Exploring Enhanced CDs

23 February 2018

Back in the 90s and early 2000s, audio CDs were released that would give interactive content when inserted into a computer. Most of these discs were mastered with a second session, containing an ISO9660 filesystem and an Apple HFS filesystem. It was done this way so that:

  • Track 1 would be music. The "normal" way of creating a mixed mode CD puts the filesystem at the start of the disc, then audio tracks after.
  • Content intended for Apple computers (normally PowerPC based) would be mounted on the desktop when inserted. The ISO9660 filesystem would be ignored. Likewise, when inserted into a Windows PC only the ISO9660 filesystem would be shown.

You can see the filesystems used on such a disc with IsoBuster.

Session layout of an enhanced music CD.

The contents of these discs vary, depending on the company that made it and when it was released. Virtually all enhanced CDs have a music video to watch. The video is usually encoded in QuickTime for compatibility with both Windows and Mac OS, although sometimes it is in MPEG-1 instead. The bitrate is around 2000kbps. This is not down to a lack of storage space, it is to allow slower computers (for the time) with slower CD-ROM drives to work.

Some discs have the same video encoded multiple times in different codecs or bitrates. For example, here 4Speed is encoded in CinePak and XSpeed is in Sorenson SVQ1 (QuickTime):

Video folder containing two video files.

Better enhanced CDs also contain extra video clips, album samplers, lyrics, photos, and biographies. This part tends to be made in Macromedia Director or Flash, and is almost like a miniature website.

Some discs have a small program that offers the digital equivalent to a registration card. These aren't really enhanced and don't advertise themselves as so.

Bonus Curiosity

On my copy of Five's If Ya Gettin' Down, there is a "secret area". It asks for an access code, explaining that you can get one if you post the card that comes with the CD. It's been about 20 years since it was released, so I doubt BMG will be interested now. I thought I'd try and get around it.

For some reason, this disc needs to install a custom program to the hard disk to run it.

Folder containing a strange executable file and a Microsoft Access database.

The program is the gatekeeper to the secret area, and uses an Access database file called "five.mdb". The file is password protected, but it's easy enough to find out what it is.

Hex view of the exe, revealing the password to the database.

Here's where it gets curious. The database is a single table, and it contains three fields: ID, firstname and lastname.

Partially redacted screenshot of the database of names.

That's right - it's possible to find out the names of all the people who sent in their postcard. Okay, so as information disclosures go it's not that big a deal. I was still surprised to see it though. Anyhow, I can use any ID number as an access code to see the secret video and print an exclusive photograph of the band.

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