone give DVD-ROM discs four times the storage capacity of CDs. The packing of as many pits as possible onto a disc is, however, the simple part and DVD’s real technological breakthrough was with its laser. Smaller pits mean that the laser has to produce a smaller spot, and DVD achieves this by reducing the laser’s wavelength from the 780nm (nanometers) infrared light of a standard CD, to 635nm or 650nm red light. Secondly, the DVD specification allows information to be scanned from more than one layer of a DVD simply by changing the focus of the read laser. Instead of using an...

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