Understanding DVD Types

I've received numerous emails asking me how to understand all the DVD media types. To begin with I'm asked why there are so many different kinds. DVD+, DVD-, etc. Then I'm asked which is the type they should use in their DVD player. So, to get us started let me give you a little history on this entire phenomenon of standards.
Published: Jun 27, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan
This question submitted by Rich Laliberte and numerous others
A Little HistoryI've received numerous emails asking me how to understand all the DVD media types. To begin with I'm asked why there are so many different kinds. DVD+, DVD-, etc. Then I'm asked which is the type they should use in their DVD player. So, to get us started let me give you a little history on this entire phenomenon of standards. Since I've been in computers I've seen a number of "battles" to determine a standard. In the area of "expanded memory" there was the battle between the EMS variety and the EEMS variety. There was a constant tug-of-war in the area of modems -- Hayes AT command set? Or US Robotics? Even now you read about the "chip wars" between AMD and Intel. It seems that with all kinds of technology there is always a problem establishing a standard. Oh yes, eventually one thing wins over another, but not before making all of us consumers a bit crazy. Depending on your age, you may recall a battle that went on between VHS and Beta in the video tape arena. Yes, VHS finally won out over Beta, but not before a lot of consumers pulled their hair out. We now find ourselves with similar problem in the area of DVDs. Which Is Which?To begin with, the battle of the DVDs has really been created by the various companies that support the different formats. The DVD-R was the first type unveiled and it was created by Pioneer. To the best of my knowledge this format is currently supported and touted by Yamaha, Pioneer and Ricoh. It didn't stay out on the market by itself very long, however, because a group of companies formed an alliance to create the DVD+R standard. These companies included Dell, Sony, Verbatim, and Hewlett-Packard, among others. Within a short period of time we consumers were faced with an onslaught of different DVD types. Based on everything I've read, heard, and found out through my own experience, there isn't a huge difference, but I'll lay them out for you so it'll be more clear. Essentially there are two "camps" - DVD- and DVD+. Let's look at the DVD- group first. The DVD- Discs The DVD- format is the only format, so far, that has been authorized by the DVD Forum. The DVD Forum is yet another group of companies and they watch over DVD standards. They also test DVD devices to make sure they meet certain standards. The DVD-R discs are considered to be the most compatible with any DVD player that was made before all these types came on the scene. So, if you have an older DVD player and you plan on recording something, say from your computer, your best bet is to use a DVD-R disc. The DVD-RW is the rewritable or rerecordable version and it's also playable in many older DVD players. Just remember, if any disc -- be it CD or DVD, says R on it, then it's only recordable once! If it has RW on it, it can be recorded, erased, and rerecorded multiple times. They say you can rewrite a DVD-RW about a thousand times -- I haven't tried it. And generally, if any device states it's compatible with DVD-R, then it's generally also able to play DVD-RW. DVD-RAM This type is only used on computers and you can't "play" them on your home DVD player. My Toshiba laptop has a DVD-RAM drive and it's great for storing data, using it like a removable hard drive. The only problem is that it only work in a DVD-RAM drive. So, unless you have this type of drive on your computer, you can just eliminate them from your list. The DVD+ Discs As you may have deduced, the DVD+ type is not authorized by the DVD Forum, although this doesn't seem to have hurt its popularity. It's my understanding that the PLUS format was created in an attempt to make DVDs more compatible with a wider range of devices. So, the hope is that you can play DVD discs created on your computer on your home DVD player. The DVD+RW discs actually came out before the DVD+R discs. Once again, "R" means recordable once, and RW means you can record, erase, record, etc. The DVD+RW has some unique characteristics and it is also very compatible with a wide range of player. The DVD+R has similar characteristics. All of the discs I've talked about so far have a capacity of 4.7 Gigabytes. That's a lot of space for storing data, recording your home movies, even putting music on. Now, there's another twist in this saga -- the dual layer disc. I'm going to mention it because I think you need to be aware of it. The DVD+R DL disc is a DVD that lets you write to multiple layers on the disc. And on just one side of the disc. In simple terms, this means that the DVD+R DL discs have twice the capacity of all the other discs - or about 8.5 Gigabytes. If I were a betting man I'd be willing to bet that it won't be long before we see similar "dual layers" in the other types of DVD discs as well. It's like toothpaste - one company puts toothpaste in a pump, and they all do. Which Is Best For You?That's almost impossible to say. Each type, DVD- and DVD+ have some different technical advantages that are just too confusing to the average user. What I've done is gone with the types of DVD players that support both formats. All of my computers have DVD +/- drives. That lets me do CD-R, CD-RW, CD+R, CD+RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW. I also have a VHS/DVD+/- player and burner connected to our television so discs I create on the TV will also play on my computer. Bottom line is I've been through these format battles before. To be most compatible with the largest number of devices it makes sense to use a player or burner that supports both the DVD- and the DVD+ formats. Both of these main formats seem to be doing about equally well, so there may never be a definitive "standard". Hopefully this has cleared up the different types of DVDs for you. I'd like to thank Tucows user Rich Laliberte, and many others, for asking this question. His name is used with permission.
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About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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