DVD Burner Tutorials and Articles
Don't Be Stumped By DVD Standards
It all comes down to application formats, writable formats and DVD
DVD is the hottest thing to hit consumers, well, ever.
Consumers are snatching up DVD movies like Shrek in record numbers, and
even moribund TV series like "Twin Peaks" and "M*A*S*H" are finding new
life as DVDs. Home DVD players are selling at a faster rate than the
radio, Internet or even television was adopted. Virtually all new
computers come with a DVD drive allowing tens of millions of consumers the
ability to play DVDs on a computer. But the biggest change is yet to come.
2002 is the year a number of manufacturers have released, or will release,
DVD burners, allowing consumers the ability to make their own DVDs with a
computer for the first time ever. However, intrepid DVD creators should
proceed with caution. DVD is a new technology and not all devices support
the same standard. In fact, there are a number of competing formats for
creating your own DVDs, making it possible that the DVD you create on your
computer may not play in your living room. This article will arm you with
the information you need to know to keep that from happening. But pay
close attention, in a moment the acronyms are going to start flying around
like a box of nails caught in a tornado.
The easiest way to understand the subtleties of DVD technology is to
divide the discussion into three parts: application formats, writable
formats and DVD drives.
Let's begin with application formats. The good news is that every DVD
movie that you buy or rent is in a single application format called
DVD-Video. All DVD players and DVD drives can play DVD-Video. Now the bad
news: You might create your own DVD-Video movie and it might not play in
your DVD player. Sounds odd, doesn't it? Let's move on to writable
formats. Although DVD disks look like CDs, they are not the same thing.
The biggest difference is that a DVD can hold much more information than a
CD. Most CDs hold 650 or 700 megabytes of data, movies or music. Most DVDs
hold 4.7 gigabytes, or about seven times more information than a CD. This
extra capacity allows entire Hollywood movies to fit on a single disk. If
you want to create your own DVD movie, you will need to get a writable
version of one of these DVD disks. This is where it starts to get
Imagine if there were five different kinds of VHS tapes and they all
looked identical but were not -- that is basically where the DVD standards
world is right now. There are essentially five versions of writable DVD
that you need to understand. They are: DVD-R, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD+RW and
DVD+R. The distinctions are actually based on how the data is written to
and read from the disk, and this differentiation is difficult to translate
to the physical world, however one example might be language.
Imagine if the entire world agreed on a single language for all written
documents, say English. In the United States we would continue to create
English documents and books in which one reads left to right. But another
country might prefer to write and read English right to left. And yet
another, top to bottom, and so on until the effect became that although
all documents were created in a single language, it would be very
difficult for a person from one country to read a document from another
country. DVD recording is in a similar state of confusion. DVD is such a
nascent technology that these issues have yet to work themselves out, so
you have no choice other than understanding them all. One easy way to
think about the formats is as five completely different kinds of DVD
First, let's divide the formats up. The first thing to note is that DVD-R
and DVD+R disks can only be recorded once. You only get one chance to
record your DVD movie to this kind of disk It's like pouring cement, once
it is done you'll need to destroy it to change it. Further, DVD-R discs
come in two types: DVD-R(A), for "authoring," and DVD-R(G), for "general."
Both DVD-R and DVD+R discs will play in most DVD players, even older ones.
So if you put your movie on this kind of disk there is a high probability
that it will play in your living room. However, DVD-R(A) drives can not
record to DVD-R(G) disks, and vice versa.
There are also DVD formats that can be recorded more than once. DVD+RW,
DVD-RW and DVD-RAM disks can all be recorded thousands of times. If you
don' t like how your DVD movie turns out, you can record a new version
right on the same disk. These disks are more like painting a wall -- if
you don't like the color you just put on a new coat. Each of these
rewritable formats are a little different. DVD-RAM, for instance, was
created for storage of computer data -- like backing up your hard drive.
If you want to get a DVD writer to back up computer data, DVD-RAM is a
solid option. However, if you plan to make your own DVD movies, one of the
other formats may be better suited for that activity. Most DVD players
can't play DVD-RAM disks.
The DVD-RW and DVD+RW formats are both good for making DVD movies but are
essentially engaged in a Beta versus VHS-type battle. The consumer market
will ultimately determine which format wins or if they end up combining
into a single standard, but it is important to understand that neither is
yet a universal standard. Another thing to note is that many DVD players
won't play any kind of rewritable disk. Most of the newer players will
play these kinds of disks, but if you have an older DVD player it may not.
In general, the newer your DVD player, the more likely it is to play all
the recordable formats. There are web sites like Apple.com, HomeMovie.com
and DVDplusRW.org that list compatible players and formats, but these are
not unabridged resources either. Use them as a general guide.
That covers the basic DVD writable formats. The last point of concern is
the DVD drive itself. This is the part of your computer that will actually
record your data or movie onto the DVD disc. Thankfully, if you have made
it this far you are almost home. The different types of DVD drives
basically break down into the same formats as the DVD writable formats.
Therefore, there are DVD-RAM drives, DVD-R drives, etc. on down the line.
It is also increasingly likely that DVD burners will come with the ability
to record to more than one format, for example a manufacturer may offer a
DVD+R/RW drive, meaning that it can record both DVD+R and DVD+RW discs.
When considering DVD media (the actual silver discs) and DVD burners, make
sure that both the discs and drive are the same format.
That is about as simple as it gets, at least for now. You'll probably want
to print out this article and consult it when you buy your DVD burner, but
Step 1: Decide what you want to use your DVD burner for. If you want to
back up computer data a DVD-RAM burner is a good choice. If you want to
record movies and music choose another kind of burner.
Step 2: Decide where you will be watching your DVDs. If you plan to send
your homemade DVD movies to friends and relatives with older DVD players,
you will want to make sure you get a DVD-R or DVD+R burner. If you plan to
watch your DVD movies on a computer or a newer DVD player any format will
likely do. Again, these are general guidelines and there are lots of
exceptions. Check the web and do your homework.
Step 3: Match 'em up. Remember the children's clothing brand Garanimals?
If a shirt had a lion on it, you had to find a pair of shorts with a lion
on it. If you got a Garanimal shirt with a lion on it and shorts with a
fox then they would be different sizes and would not match. DVD is the
same way. You need to make sure that your DVD media and DVD drive are the
All of these DVD acronyms can be pretty intimidating, but now you know
better and as G.I. Joe used to say, "Knowing is half the battle." Not to
mention this is only going to get easier and easier as the standards work
The last point is this: it is worth it. The learning curve pays off the
first time you sit down on your couch with your remote control and popcorn
to watch a DVD that you (or your kids) made, and the alphabet soup of DVD
will give way to the warm glow of a job well-done. Have fun.
Honda Shing is Chief Technology Officer for
InterVideo, the company that makes
WinDVD, the popular software DVD player. InterVideo also makes other
audio and video software and will soon release WinProducer 2 DVD, a
program to edit and burn your own DVDs.