Introduction to DVD Writing

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Author/Publisher: Digital Digest
Date Added: Jan 17, 2003
Date Updated: Jan 17, 2003

DVD writers are finally becoming something the average Joe can afford. This is a good time to get introduced into the world of DVD burning, which can be a daunting task for the uninitiated.

One of the hardest tasks you'll actually face is choosing the right DVD recorder for your computer.

This guide will cover all you need to know in order to purchase the right DVD recorder.

Basic Knowledge
DVD writers are not all that different from CD writers, so most of the terminology and knowledge associated with DVD writing should be familiar to anyone who has done CD writing before.

Recordable DVDs, unlike recordable CDs, have two different main usages. One, like recordable CDs, if for data storage. The other is for audio and video storage (in the form of DVD-Video and DVD-Audio).

There are actually three different standards for DVD recordables, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW and DVD-RAM. All three different formats come in the 4.7 GB (single sided, single layer : DVD-5) format, although DVD-RAM come in double sided form factor (DVD-9). DVD-RAM is the only format that requires a cartridge/caddy, which means that many drives are not able to read this format. More information about the different DVD recordable standards can be found on the next page.

DVD devices (including DVD-ROM drives and DVD video players) will playback DVD recordable discs, although different devices will have different abilities in terms of reading. The three different formats also makes things more complicated, since the different standards also have different compatibility problems (for example, a DVD video player may read one format, but not the other). Support for DVD re-writable discs are usually rarer than for write-once discs. More information about compatibility issues can be found on this page.

Many first generation DVD recorders did not support CD-R/RW writing, or used smaller 3.9 GB media. New generation drives pretty much all support CD-R/RW writing (although usually at lower speeds than dedicated CD-R/RW writers).

Three Standards and a Caddy
The biggest single reason why DVD recording has not taken off as quickly is perhaps what the press bills as the "Format Wars".

There is big money to be made in terms of licensing of recordable media standards. This is why several different companies have formed two different groups to promote their own DVD recordable format.

The compatibility of these formats are discussed further on in this article.

DVD-R/RW, created by Pioneer, is support by the DVD-Forum industry group. DVD+R/RW, created by Sony and HP, is the format of choice of the DVD+RW Alliance industry group. Despite what you may hear from both camps, neither groups are "official" groups. And to add to the confusion, DVD-RAM, which is supported by the DVD-Forum, is also being promoted, although it is mainly intended for data storage and has the least compatibility with DVD-ROM and DVD-Video. The DVD-Forum does sound the most official, since they were responsible for mapping out the DVD-ROM and DVD-Video formats, and are also behind the now familiar DVD logo that you see plastered everywhere these days. Despite what you may have read, compatibility for DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW with existing DVD devices is quite similar, and nowhere near 100%.


DVD-R DVD-R was the first format to be introduced. At that time, a SCSI DVD-R burner would set you back well over $10,000. DVD burners these days retail for less than $300. While you may think that this is a huge price drop, it actually isn't. Professional DVD-R burners still costs $10,000, mainly because these can be used in the duplication of DVD movies (hence, a favorite of DVD pirates). The type of DVD-R burners that are retailing for the lower cost use "General Use" DVD-Rs, which cannot be used to duplicate DVDs, because they cannot duplicate CSS encrypted DVDs (and pretty much all commercial DVD movies use CSS encryption).

DVD-RW DVD-RW is the re-writable version of DVD-R. DVD-RW can be written only about 1000 times. More precisely, each sector on the DVD media can be written 1,000 times.

DVD-R media is probably the cheapest on the market right now, mainly because it was released earlier than DVD+R, and this is the only reason for the price differences at the moment (there aren't any technological or production reasons why one format is cheaper or more expensive than the other). DVD-R media (standard 2x) can be found for $US 1.50, and DVD-RW can be found for $US 3 (as of January 2003). Double sided DVD-R media (9.4 GB) are also available, with an added cost, of course.

The maximum writing speed of DVD-R recorders is 4x (5,540 KB/s). DVD-RW are written to at 2x (2,770 KB/s).


DVD+R DVD+R/RW, as mentioned earlier, is the brain child of the DVD+RW Alliance group. DVD+RW was actually the first released format, with DVD+R coming in later to compete with DVD-R. Both formats are similar to their DVD- counterparts, and so the only real difference that separates these formats is the fact that they are being supported by different industry groups.

DVD+ media costs more than DVD- media at the moment, mainly because it was released at a later date - current prices (as of January 2003) for DVD+R media is between $US 2 and 3, while DVD+RW can be found for between $US 3 to 4. Prices should drop to around the same level as DVD- within this year.

DVD+RW DVD+RW media supports random read and write, allowing Windows drag and drop type of file copying. It also supports defect management - more about that later on. DVD+RW media, like DVD-RW, can only be written to about 1000 times.

The maximum writing speed of DVD+R recorders is 2.4x (3324 KB/s). DVD+RW are also written to at 2.4x. Note that a 4x DVD+R drive will be released in Q1 2003.


DVD-RAM DVD-RAM was the very first re-writable format on the market. Unlike DVD-RW and DVD+RW, DVD-RAM relies on a cartridge/caddy system, which instantly makes them physically incompatible with many existing DVD devices. DVD-RAM comes in either single sided variety (4.7 GB) or double sided (9.4 GB).

DVD-RAM media are the most expensive, costing more than $US 7 per 4.7 GB disc.

DVD-RAM media also supports random read and write and defect management. DVD-RAM media can be over-written about 100,000 times, much better compared to the 1000 times that DVD-RW and DVD+RW supports.

The Best of Both Worlds :

There is, however, a simple solution to the problem of deciding the format of your choice - get a DVD recorder that supports all of them. While such a recorder doesn't actually exist at the moment, there are however DVD recorders that support more than one standard.

Sony DRU500A Take Sony's new DRU500A drive - this DVD recorder drive supports the DVD+R/RW standard (which is understandable, since Sony was one of the companies behind the creation of this standard), but a little more surprisingly, it also supports the competing DVD-R/RW.

There is also Panasonic's new Multi Drive, which supports both DVD-R/RW and DVD-RAM.

Comparison Table :

The below is a table that compares the attributes of the various DVD recording formats discussed on this page. Note that we have yet to discuss in detail performance and compatibility attributes of these standards, and our opinion of which format is best will not be made until the end of this article.

  # of Re-writes Random Read
and Write
Defect Management
DVD-R - - -
DVD-RW 1,000 No No
DVD+R - - -
DVD+RW 1,000 Yes Yes
DVD-RAM 100,000 Yes Yes

The Fast and the Format-less
This section looks at the performance issues of the three DVD recording standards.

The DVD+ standards (both DVD+R and DVD+RW) used to have faster writing speeds, and at 2.4x, this amounts to 3,324 KB/s. However, the new Pioneer A05 drive now adds 4x burning for DVD-R and 2x burning for DVD-RW (2x burning is equivalent to 18x CD burning). To put it into perspective, 2x writing, or 2,770 KB/s will mean that for writing to a full 4.7 GB DVD, a 2.4x drive will be some 5 minutes faster than a 2x drive. Burning a full 4.7 GB DVD will take around 25 minutes for a 2.4x drive. A 4x drive will burn the full 4.7 GB in about 15 minutes. Note that a 4x DVD+R drive will be released in Q1 2003.

Raw burning speed is not the only factor when it comes to performance though. DVD+RW design ensures shorter lead-in and lead-out times - this will mean it takes shorter to finalise than DVD-RW media. Formatting for DVD-RM or DVD+RW media can be done on-the-fly, although some older software for DVD-RW may not support this feature.

CLV and CAV Burning :

There are also two different recording methods, CLV (Constant Linear Velocity) and CAV (Constant Angular Velocity). CLV is mainly used in streaming video applications where high transfer speed is required. CAV has better random access times, and hence better for computer storage/applications.

DVD-R/RW uses CLV, which makes them good for DVD-Video applications. DVD+R/RW can use both CLV and CAV.

DVD-RAM uses Zoned CLV, which is a combination of CLV and CAV and similar to how a hard-disk works.

CD Burning :

CD burning speeds for DVD recorders are usually slower than compared to dedicated CD burners. However, CD burning speeds are already at super fast speeds (48X!!), and differences in speed can now be measured in terms of seconds, rather than minutes.

Comparison Table :

Burning Speed
Burning Time (full 4.7 GB) Burning Method
DVD-R 4x 15 Minutes CLV
DVD-RW 2x 30 Minutes CLV
DVD+R 2.4x 25 Minutes CLV and CAV
DVD+RW 2.4x 25 Minutes CLV and CAV
DVD-RAM 2x 30 Minutes Zoned CLV

Stand-alone by me
Perhaps the biggest issue when choosing a DVD recorder, specifically, choosing a particular DVD recording standard to use, is whether the burned disc will be compatible with your existing DVD devices.

Compatibility is not a big issue when it comes to data storage, in that the DVD recorder drive you used to burn the DVD will always be able to read the burned disc back. However, if you plan to use the burned DVD in another computer, this may pose a slight problem. In general, discs burned at 1x will have greater chance of being compatible than discs burned at higher speeds.

DVD-ROM Compatibility :

The problem is that not all computer DVD-ROM drives will read all the recordable formats, in particular, DVD-RAM. DVD-R and DVD+R have the best chance of being read by your DVD-ROM drive. It's hard to say which, out of DVD-R and DVD+R, is the most compatible with existing DVD-ROM drive. For DVD-R, you might argue that since it was designed by the same industry group that designed DVD-ROM (DVD Forum), compatibility may be better. For DVD+R, you might argue that since it was released later than DVD-R, compatibility issues may have been solved. Regardless, newer DVD-ROM drives will most likely be more compatible than older drives, although do not expect 100% compatibility whichever format you choose. DVD-RAM is the least compatible (since a cartridge system is used), so unless your DVD-ROM drive specifically says it is compatible with DVD-RAM, don't expect it to be compatible. For DVD-R and DVD+R, expect around 60 to 70 % of all DVD-ROM drives to be compatible with them.

Stand-alone DVD Player Compatibility :

The compatibility issue with stand-alone DVD players is similar to that of DVD-ROM drives, in that no one format is particularly better than any other. Again, DVD-R and DVD+R will have better compatibility than DVD-RW, DVD+RW or DVD-RAM. Also expect 60-70% compatibility.

Comparison Table :

DVD-R Very Good
DVD+R Very Good

It is hard to come to a conclusive finding.

One thing is clear though - none of the DVD recording formats existing today are perfect, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. DVD-R/RW are cheaper and has the fastest burning speed (4x - unmatched for the time being), while DVD+R/RW employ better technology. It's hard to foresee which format will be the final DVD recording format (although at this time, you can pretty much rule out DVD-RAM as a DVD video recording format).

The Format Wars does not look like it will end anytime soon, which can actually be a good thing. As long as the Format Wars continue, you can be sure that none of the current DVD recording formats will be abandoned anytime soon, and so no matter which format you choose, you can be sure that it will be perfectly usable, probably long after your next computer upgrade. For those that want to be sure of this, you can purchase DVD recorders that support multiple formats, such as the Sony DRU500A or the Panasonic Multi Drive.

But with prices dropping quickly, and with DVD burning technology starting to mature, now is a good time to consider purchasing a DVD recorder.

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