DVD-Video Disc and Burner Formats; DVD-R vs DVD+R
Every time I go to a computer or electronics store to buy blank discs, I see confused faces staring at the media racks, as if the media were doing some sort of odd dance. The people just stare, shaking their head in confusion at the pretty round things on the shelves in front of them. More fun can be had browsing by the aisle where the drives are kept. It’s always the same questions: Which is better? Is “plus” better than “minus” format? What’s a RAM, isn’t that memory? Here’s the lowdown…
Be sure to read the other media guides and reviews to better understand the DVD format and blank discs.
DVD-R / DVD-RW Format
The DVD-R format was developed by Pioneer and first surfaced as the Pioneer S-101 DVD-R Authoring drive in 1997. The drive was specifically written as a write-once media for video applications, and writing data with the drive was not a priority. Yes, there are two DVD-R formats: the DVD-R Authoring and the DVD-R General format.
The DVD-R Authoring format is a professional drive writing at either 1x or 2x (max) speeds. It is extremely expensive, costing several thousand dollars, and is geared towards professional use only, incorporating the allowance for CMF to replace DLT for replication. Pioneer S-101 and Panasonic makes some of the only DVD-R(A) drives, some for 3.95GB discs, others for the more modern 4.7GB discs. The DVD-R Authoring drives use different media and the laser uses a different writing frequency than DVD-R(G). As of 2009, DVD-R Authoring has mostly been abandoned, as many duplication houses have long been able to accept DAT or DVD-R General (or even DVD+R) media as masters.
The DVD-R General format, normally referred to as just DVD-R, was created for the consumer in early 2001. This also added the DVD-RW format and it is official known as a re-recordable disc, not a re-writable disc. Many Compaq, Packard Bell, Apple and Sony computers shipped DVD-R General drives in 2001 and early 2002, as the DVD+R format was not yet available and the DVD-R format thrived without any kind of competition.
The dash in DVD-R is a DASH or HYPHEN! It is absolutely not a MINUS sign! It is no more a “DVD minus R” than a CD-R is a “CD minus R”. The entire “minus” mentality is a result of deceptive marketing by the DVD+RW Alliance.
DVD-Video information recorded onto a DVD-R General tends to have a playback compatibility of about 90 to 95 percent with all players that exist. This is the highest compatibility among all burned DVD formats.
The DVD-R format is the official format of the DVD Forum, the group that controls the specifications and licensing for the DVD logo. This quote was taken from their page on September 13th 2003: “Please note that the ‘+RW’ format, also known as DVD+RW was neither developed nor approved by the DVD Forum. The approved recordable formats are DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM.” You have probably seen the DVD logo:
DVD+R / DVD+RW Format
Although fans of the DVD+R format hate to hear this, the DVD+R format was originally a rogue format, invented by companies that were unwilling to pay royalties to the DVD Forum in order to use and develop the DVD-R format and/or use the DVD logo. The DVD+R format does not carry the DVD logo because it is not an official DVD format. Does this make it a bad format? No.
The DVD-R General and DVD+R formats have almost no differences.
The DVD+RW format was created with data usage in mind, as was claimed by the DVD+RW Alliance in 1997 while working on a 2.8GB disc that was scrapped in late 1999 in favor of producing true DVD-5 sizes. By the time the DVD+RW was released in late 2001, everybody that initially wanted a DVD writer already had one (DVD-RW drives had already been out for 6 months or more). Plus the DVD+RW were expensive like the DVD-RW discs, often costing $15 each, whereas the DVD-R discs went for as little as $5 each.
The DVD+R format did not surface until summer 2002, a year behind the DVD-R format, and still at twice the price of many DVD-R discs. With the popularity of DVD-Video as the primary usage, the DVD+RW Alliance quickly dropped it’s data-only attitude and went for the video market too, though initial media and drives had lousy compatibility ratings in the 50-60 percent range.
In order to increase compatibility with DVD-Video players, DVD+R format has bitsetting abilities, allowing the booktype to be changed from DVD+R to DVD-ROM. While this does help the compatibility, it still does not allow the DVD+R format to exceed the DVD-R in video compatibility. This function is also not available on all DVD+R/RW drives. To this day, the compatibility of DVD+R discs with DVD players is behind DVD-R, even with a DVD-ROM book type. Contrary to some incorrect myths found in online user forums, as started by DVD+R fans many years ago, setting a DVD+R to DVD-ROM booktype does NOT insure 100% compatibility.
DVD-Video information recorded onto a DVD+R tends to have a playback compatibility of about 85 to 90 percent with all players that exist, with disc book type set to DVD-ROM. This is the second-highest compatibility among all burned DVD formats.
This is not a format! This is merely a drive that incorporates both DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW burning abilities into the same piece of hardware. These are often called dual-format burners.
This drive is normally more expensive than other format burners, as are the media. It was developed as a data drive and remain so to this day, having a DVD-Video compatibility percentage that can be counted on fingers and toes. It was created by Panasonic is 1998 and is still mostly used for data and editing-only uses.
RAM discs were originally written inside cartridges. The first generation was sealed and had to be broken apart to extract the disc (if needed). The second generation had an open/close switch on the cart. With the advent of standalone DVD recorders, RAM discs came without cartridges. The drive has advanced packet writing functions that allow if to be used much like an optical hard drive. Very efficient for data. But not recommended for normal video usage. Video on a DVD-RAM is written in the VR format (and it creates VRO files). VR format is not compatible with normal DVD players due to the data format and reflectivity, and it often uses odd-sized resolutions. DVD-RAM video is simply a poor choice.
Dual Layer / Double Layer Formats (DVD+R DL, DVD-R DL)
Dual layer means that much like commercially pressed DVD-ROMs, these recordable discs have two layer of dye, almost doubling the size of older DVD5 format. This is a recordable DVD9 format.
DVD-R DL is mostly only available in Asian markets. In the USA or Europe, it is usually only available at specialized online blank media stores, only large computer stores like Fry’s or Microcenter. At this time, DVD-R DL has a rather poor playback compatibility with DVD-Video players, and is not suggested for DVD-Video use.
DVD+R DL (called “Double Layer” by the RW Alliance) media is more compatible with DVD-Video players than DVD-R DL. The discs must be booktyped to DVD-ROM to work well with players, and most burners automatically booktype for you. As of 2009, only Verbatim branded discs (manufacturer by Mitsubishi) seems to be reliable. Ritek, Ricoh and CMC media is cheaper in cost, but often performs rather poorly compared to the Verbatim blanks, as found in reviews on this site and in many online user forums.
DVD+RW DL and DVD-RW DL media is scarce (mostly in Asia) and does not give very good results, either for data or video. Several media manufacturers have deemed it too expensive and complex, thus not making any RW DL discs. Demand for such media is also nearly non-existent.
DVD Format Myths
As time has gone on, the “format war” between DVD-R and DVD+R has pretty much died off, as both media have strong sales and almost all drives support both types of discs. This myth list used to be twice as long, and it was nice to be able to remove some of them, as they died with the format war. At any rate, there are still a few myths that people might hear or read:
- Myth: “Newer players can play all formats.”
- Truth: While it is more common now for new players to support both DVD-R and DVD+R media than players of the past, the issue is present even on the newest of players. In some cases, it’s not so much the “format” of the disc, as much as the quality of the blank itself.
- Myth: “My (insert format here) disc didn’t work in the player. I tried the other format and it worked. That compatibility percentage is wrong.”
- Truth: The issue was more likely to be a media issue, not a format issue. Too many users buy the cheapest media around, or otherwise do not know what they have. For example, a Ritek DVD-R (low reflective, 2nd class quality) compared to a Taiyo Yuden DVD+R (high reflective, 1st class quality) is no contest on which disc will perform better, the Taiyo Yuden disc would win in most all tests.
- Myth: “I saw that www.somesite.com did a ‘scientific’ test and came to the conclusion that (insert format here) is better than (other format here).”
- Truth: Remember that statistics can be corrupted to prove anything you want, even if common sense dictates otherwise. At the moment, common sense and common sense tests dictate that the DVD-R currently has the highest compatibility with several percentage points. The quality of the media is pretty much identical.
- Myth: “A DVD burner is just a CD burner with different firmware.”
- Truth: The only thing DVD and CD have in common is the round shape. Beyond that, the media and hardware is entirely different. The CD and DVD burners use different hardware as well as different laser types and frequencies.
- Myth: “The DVD+R and DVD-R drives and discs are the same. Why not just develop firmware and media that makes them all the same?”
- Truth: This would be similar to saying that a cat and a dog are the same. While they do both have four legs and a tail, as well as rub and lick to show affection, they are definitely NOT the same. The hardware and media materials are completely different.
- Myth: “HD-DVD and Blu-Ray is coming and will kill off DVD.”
- Truth: Uh-huh, sure, just like FMD was going to kill DVD. Leave the future to the future. At this point in time, the prospects of a format overturning DVD anytime in the next 5-10 years is unlikely. There is little advantage to consumer to make the switch. More than anything, it appears that the “winner” of the high definition format war (Blu-ray) will be relegated to a niche similar to what Laserdisc was in the 1990s.
Often DVDs are referred to in different size increments: DVD5, DVD9, DVD18, 4.7GB, 4.38GB, etc. This section should clear up the various dimensions and sizes of DVDs. Also includes information on layers and sides.
The marketed sizes for blank DVDs are essentially meaningless:
- Minutes. The amount of minutes of video stored on a DVD-Video disc has nothing to do with the media itself. The true limit of the amount of information that can fit on a disc is determined by the data storage size, up to so many gigabytes of data. The data storage size of a video is determined by the bit-rate. It is no problem to store 3 or 4 hours of high quality video on a “120min” disc.
- Gigabyte (GB) size. Many people wonder why their 4.7GB discs are “defective” and “only” write 4.38 GB at maximum capacity. The marketed GB sizes are calculated by 1,000 byte increments, and not in the 1024 byte clusters used in computer terminology. This kind of inconsistency is found in many other areas of consumer life. For example, the 120GB hard drive will format to about 112GB, requiring 8GB for file system and other settings. A 6-hour video tape is about 6:05 in length. And let’s not forget the most famous one: hot dogs come in packs of 10 while buns come in packs of 8.
- Dual vs. Double. These are two words that represent the same concept. The DVD Forum presses and creates recordable “dual layer” media. The RW Alliance creates recordable “double layer” media. Just synonyms for two layers of data surface.
Looking For Blank Discs, DVD Recorders or DVD Burners?
DVD Burners: Need a good DVD burner for your home or office computer? Desktop or laptop/notebook? Read our guide: The Best and Worst DVD burners – DVD Burner Reviews for 2011.
Recorders: Want a DVD recorder? Check out our DVD recorder reviews before deciding on your next purchase.