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What is an optical drive?

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Quick Answer

An optical drive is a storage device that uses laser light or electromagnetic waves, operating in or near the visible light spectrum, to read or write data. CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays are examples of optical discs — the storage medium used by optical drives.

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Full Answer

The first optical drive was the laser disc, which was introduced to the public in 1972 and used a 12-inch video disc to store data. The drive used an analog format, which was read-only by consumers. In 1975, Phillips and Sony introduced a digital optical disc, the CD. The CD was a 5-inch compact disc used for audio recordings. In 1980, the two companies updated the technology with a read and write version used with computers, and in 1987, Sony created a rewritable disc technology.

The majority of optical drives are capable of reading older technology discs. For example, Blu-ray players can read data stored on DVDs, and DVD players are capable of reading data stored on CDs. In addition to data being written to discs for reading in optical drives, data can also be pressed onto the discs for mass production, speeding up the manufacturing process for readable storage items, such as music CDs or movie DVDs.

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