Understanding DVDs and VCDs

One of the biggest hurdles in learning how to use some of the newest technology is often simply understanding what the “experts” are talking about. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience as I have had of going into a store to look at something like a new camcorder, seeing several models on display, and really needing some help in figuring out which one will best suit your needs.

But when you talk to the store person, it seems like he or she is talking in some foreign language full of odd terms that are meaningless to you. So rather than learning anything really useful, you wander out of the store feeling as though you’ll never be able to get a clear answer to your questions.

In many ways, the world of digital video also fits into this same mold. There are odd-sounding terms galore. If you don’t feel overwhelmed, it’s probably because you have already tuned the babble out. Either way, you could probably use a little plain language explanations to help you navigate, and that’s why you’re reading this.

Let’s start our plain language explanations by introducing a couple of terms that are used to describe the discs where we’ll be storing our videos. These are DVD and VCD—the names of the two most popular types of discs for home video production. Here are some things you’ll want to know about these two:

  • The term “DVD” is most often identified as standing for Digital Versatile Disc or Digital Video Disc—there seems to be little real agreement about which definition is correct.
  • “VCD” stands for Video Compact Disc—essentially a type of CD that holds videos. In fact, these discs are sometimes also called VideoCDs.
  • Both DVDs and VCDs are the same physical size as audio CDs.
  • To create either a DVD or a VCD, you need the correct type of recorder and recordable discs.
  • DVDs generally offer higher quality recordings than do VCDs. This is not an absolute, however, since you can trade off quality for longer recording time if you want.
  • DVDs are somewhat more expensive to produce than VCDs. That’s because DVD recorders are more expensive than CD recorders, and recordable DVD blanks are more expensive than recordable CDs. The gap between the two is narrowing, however.
  • Most recordable DVDs hold 4.7 GB of information, while recordable CDs hold 640 to 700MB. This translates to about an hour of video on a typical VCD and up to six hours on a DVD (if you choose a lower quality recording setting).
  • DVDs you record will generally play in most set-top DVD players (although, as I’ll explain later, this capability may depend on the type of disc you use). VCDs will also play in a lot of set-top DVD players, but they’re not as widely compatible as DVDs. S-VCDs are even a bit less compatible.

So, now that you have some of the basics under your belt, let’s turn to some of the ways you can use these discs.

What You Can Do with DVDs

You’re no doubt aware that DVDs have become the preferred format for distributing movies these days. Compared with video tapes, DVDs are more durable, more versatile because of features such as direct access to specific scenes and additional soundtracks in foreign languages, and less susceptible to casual copying.

But you may not have thought about some of the different ways you might use recordable DVDs of your own. Well, consider these ideas:

  • You could turn your vacation video into a movie that would actually be interesting enough to keep your viewers from nodding off. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to share the fun and have home movies that people would really enjoy watching? (For example, in Figure below)

FIGURE 1 You can make home videos that people will enjoy watching.

  • You could create a recruitment video for your favorite club or organization. In it, you could show some of the fun activities the group engages in, provide some historical background about the group, and provide complete details about how to join.
  • You could create a campaign video for a friend or relative who wants to run for local office. This type of video might be especially useful for candidates running a low-budget campaign but still wanting to get their message across to the voters.
  • If you’ve always wanted to start a new career teaching groups of people about a particular interest or hobby of yours, you could produce a video of your “talk” that people could buy.

That way you might be able to reach a much larger audience, since you could afford to mail a DVD to places where you probably couldn’t get together a group of people large enough to even pay for your travel expenses.

  • If you run a business selling antiques, you might want to produce a digital video catalog to show potential customers your wares. Not only could you show all sides of the items as you walked around them, but you could describe the condition of an object using the soundtrack.

In addition, your DVD could include easily accessible menus so buyers could quickly navigate to items of interest.

  • You could create a promotional video telling about an annual local festival. You might even be able to convince some TV stations in surrounding areas to air parts of your video to help promote the event in their areas.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. With a little bit of imagination you can probably come up with hundreds of different ways to use DVDs. I’m sure that at least some of the ideas I mentioned made you stop and think, though, didn’t they? Well, that’s the whole point—DVDs really are pretty versatile!

What You Can Do with VCDs

Okay, so the things you can do with recordable DVDs sound pretty good, but what if you’re not quite ready to spend a bunch of money for a DVD recorder? Your PC probably already has a CD-RW drive, and maybe you’d like to get your feet wet by starting out with VCDs rather than making the commitment to the more expensive DVD format.

Well, that’s no problem and indeed may be an excellent way to get started in digital video production. As I mentioned earlier, VCDs are generally compatible with most newer set-top DVD players. It’s true that recordable DVDs can be played in some DVD players that won’t play VCDs, but we’re talking relatively small numbers here.

Unless you’re creating videos for commercial purposes—such as videos you intend to sell directly to the public—you may not consider this to be a serious problem. So, aside from many of the same uses as recordable DVDs, how might you take advantage of the special characteristics of VCDs? Here are some thoughts:

  • VCDs can be played in the CD drive on most PCs—even those without a DVD drive. If you’re creating videos to share with PC users, VCDs are still likely to be compatible with a broader range of systems than are DVDs.
  • Since VCDs are recorded on inexpensive CD-R discs, you can make duplicates of VCDs for far less than the cost of a recordable DVD. In fact, you can probably buy blank CD-R discs for less than the cost of a first-class postage stamp, so handing out copies of your VCD videos at a convention could be a very inexpensive way to promote your business.
  • If you’re the recruitment chair for a student group, you might create several hundred copies of your club’s promotional video on VCDs, then ask the Registrar to include a copy in each new student’s information packet. Since most students would have easy access to a PC that could play a VCD (but maybe not a DVD), your high-tech approach to recruiting new members might pay back many times over.

There’s no reason why you can’t use VCDs as your low-cost entry point into the world of digital video production. Once you know your way around, you’ll find that it’s a very easy process to step up to making DVDs.

And, as you’ve just seen, VCDs certainly do fill an important niche that even experienced DVD producers may want to consider from time to time. Now that you have a better understanding of what you can do with DVDs and VCDs, let’s move on and take a look at the very important matter of DVD standards.