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There seem to be multiple standards for image files representing the contents of a DVD. For example, iDVD creates .img files if told to burn a file rather than a DVD directly. However, Linux install disks (for example) that are too big to fit on one CD (over 740 Mb or so) usually come in the form of .iso files meant to be converted to a physical DVD using dd, Toast, Disk Utility, or a comparable program. Disk Utility can also mount an .iso image on the desktop so that it looks like a drive, much as with .dmg files. So, several related questions:

  • What exactly differentiates a DVD-size .iso from a DVD .img?
  • Is there a simple conversion path from .img to .iso?
  • Is .img an Apple-specific file format?
  • If .img is Apple-specific, should I be worried about archiving DVD images that I want to keep permanently as .imgs (i.e., is it possible that future software won't be able to read them)?

The last question speaks to the specific issue that brought this question to mind--I have a number of DVDs of home movies, painstakingly produced with iMovie and iDVD, that I would like to archive both as actual burnt video DVDs (i.e. for a DVD player) and as image files from which I can burn more copies if necessary. But is .img the best format to do this, or are those likely to become obsolete? Would .iso be better? I'm interested in the general question of .iso vs .img (vs any other relevant formats) too, as the title of the question indicates.

  • Nice question. On my Mac I can just replace .iso with .img and vise versa. – CousinCocaine Oct 24 '15 at 20:14
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Single-track (.iso) vs. multiple-track (.img)

Any single-track CD-ROM, DVD or Blu-ray disc can be archived in ISO format as a true digital copy of the original.

But ISO files have limitations. For example, a CD can have multiple tracks, which can contain computer data, audio, or video. File systems such as ISO 9660 are stored inside one of these tracks. Since ISO images are expected to contain a binary copy of the file system and its contents, there is no concept of a "track" inside an ISO image, since a track is a container for the contents of an ISO image. This means that CDs with multiple tracks can't be stored inside a single ISO image; at most, an ISO image will contain the data inside one of those multiple tracks, and only if it is stored inside a standard file system.

Formats such as CUE/BIN, CCD/IMG and MDS/MDF formats can be used to store multi-track disc images, including CD-Audio discs. These formats store a raw disc image of the complete disc, including information from all tracks, along with a companion file describing the multiple tracks and the characteristics of each of those tracks. This would allow an optical media burning tool to have all the information required to correctly burn the image on a new disc.

Shamelessly copied (an slightly edited) from wiki/ISO_image (24-10-2015).

  • Interesting. Good find. This seems to disagree with your comment above, though. If an .img is a metaformat of sorts that can contain .isos and "a companion file describing the multiple tracks..." then how can you just change the extension on an .img and make a valid .iso out of it? I would think that the metadata would come across as noise. – dodgethesteamroller Oct 28 '15 at 18:08
  • Because I only encountered single track IMG files so far;) – CousinCocaine Oct 28 '15 at 18:09
  • Aha, ok, so perhaps all valid .isos are valid .imgs (just single-track .imgs) but not vice versa. – dodgethesteamroller Oct 28 '15 at 18:11
  • That is correct – CousinCocaine Oct 28 '15 at 18:14

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