Understanding DVD Standards

I will have to warn you right now that I’m going to use this section to tell you about a somewhat boring subject—the different standards for recordable DVDs. Frankly, I would just as soon not have to mention this subject, but the reality is that these standards will have a direct impact on your ability to create DVDs that you can share.

So please bear with me. I’ll keep this short and to the point. You may recall that there was a standards war that took place when VCRs were first sold to the public. On one side you had Sony with the Betamax, and on the other you had companies like JVC with VHS.

The two competing types of VCRs were incompatible with each other, so you had to choose carefully to make sure you were buying (or renting) tapes in the correct format. One of the interesting facts about competing standards is that the public does not always choose the superior product.

In the case of Betamax vs. VHS, most experts at the time thought that Betamax was the better format. The public, however, chose VHS and eventually Betamax VCRs and videotapes disappeared. The lesson here is that popularity is often more important than having the better product.

The important point that applies to our discussion is that there is a similar standards war going on between competing recordable DVD formats. And just to complicate things a bit, there aren’t just two formats; rather, there are two main formats—each with two variations—and one minor player you’ll definitely want to avoid.

So let’s take a quick look at these different format standards to help you understand which will be your best choice.


Currently, the most popular recordable DVD format is DVD-R for write-once discs, and DVD-RW for re-writable discs. There are a couple of good reasons for this:

  • DVD-R discs are compatible with more set-top DVD players than any other format. This factor all by itself should be very important to you.
  • DVD-R blank discs are considerably cheaper than other types of recordable DVDs. (These discs are the ones labeled “for general use.”)
  • DVD-R/RW drives tend to be less expensive than competing DVD+R/ RW drives, since their sales are higher.

When you buy DVD-R discs, be sure to note the quality of the discs you buy. Many of the generic discs can only be written at 1X speed, while the name brand discs can be written more speed. Look for the label on the disc or jewel case, as shown in Figure below.

FIGURE 2 Be sure to buy high-quality discs, like these from Verbatim, for your digital video projects.


Another DVD recordable format is DVD+R for write-once discs, and DVD+RW for re-writable discs. Although it might not seem like much of a difference in nomenclature, the two formats are incompatible, and you must buy the correct discs to match the drive that is installed in your PC. DVD+R/RW is currently not as popular as DVD-R/RW.

Here are some of the reasons why this seems to be so:

  • It appears that DVD+R and DVD+RW discs have more compatibility problems with set-top DVD players than do DVD-R/RW discs. It’s hard to get accurate statistics in this area, but it may be a concern if you have an older DVD player.
  • The first generation of DVD+R/RW drives could not actually create a DVD+R disc that could be read in a standalone DVD player. Instead, you had to use the more expensive DVD+RW discs. The second generation DVD+R/RW drives are said to have corrected this problem.
  • DVD+R and DVD+RW discs are more expensive than their DVD-R and DVD-RW counterparts.
  • DVD+R/RW drives are also more expensive than DVD-R/RW drives. I’ve been told that a single manufacturer builds all of the DVD+R/RW drives, and everyone else who sells them buys from that one company— thus creating the higher prices.


The third recordable DVD format, DVD-RAM, is not really a contender, but it is still important that you know about it. Here’s why you don’t want a computer with a DVD-RAM drive (or a bare DVD-RAM drive to install in your PC):

  • DVD-RAM discs can only be read in DVD-RAM drives on computers.
  • DVD-RAM discs are incompatible with most set-top DVD players.

Okay, so it’s not a long list, but what more important reasons do you need to stay away from DVD-RAM? Take it from me, there are plenty of people who are willing to sell you things without considering what you really need. Anyone who tries to talk you into a strictly DVD-RAM drive is not doing you any favors and should be avoided!

Well, the discussion of competing recordable DVD formats wasn’t that bad after all, now was it? The bottom line is that, if you have not yet selected a recordable DVD drive, I’d suggest that you go with the DVD-R/RWformat.

If your PC already has a DVD+R/RW drive, it’s probably not worth replacing (unless it’s one of those first-generation drives like the HP dvd100, which can’t create set-top-compatible DVD+R discs). Just be careful to always buy the discs that are compatible with your DVD recorder.