In computing and optical disc recording technologies, an optical disc (OD) is a flat, usually, circular disc which encodes binary data (bits) in the form of pits (binary value of 0 or off, due to lack of reflection when read) and lands (binary value of 1 or on, due to a reflection when read) on a special material (often aluminum) on one of its flat surfaces. The encoding material sits atop a thicker substrate (usual polycarbonate) which makes up the bulk of the disc and forms a dust defocusing layer. The encoding pattern follows a continuous, spiral path covering the entire disc surface and extending from the innermost track to the outermost track. The data is stored on the disc with a laser or stamping machine and can be accessed when the data path is illuminated with a laser diode in an optical disc drive which spins the disc at speeds of about 200 to 4,000 RPM or more, depending on the drive type, disc format, and the distance of the read head from the center of the disc (inner tracks are read at a higher disc speed). Most optical discs exhibit a characteristic iridescence as a result of the diffraction grating formed by its grooves. This side of the disc contains the actual data and is typically coated with a transparent material, usually lacquer. The reverse side of an optical disc usually has a printed label, sometimes made of paper but often printed or stamped onto the disc itself. Unlike the 31⁄2-inch floppy disk, most optical discs do not have an integrated protective casing and are therefore susceptible to data transfer problems due to scratches, fingerprints, and other environmental problems.
Optical discs are usually between 7.6 and 30 cm (3 to 12 in) in diameter, with 12 cm (4.75 in) being the most common size. A typical disc is about 1.2 mm (0.05 in) thick, while the track pitch (distance from the center of one track to the center of the next) ranges from 1.6 μm (for CDs) to 320 nm (for Blu-ray discs).
An optical disc is designed to support one of three recording types: read-only (e.g.: CD and CD-ROM), recordable (write-once, e.g. CD-R), or re-recordable (rewritable, e.g. CD-RW). Write-once optical discs commonly have an organic dye recording layer between the substrate and the reflective layer. Rewritable discs typically contain an alloy recording layer composed of a phase change material, most often AgInSbTe, an alloy of silver, indium, antimony, and tellurium.
Optical discs are most commonly used for storing music (e.g. for use in a CD player), video (e.g. for use in a Blu-ray player), or data and programs for personal computers (PC). The Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA) promotes standardized optical storage formats. Although optical discs are more durable than earlier audio-visual and data storage formats, they are susceptible to environmental and daily-use damage. Libraries and archives enact optical media preservation procedures to ensure continued usability in the computer's optical disc drive or corresponding disc player.
For computer data backup and physical data transfer, optical discs such as CDs and DVDs are gradually being replaced with faster, smaller solid-state devices, especially the USB flash drive. This trend is expected to continue as USB flash drives continue to increase in capacity and drop in price. Additionally, music purchased or shared over the Internet has significantly reduced the number of audio CDs sold annually.