DVD Formats 101, by Charles Weekley

DVD playerEnter the world of DVDs

Well it's that time again. We not only have to learn a new version of the software we use (you know the one that already works well, but needs a $100 upgrade so you don't lag behind), but we also have to keep up with the latest hardware and storage technologies.

It's time now for you to enter the world of DVDs. You may be able to live without them for a while longer, but they will soon be the primary storage medium.

The powers that be have yet to settle on a standard DVD format. Currently we have DVD-RAM, DVD-R and -RW (dash R, sometimes referred to as minus R), and DVD+R and +RW. For our discussion we will only be concerned with DVD dash and plus formats, which is what most of us computer users will be working with.

DVD media is externally identical to the CD, although DVDs can be single or double sided, and may contain a second layer on each side extending storage capacity. Current standards are 4.7GB per side (single layer). Speed terminology is also different from CD. Both use "X" to designate speed. "1X" DVD record speed is equal to 9X CD record speed. Current DVD technology limits record speed to 4x or the equivalent of 36x CD burning speed, so it's not as bad as it sounds. At 4x speeds it takes about 15 minutes to fill a 4.7GB DVD.

Pioneer developed the DVD-R(RW) format. It was the first to offer compatibility with set top boxes. By the way, the - or +R means you can write once to the DVD, "RW" means you can write to the DVD many times, currently about 1000 times.

DVD+R(RW) was developed by the DVD+RW Alliance that included Sony, HP, Philips and Yamaha. Recently Microsoft has come out on the plus side.

Both formats are similar in nature and hold the same amount of data. The dash media is usually a little less costly than plus media, due to the fact that they have been on the market longer. Current generation set top boxes should, but do not always, play both formats. When you buy a new player, make sure that it plays both formats. New players will also support a large number of other formats as well, such as VCD (Video CD). The list of compatible formats is getting very long; just check the boxes in the store.

DVDs can be used to store data files and they are great for storing video files. Video files are very large and require significant storage space. You will need DVD authoring software to record or copy video to the DVD. You will also have to learn about the various video compression formats, similar to MP3 for audio, when you record video. Make sure the player you will show your work on supports the format you use. You may want to consider one of the new DVD recorders that record in both formats.

You can see that there is a lot to learn about DVDs, much more than we can cover this time. We will soon have more resources available to help you master this technology. We also have a DVD for Everyone class coming in November. I look forward to seeing you there.

Charlie Weekley is a HAL-PC member, leader of the Scanning and FrontPage SIGs and distributes DVD videos of political issues to veteran's organizations. He is also senior instructor for the Burning DVDs for Everyone and Scanning for Everyone classes. Contact him at chw_3@hotmail.com.