How To Choose DVD Formats

What are the differences among all the DVD formats available for purchase? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Let's look at the options:

  1. DVD-ROM. Nobody calls pre-recorded DVDs this anymore, but that is the actual original full name of the DVDs you buy with movies or software already recorded on them. It stands for DVD-Read Only Memory. DVD stands for Digital Video Disk, although marketing people are now calling them Digital Versatile Disks.
  2. DVD-R. The "R" stands for recordable. This is the oldest consumer DVD format. The DVD-R format was originally defined by the DVD Forum standards group (Sony, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and Time Warner). A standard DVD-R will hold up to 4.7 GB worth of data, or a movie, as I am sure you well know. Any DVD burner will burn to a DVD-R. And DVD-R is the most compatible format. It is more likely to play in any DVD player, a home DVD player, a portable or DVD drive mounted in a computer.
  3. DVD-RW. The "RW" stands for re-writable. This is the second oldest consumer DVD format. As the name indicates, previously recorded information can be erased, and new data can be recorded on a DVD-RW. How many times? The -RW format can supposedly be re-recorded 1,000 times, many more times than you are likely to attempt. And DVD-RW is the second most compatible format. It is just about as likely to play in any DVD player as a DVD-R. So, why doesn't everyone just use the -R format? Read on.
  4. DVD+R. This standard was originally defined by the DVD+RW Alliance (Sony, Yamaha, Phillips, Dell, and others). The greatest difference between the -R/RW format and the +R/RW format is found in the DVD+RW. In compatibility tests, the DVD-R/RW format was found to be compatible in more older players than the +R/RW format. See other differences in the next paragraph.
  5. DVD+RW. What does the DVD+R/RW format provide that the -R/RW format does not? Frankly, not too much. You can add and delete titles with +RW (you can't with -R). You also have the ability to instantly use or eject +RW. You have a format step with -RW. You can record one title on a home DVD recorder and a different title on a PC with a +RW. A PC can also directly edit on a +RW disk. The single biggest difference is the availability of new dual-layer DVD+R/RW media and recorders that allow you to store up to 8.5 GB of data on one disk. Virtually any new DVD burner will burn -R/RW or +R/RW, but only newer dual layer burners will burn this new higher capacity format.
  6. DVD-RAM. This format is obsolete in the consumer world, at least for recording and playing back movies. The greatest claim to fame for the DVD-RAM format is its ability to be re-recorded up to 100,000 times, not just 1,000 times. This format is still used in the IT world, but not much by ordinary consumers because not many DVD players can handle this format.
  7. What format should you use? The DVD-R/RW is compatible with a few more players than the +R/RW format, but the latter will probably play in any modern DVD player that you own. I have had a problem with a couple of +RW disks playing in a low-end portable player I have, but I believe I had more of a media quality problem than a format compatibility problem. A different brand of +RW played fine in the same player. You are more likely to have problems with cheap, no-name brand DVD-R/RW media than with a brand name DVD+RW. In a perfect world, you would always buy the highest speed that your burner can handle at the best price you can find, and if all your players handle +R/RW, get that format, because it is the most versatile.


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