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Setting up a CD-ROM Bureau

David T Harrison
Queensland Distance Education College
This paper outlines the background to the setting up of a CD-ROM Bureau at the Queensland Distance Education College (QDEC). It seeks to describe some of the research undertaken prior to a decision being made to implement the Bureau. Some of the pitfalls encountered along the way are described and the way that these were overcome outlined. The criteria for what are regarded as desirable features of a CD-ROM cutter are outlined. The need for a business plan is emphasised and an example is given. The capabilities of the QDEC facility are outlined.

Introduction and rationale

This paper describes the process that the Queensland Distance Education College (QDEC) employed to set up a CD-ROM facility.

It attempts to identify some of the pitfalls encountered along the way, but it is hoped that by the end of this presentation you will have been enthused and also that some of the hype surrounding the medium will have been removed.

The initial aim of the research was to set up a CD-ROM facility within QDEC, which would enable the College to enter into the field of optical publishing. By using the attributes of CD-ROM such as large storage capacity, ability to integrate several media on the one delivery platform and the ability to create a stable and interchangeable interactive medium, the quality of learning materials delivered to the client would be enhanced.

Whilst it is recognised that many clients will not, at present, have a CD-ROM drive, the extensive Open Learning Centre network which has been established throughout Queensland does provide the facilities needed to access and use this medium. Thus no student need be disadvantaged.

In addition to the improved quality of the learning materials is the potential to move to just in time printing or delivery of materials to the client.

Another reason for interest in the use of this medium is the potential cost saving. In printing alone a potential cost saving could be as much as 1400 to 1 in favour of publishing on CD-ROM as against paper, before considering the saving in postage. This saving can then be diverted to the production of more interactive learning materials. The facility became a reality in November of 1993.

Initial research and methodology

Research into CD-ROM was born out of empirical research which showed the difficulties and cost of using alternative media, such as computer control of video tape and the complexity of setting up a system which the client could both afford and put together at the learning site. The costs of such a system could be as much as $4000 additional cost after the cost of the computer.

The current cost of a CD-ROM drive and sound card varies between $600 and $1500, with the potential for this figure to decrease significantly over the next twelve months.

This initial research was commenced in late 1990, in conjunction with QUT, as one of their staff was a member of the QDEC Council's Technology Committee, and was continued on a part time basis over two years, by the writer, before finally coming, to fruition.

One of the original ideas was to form a joint venture partnership, but this did not eventuate. However, some of that collaboration was in the form of two' QUT third year student's joint research project. These students did a literature search and cost benefit projection on the use of CD-ROM compared with print. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of CD-ROM.

Reading of the trends reported in journals, and other research done by QDEC for the National Working Party for Flexible Delivery, (which involved interviewing research and development personnel from major technology providers and major users), revealed that the CD-ROM medium and the personal work station would provide the base for a convergence of telecommunications, video, audio and data, which would ultimately allow the delivery of training materials directly into the workplace or home computer.

Further personal interviews were conducted with equipment providers and users as well as those preparing material for the CD-ROM medium.

As a result of a paper presented to the Director of QDEC, the State Government approved a submission to set up the CD-ROM Bureau.


Analysis of sales brochures

It is not what these can tell you that is important. It is what they don't tell you that can get you into trouble! They outlined some or all of the attributes and technical specifications of the hardware, but neglected to say what else was needed to produce a CD-ROM. The major problem with some hardware suppliers was that they did not have the goods in stock to look at, demonstrate or test. An order was required to be placed before the supplier would bring the goods into the country.

Others sent a catalogue of software products available with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to over one hundred thousand dollars, but not say what they do or whether they were needed. Worse, when phoned for further information no-one could provide any.

Another frustration occurred when the signatory of a letter which did not answer the original query, was no longer working for that firm a week later when rung back for clarification. They probably did not know the answer any way, which is why they were not there any more. But then neither did anyone else!

Visits to sales and production companies

During the course of the research two of the major CD-ROM production companies were visited in Sydney and also the disc production facility in Victoria. A private preparer of material for the medium was also visited. The CD-ROM production companies were naturally wary and would not reveal too much in case it was found out that the process was really easy and do, and that a new competitor would be born.

Visits to multimedia production organisations

The most productive visits were to those organisations who were not selling hardware or software eg, those actually producing for the medium. Victoria University of Technology and RMIT were particularly helpful. From these people it was learned what software was actually needed and the type of hardware really required.

Sifting the hype from reality

Understanding the medium

To produce an effective CD-ROM it is important to understand how the CD-ROM works and how the information is laid down.

There are two ways of producing a CD-ROM. The first involves cutting a write once read many times (WORM) disc. This is achieved by a high energy laser cutting a series of pits in a special coating on a Gold disc.

The second way involves sending that disc or a nine track tape to a disc pressing plant and having multiple copies made. In this process a nickel and glass pressing master is made, and the CD/s are then pressed in a similar manner to the old vinyl records, aluminised, and sealed.

The track that is cut is not like that on a magnetic hard drive. On a magnetic hard drive the track in segmented and laid down in a series of concentric cylinders and is non-continuous. Reading of them tracks is achieved by the read head checking the file allocation table (index) and jumping to the appropriate track segment and cluster.

By comparison the track on a CD-ROM is a continuous spiral, beginning at the centre of the disc and spiralling to the outer edge. This makes the finding of a particular file much slower than a hard disc as the head must first read the index and then spiral out to the find the appropriate file.

Thus those files most often used should be located as close as possible to the centre of the disc to reduce access time.

Removing the mystique

There has been a lot of hype surrounding CD-ROMs and much of the mystique assuredly has been perpetrated by the CD-ROM producers to "keep the business in the family."

Whilst there is quite a deal of technical background to the specifications of the CD-ROM to ensure that one disc can be played on any manufacturers drive, for the CD-ROM producer and the end user, the CD-ROM can be considered to be either a DOS, Macintosh or UNIX disc and accessed as if it were another drive. The only difference is that it is READ ONLY.

What you really need

One of the problems originally faced was, what was really needed? The answer to that question was not easy to determine.

At the beginning of the research there was only one ROM-maker that was advertised. When the Australian agents were finally found the requirement was that, to see one in operation, one would have to order one! At a price of about $40,000 neither the Queensland Distance Education College nor TAFE TEQ was interested in forking out that kind of money just to see if it is what was required!

There are now several ROM cutters around but getting the one that does what you want with software that lets you test before you cut is the problem.

The ability to test before you cut is very important. With gold masters at $60 it is good to be sure that the end product will work. In addition the software should also be able to order the files onto the disc, emulate a CD-ROM in the testing phase, including simulate the delay associated with the search time, and be capable of both multi-session and append.

Multi-session is a term applied to cutting a CD-ROM Gold Master over several cutting sessions. To read a disc prepared this way the CD-ROM drive reader must have this capability built into it. This is because at the beginning of each new cutting session a new index track is cut. Older drives read only the first index track and ignore any others. Thus they will not read multi-session discs. The append capability overcomes this problem.

The above requirements should be provided as part of the software to drive the ROM maker.

The equipment types and costs

Sony, JVC, Philips, Kodak, Yamaha, Marantz, Meridian Data, etc

It is not intended to give a critical review of each of these ROM cutters. The prices range from about $10,000 to $30,000 approximately - depending on maker, configuration and software provided to drive it.

Like all things - you get what you pay for. Some are easier to use than others. All will cut to IS09660 standard. Some have their own built in hard drives, others don't.

This means you need a 700 MB external hard drive, or at least an 800 MB to 1 GB hard drive in your computer to accommodate the CD-ROM data and any programs needed to compile that information. Networking can help but at some stage you need to get all the information in one place to test it before cutting or burning your ROM. This is a lot easier if the ROM maker has its own hard drive. By the time an extra hard drive is purchased the cost of the cheaper units starts to approach the more expensive unit.

The cheaper units usually have only the software to cut the disc to IS09660 standard with Reed-Solomon error correction and nothing else.

Some units write at double speed so that a 680 MB disc only takes half an hour to cut instead of an how. At this speed some reports suggest that the writing is not as accurate as the slower speed units. If this is the case then the integrity of the data burned onto the disc cannot be guaranteed.

The software types and costs

Indexing and retrieval software

Here is where it can get messy. Software in this area can range from a few hundred dollars to over one hundred thousand dollars! It also depends on whether you need text retrieval with or without images or whether your need is for fully fielded retrieval, with or without images.

This software is NOT necessary if the work does not require the searching of text or database information.

As we mentioned earlier the CD-ROM disc can be considered to be just another DOS, MAC or UNIX disc which is permanently write protected. Therefore you can treat it like another disc and put any software on it you like using whatever software is necessary to run and retrieve the information you have placed on it. If, for example, you have prepared a multimedia program using one of the authoring programs, that program's player or presentation software can be used to retrieve and present the program.


Be careful here. Royalties vary from nothing to as much as $300 per disc! I have heard that one retrieval program charges $750 per disc!

Often this must be paid up front before you sell a disc, so you could be up for a $30,000 payment before you sell a disc if 100 discs were cut!


Any authoring program can be used to prepare materials for the CD-ROM medium. Some will require a bit of juggling to Set the program to recognise that its files are not on the "C:" drive but on another, which may be any other letter of the alphabet, so you can't be specific as to which drive letter it is when preparing your disc. Remember the structure of the medium and that spiral track.

When designing any computer aided learning, make sure that the most often used files are placed at the beginning of the disk, and those least often used towards the outside. Most computer aided learning materials take a linear path from a starting point to a conclusion assuming that most students will progress through it without much difficulty. With the modem authoring programs and teaching methods there is the ability to build in tests and feed back loops with extra remedial work to help the students progress. On the assumption that the material is well prepared and trialled and is pitched at a level that most students can handle, those remedial segments will not be accessed very often. Therefore those files can be located towards the end of the spiral track. This task is done at the time of compiling the CD-ROM.


The CD-ROM was originally developed for the music industry to provide a higher quality replay medium to replace the vinyl record. Hence the continuous spiral track. Up to seventy minutes of high quality audio can be placed onto a CD. This huge storage capacity lends itself to being used by high data volume materials like multimedia, where sound, video, text, photographs and animated graphics can be stored and displayed as an integrated whole in the multimedia learning package. As the technology develops allowing a higher density storage capacity and the evolution of higher compression algorithms for video, we will see full length feature movies recorded on CD-ROM and complete multimedia courses on the one disc.


The development of a business plan

Cutting the first ROM

Collecting the data

Collecting the data may not be as straight forward as it might first seem. The client may bring their own hard disc with them. They may also bring a stack of floppy discs! One way around this is to use a portable DAT tape drive with tapes configured to the format required eg, DOS, UNIX or Macintosh. This tape drive can be used as a straight backup and restored onto the ROM maker's hard drive. Alternately it can be configured as another disc drive and the files copied onto it in the order required in the final program

There may be other problems where the data may have to be converted from. an odd operating system. In this case it is best to use a data conversion bureau rather than getting the software and hardware for what might be a one off job.

Organising the data

This has been discussed in other parts of the paper. Make sure that the most accessed files are placed on the ROM first.

Checking the data

Before cutting the gold master, run the emulation software and test the operation of the potential CD-ROM. The log file with the software provided with the ROM maker will, when printed out, help to identify any problems encountered. Them problem may be bad file names, especially if the CD is to be a multiformat disc able to be played on both a Macintosh and a DOS machine.

Cutting the ROM

Once it has been established that there are no problems, then cut the CD-ROM gold master.

Queensland Distance Education College CD-ROM bureau capabilities

The CD-ROM Bureau was established in 1993 to provide a bureau service to TAFE, the Queensland Distance Education College and industry in all aspects of multimedia production and optical publishing. The Bureau was officially launched by the Hon Matthew Foley MLA on 24th November 1993.

CD-ROM bureau services

The CD-ROM Bureau can offer the following services at reasonable rates. For costs of these services please refer to the enclosed price list.

Editorial note: 14 clip art graphics have been omitted from the web version of this section.

Cutting Gold Masters The hardware and software used enables us to test the CD-ROM before actually cutting the ROM. This is called pre-testing. It involves emulating the ROM and running it as if it was cut. This procedure enables the client to know that what is produced on the Gold Master will work. Following the cutting a post check is made to ensure the integrity of the final product.

We can also arrange for multiple copies to be made.

All work is performed in accordance with QDEC's Quality Assurance procedures.

Multimedia Productions The CD-ROM Bureau can also produce multimedia learning materials or presentations from conception to completion using the following authoring programs:
Asymetrix Toolbook - Windows
IBM Linkway - DOS
Author - DOS
Icon Author - Windows
Authorware Professional - Windows and Macintosh
Macromedia Director - Macintosh
Hypercard - Macintosh
Any other as the client requires

Image Capture The Bureau has four image capture facilities.

The first is the RasterOps STV24 in the Macintosh Quadra 700. This enables the capture of both still and moving images, the latter as Quick Time Movies.

Composite video and S-VHS inputs are available.

Quick Time Movies so produced can be displayed on DOS machines using Quick Time for DOS.

The second capture facility is the Screen Machine still image capture facility in the DOS graphics computer.

Both these facilities allow for image manipulation such as colour, sizing enhancement and saving to a number of file formats.

The third facility is the Canon CLC10 400dpi Colour Scanner/Printer in which colour photographs and other images can be scanned and saved to a number of file formats. These files may be incorporated into multimedia presentations or printed as full colour images as required. The scanner is also a colour photocopier. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) enables scanned text to be brought into, and edited by a word processor. Text retrieval and indexing software is available to enable rapid retrieval of text containing any word incorporated into the index.

The fourth image capture facility is a JVC GY-X1TC S-VHS video camera which enables us to capture high quality still and moving images for processing through the RasterOps card and the Screen Machine.

Graphics and Animation Capabilities In addition to the graphic and animation facilities of the authoring programs, the CD-ROM Bureau has the following programs to draw upon:
Animator Pro
Studio 3D
Paintbrush V
CorelDraw 3
Adobe Photoshop - Windows & Macintosh
Quicktime - Windows & Macintosh
Video for Windows - Windows
Common Ground - Macintosh & Windows

Computer Aided Learning (CAL) Authoring The CD-ROM Bureau has access to the large resources of QDEC including Instructional Designers, Content Experts and the QDEC Media unit. These combined resources make it possible to produce high quality interactive multimedia computer aided learning materials using the authoring programs mentioned above. It is possible to work to any combination of involvement from we do it all to you do it all.

Hire of Authoring Station In the light of the above it is possible to hire an authoring station. This gives you access to a computer with an authoring program of your choice loaded to develop your own materials. You may call on the staff of the CD-ROM Bureau for minimal assistance. It is expected though that before attempting this you would have attended one of the training courses in the authoring program of your choice.

Training Training can be provided in all aspects of CD-ROM production, from a general overview to a detailed training from conception to completion.

Alternately training is available in any of the programs used in CD-ROM learning materials production.

Instructional Design The CD-ROM Bureau has access to the resources of QDEC's Learning Materials Development Unit from which the instructional designers work. When a project is received a team is formed of the most appropriate personnel to design the learning materials required. These would include instructional designers, content experts, media and graphics staff and others as needed.

Desktop Publishing Desktop publishing services are available for the preparation of manuals to accompany the multimedia materials. These may include colour photographs or screen dumps as necessary.

Movie editing Full video production and editing are available through QDEC's Media Unit. However for those inclusions into the multimedia product which do not require such a degree of sophistication in the editing process, these can be done in the computer and added to the final product.

Author: David T. Harrison, BA, TTTC, Manager CD-ROM Bureau, Queensland Distance Education College, Department of Employment, Voc Ed, Training and Industrial Relations, GPO Box 1326, Brisbane Qld 4001. Tel: 07 840 4844 Fax: 07 846 1869

Please cite as: Harrison, D. T. (1994). Setting up a CD-ROM Bureau. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 182-188. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/hj/harrison.html

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