By Matt Lichtenberg
Burning files to CD or DVD is a great way to store and share them. But it can be a little intimidating because there are so many different types of CDs and DVDs and different ways to burn them. It's easy to wonder: How do I just get the job done? In this column, I'll share a few of my favorite ways to burn videos, pictures, music, and other types of files in Windows 7.
A TV using a regular DVD player, or a computer
Windows DVD Maker
Recorded TV shows
Windows Media Center
CD‑R or DVD‑R
Music (about an hour or so)
A computer or regular CD player
Windows Media Player
Music (hours of music)
Data CD or DVD
Documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other personal files
A computer running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
Live File System
CD‑RW or DVD‑RW
Disc image files (ISO files)
Windows Disc Image Burner
Data CD or DVD
I really like my friends and family, but one of the last things I want to do is sit shoulder-to-shoulder with them, crowded around a small computer screen to watch home movies. To avoid this, I usually burn my home movies to a DVD, so we can sit in the family room, spread out a bit, and watch them on TV instead.
To burn a DVD for this purpose, I use Windows DVD Maker. I just insert a blank DVD‑R disc (DVD‑R discs are compatible with most DVD players and aren't very expensive), add a short home movie or two to the disc, and then quickly customize the DVD menu before burning the DVD. For more information about burning a DVD‑Video disc in DVD Maker, see Burn a DVD-Video disc with Windows DVD Maker.
My wife and I don't always like the same TV shows. To make sure I don't miss my favorite shows (and to make my wife a little bit happier), I use Windows Media Center to record and burn shows to DVD. Then I can watch them on my laptop during my commute on the bus. (I can also watch them on TV later on using a regular DVD player.)
To burn a DVD in Media Center, I insert a blank, recordable DVD, click Burn CD/DVD, click Video DVD, type a disc title, select the show (or shows) I want to burn from my recorded TV shows library, and let Media Center do the rest. To learn how to burn a DVD in Windows Media Center, see Burn a CD or DVD in Windows Media Center.
To play a movie on your computer using Windows Media Center or Windows Media Player, you need to have software installed that can decode and play the movie. This software is included in Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate.
If your computer isn't running one of these editions of Windows 7, you'll need to install additional software (if that software isn't already installed).
I'm pretty good about taking lots of digital pictures when I get together with people or go on vacation. I'm not so good about sharing those pictures right away—they tend to pile up. When I have a lot of photos to share, I usually burn them to a blank CD‑R or DVD‑R disc (depending on how many photos there are and what kind of discs I have around the house), and then I give the disc to my friends or family.
To make sure they can use the disc on any computer, regardless of which operating system their computer is running, I burn the data CD or DVD as a Mastered disc using Windows Explorer. If someone wants to print some of the pictures at home or at the store, they can do that right from the disc.
To learn how to burn a Mastered disc using Windows Explorer, see Burn a CD or DVD in Windows Explorer.
Back in the days when audio cassettes were popular, I used to make mix tapes of my favorite songs. I do something similar today, but use shiny new discs instead of old cassette tapes.
To burn an audio CD of a dozen or so of my favorite songs that I can play in any CD player (whether it's at home, in the car, or on my computer), I use Windows Media Player. I just insert a blank CD‑R disc, find the songs I want to burn, drag them to the list pane in Media Player, and then burn the disc as an audio CD. For more information about burning an audio CD in Windows Media Player, see Burn a CD or DVD in Windows Media Player.
Audio CDs are great because you can play them in just about any CD player. The downside is that you can't put tons of songs on them. So when I want to burn hours of MP3 or WMA music files to a disc that I can play on my computer, I burn a different kind of disc—a data CD (such as a CD‑R disc) or DVD. For more information about burning a data CD or DVD in Windows Media Player, see Burn a CD or DVD in Windows Media Player.
As an added bonus, when I burn MP3 files to a CD‑R disc, I can play the disc in my car because the car's CD player can play MP3 files. (Not all CD players can play this kind of disc, so check the manual or manufacturer's website for your player to see if it can play these types of discs.)
I've talked about burning videos, TV shows, music, and photos. But sometimes I also need to burn discs for work—for example, if I don't have my USB flash drive with me and I need to take some files home from work.
In these cases, I burn a data CD or DVD using Windows Explorer and choose the Live File System. I can open the documents right from the disc on my home computer, make and save my changes to the disc, and then use it on my work computer the next day. This kind of disc works great on a computer that's running Windows 7. However, it doesn't work in a regular CD or DVD player or on a computer that's running a version of Windows earlier than Windows XP. To learn more, see Burn a CD or DVD in Windows Explorer.
Sometimes I download disc image files (also called ISO files) from the web to get software updates for my computer. Before Windows 7, I'd download the ISO file, and then search for a program to use to burn a CD or DVD from the file. With Windows 7, I don't need to find or install an additional program. With a new feature called Windows Disc Image Burner, I just right-click the ISO file, and then click Burn disc image to start burning a copy of the CD or DVD from the ISO file. For more information, see Burn a CD or DVD from an ISO file.
Hopefully I've helped de-mystify disc burning a little bit. Remember, the way I do it is just one way—it's good to try burning discs in different ways in Windows 7, and see what works best for you.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of copyrighted material may be a violation of copyright law in the United States and/or other countries/regions. Copyrighted material includes, but is not limited to, software, documentation, graphics, lyrics, photographs, clipart, animations, movie and video clips, as well as sound and music (including when MP3 encoded). Violation of U.S. and international copyright laws may subject you to significant civil and/or criminal penalties.
About the author
Matt Lichtenberg is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft. Before joining the company in 2000, he worked as a computer trainer and then attended Miami University (Ohio) where he received a Master of Technical and Scientific Communication degree. In 2006, he and his colleagues won the Society for Technical Communication’s International Online Communication Competition for their work on the Windows Media Workshops.
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