The simple answer: Get one that supports multiple formats. Most these days already do that.
A little history lesson is due here.
A while back when the DVD standard was being hammered out, rival companies got together to(much like the consortia (consortiums?) behind the HD DVD and Blu-Ray formats) set out to replace the common compact disc. They set out to create a standard that would dominate the marketplace. And in so doing, they created numerous types of disc formats - ranging in size from about 1.4 GB all the way up to 18 GB.
The mainstream survivors of these wars today are the DVD+R and DVD-R. Adding a W to the end of either one means the disc can be erased and rewritten multiple times. The main difference between the two formats would be in the way the data is written to the DVD. Their capacity is identical. Their durability is about the same. There isn't much to distinguish one format from the other.
Your average typical DVD these days will be either a +R or -R format disc. They will both hold 4.71 GB worth of data or movies. Occasionally, you might run into a DVD-RAM disc. But they're fairly rare. Most DVD+/-R blanks will cost you anywhere from about 20 cents a piece and up. The RW's will cost a bit more.
However, there IS one important consideration - your home DVD player - the one hooked up to the TV. It's important to get a burner and blanks that will work with it should you happen to want to make DVDs of home movies and such. Most modern players will support both formats, but it never hurts to find out ahead of time. Fortunately, there IS a web site that can help. They have reviews of most players on the market as well as information as to which formats it will support. Visit http://www.videohelp.com to check to see what your DVD player supports.
The latest thing to arrive on the scene would be the dual layer DVD. Most movies on the market today come on Dual Layer (DL) DVDs. These have a maximum of 9 GB capacity. The dual layer scheme - as the name suggests - means the blank DVD has two readable/writable layers. The laser used to read/write the disc uses two frequencies of light to do its thing. At one frequency, the bottom layer is opaque and is able to be read while at the other frequency, the bottom layer is transparent, allowing the deeper layer to be read/written to.
DL DVDs are still fairly expensive - going for as much as $2.50 a piece. However, the prices for this WILL eventually come down.
Now then, there's HD DVD and Blu-Ray. These are next generation optical storage formats. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Neither one is commonly available yet as their standards are still not quite 100% ready for prime time. The HD DVD has a capacity of about 30 GB while Blu-Ray has 50 GB space.
For the moment, I wouldn't worry too much about either. In a few years, after the standards have been finished, and when the prices have fallen to reasonable levels (after the R&D bill has been paid off), you might consider purchasing one or the other - depending on which survives the standards/format war. Being an early adopter at this point will be quite expensive.
I would therefore recommend buying a DVD burner that will do both DVD+R and -R, RW's and Dual Layer DVDs. Pretty much all DVD burners will also burn regular CDs as well so you're covered in case you should happen to need to burn a CD. A good one will usually cost between $45 and 60.
There is one further piece of advice. Avoid Sony and Plextor brand burners. My experience with them is that they're junk. Sony's drives are made by Plextor and while Plextor has made really great CD burners in the past, their DVD efforts have been less than spectacular. You might want to consider any of the following brands: LG, Phillips, NEC, Benq, Samsung or Acer.
Note: The above has NOTHING to do with any boycott of Sony for their recent DRM fiasco. Their drives are overpriced junk. They don't last very long and aren't worth the money.
Burning speed: Most DVD burners these days will burn DVDs faster than they typically are read when playing a movie - up to 16X for regular +/-R discs and up to 4x on the dual layer discs. What this means is you can burn a DVD at up to 16 times the normal read speed for a DVD movie. Typically, an 8x DVD can be burned in about 8-9 minutes as opposed to taking 2+ hours to burn the disc at 1X speed. Faster, in this case, is better. The faster the DVD can be written to also usually means the more money the blank will cost. 16X blanks are astronomically expensive at the moment going for as little as
$3.99 and up.
Submitted by: Pete Z.
Well Andy, the important thing to consider whenever youre buying a DVD burner is what youre planning to use it for. As you may have noticed, different designations on CDs and DVDs are also accompanied by things like Music, Data, Video and the like. Now while in reality you can use DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs and other burnable DVDs for multiple things besides what the manufacturer intended it helps to know what they are best for. Because of encoding methods these designations show what they are best for, if you know the skinny on each one. Any DVD-R, DVD-RW or one with a minus in it, aside from DVD-RAM (thats a special case) are particularly good for data recording, which means things like files, programs and the like.
Anything with a plus in it DVD+R, DVD+RW and the like are particularly good for video, such as home movies. DVD-RAM is a special kind of DVD which is actually stored in a cartridge, usually found in DVD camcorders, and acts like a sort of DVD hard drive. DVD-RAMs then are really only an issue for being read by a burner if you use a DVD camcorder, but not to be burned since youre only going to need to burn DVD-RAMs in a compatible camcorder.
As for dual-layer, or double-layer, its a specially-designed DVD that has twice the storage space on it. The same +/- designation advice applies to dual layer ones as well, just with twice the space. Theres also something called Lightscribe, which is a proprietary label burning technology by HP which uses a specially-coated CD that can have a label burned on it when put into a Lightscribe-compatible burner, instead of dealing with the hassle of a CD stomper to affix your labels (if youre like me and dont like to write on your CD-RWs and such and might want to change the content later).
The best thing to do would be to find a DVD burner that has at least DVD-R/RW capability, and if possible DVD+R/RW, which isnt hard nowadays. If you find one you like with dual-layer burning for a good price, with all the other stuff then that would probably be your best bet. Look for burners that have good reviews from people who own and use it, but also look for good tech support. I recently bought a slim-profile DVD burner from a company that had little or no tech support and when there was any it was in broken English and couldnt help me out at all. I personally recommend the HP dvd740e if youre looking for something that supports pretty much all of the DVD designations you need and has Lightscribe as well.
Submitted by: Tim H.
Well, Andy, the DVD formats basically falls into 3 categories:
past, present, and future. Here's what you need to know about them.
Past: DVD-RAM is more like a hard drive than a DVD. It is very seldomly used now, so you don't have to worry about this standard. .
Present: DVD-R/RW / DVD+R/RW / Dual Layer: There's really just two versions, the + type, and the - type, each with three types of media (R, RW, DL), R stands for recordable, write-once only, RW stands for re-writable, can be erased and re-written..DL stands for Dual-Layer and is a subtype of R (recordable) with 2 layers on the same side, and almost double the capacity than the regular single-layer R type.
The + and the - standards were developed by 2 separate consortiums and aren't that really different. The - standard came out first, but both
+ and - should work in standalone DVD players for the most part.
You can find one writer that supports them all (all six types), and even write CD-R/RW's, for under $50 if you shop carefully.
Future: HD-DVD / Blu-Ray are the upcoming standards. The standards aren't set yet, so there is no point in worrying about them. We may see the first consumer drives with those standards later this year, but the initial high prices and likely compatibility problems means they are for early adopters only.
So all in all, just shop for a DVD writer that is compatible with all six of the present DVD standards (+R, +RW, +DL, -R, -RW, -DL), and you should be fine for the near future.
Submitted by: Kasey C. of San Francisco, CA, USA
Answer: Although asking the right questions is always important when buying a new piece of hardware, in this case you dont really have to worry as most of the drives you will find today can burn all formats (in some cases, with the exceptions of DVD-RAM). DVD+R and DVD-R discs offer the same amount of storage, 4.7 Gigabytes, and can be written to once. For backward compatibility with older DVD players, DVD R is preferable since it was the first format introduced. Some drives will write faster on DVD + R. The maximum speeds to write to these will never reach beyond 16X.
DVD+RW and DVD-RW are both erasable discs that offer about the same characteristics as their non-rewritable counterpart (4.7 Gigabytes).
As for dual layer, this technology is also progressing to the point of being very common although discs cost quite a bit more than single layer discs. Dual layer, as the name implies, offers two layers or content and so the disc capacity reaches 8.5 Gigabytes for the same shelf space. Just try and get a drive that burns double layers at 6 or 8X.
DVD-RAM is a less commonly used format that is usually stored in a clear cartridge and can be written to and erased any number of times. You cannot watch a DVD-RAM disc on your home DVD player (unless you have a very very recent tabletop player or recorder that actually uses DVD-RAM). Its applications mostly concern computer backups.
The most advanced drive you can get today is 16X for DVD+ and - R, 8X for double layer, 8X for DVD+RW (rewritable). One thing you might want to consider is a company that offers firmware updates on their website. Once you decide between one or two models, go to that companys website and see if they have regular firmware updates that will 1-make the drive compatible with more media and 2-increase read and write speeds across different media. One last thing to look at is bundled software. Anything by Nero is fantastic.
As for next generation formats, there is not an analyst in the world that can predict with any certainty what format will prevail in the war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, so best leave it alone for now, there is no media available as of now anyway. We will not know for 12-18 months at the very least if a clear winner emerges. Itll be even longer before the formats are widespread enough to be affordable.
Last thing: once you settle on a drive, your first task will be to get samples of different blank media and check which is compatible with your home player (if you plan on turning those vacation videos into DVDs your whole family can watch on your TV). Start with DVD-R. Good luck.
Submitted by: Nicolas L. of Quebec City, Canada
If you need a new drive now, get yourself a dual layer drive which will write both plus and minus formats. This drive will also handle earlier single layer formats.
The new drive standards, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD will be a while coming, and a longer while getting into a reasonable price range. Right now, you can buy a dual layer, great drive for under $50 if you look around a little. DVD-RAM has been available for a while and is best suited, in my opinion, to use as a temporary storage mode when you want to keep your hard drive free. I put pictures and other space-demanding files onto a DVD-RAM, and then organize them there and write them to permanent storage - usually CD.
DVD-RAM is a nice format. I have used it for several years with no problems. One drive died and was replaced, but the data are fine.
I really do not know what to make of BLU-Ray and the HD formats coming soon. For present applications they are not necessary. If, however, you plan to store high density video, then these formats will be necessary. More space than is available on a DL DVD drive is simply excess space for current needs.
For example, consider saving all of your emails, including all of the spam. You can probably put it all on a CD, together with a lot of other stuff you are not sure about. You can then put several years on a DVD with metal azo dye and maybe save it for 100 years. At that time your heirs and assigns can try to understand why you saved it. Or, you can take all of the eight-megapixel photos from your fancy digital still camera. Nearly 100 will fit on a CD uncompressed. A CD is a nice way to store pictures from a particular trip or event, but if you are long on trips or events a DVD will hold about seven times as much, with storage capability which depends on the dye. You need to archive to metal azo dye, and store in a cool, dry place.
Now, all of this leads to the demonstration that having more than single layer or single sided DVD's is probably overkill. For one thing, most of your photos are probably stored compressed to some degree and you can put a lot on one CD or one DVD. Having a medium which will take more data is necessary only for the next stage of storage needs - high density video and possibly commercial needs for the future still cameras. I can tell you that, were they so inclined, NASA could still store all of the 139,850 images taken by both mars rovers in the past two years on two double-layer DVD's.
Now to the final issue, before this gets too long. What about durability of data with the new formats?
Right now, with slower CD's using good dyes and reflecting surfaces, it is projected that data may be stored for about a human lifetime. The same goes for DVD's which are single layered. I have not encountered dual layer DVD's with azo dyes yet. How do these figures appear from the sky? Presumably someone tests for data longevity at progressively higher temperatures and longer times to develop a curve which will then be extended for lower temperatures to give a hint about longevity in a cool place. (That is where you need to story your data - cool and dry).
Now there is one thing wrong with this. The only place the data is presented is by the vendors or manufacturers. I am not aware of an independent test facility. In my experience, using a laminator to overlay plastic on top of a CD which has been labeled with an inkjet printer, at one temperature the data is not affected and at a slightly higher temp the dye layer liquifies - that's right, it liquifies. That means that the hot end of the curve is not very long. Therefore, I predict that the curve made by a manufacturer eager to sell his product does not have lots of data points over years. This means that the cool end of the curve is little more than a hopeful guess. If there were independent facilities for this testing, by the time they got datapoints enough for a good projection for years ahead guess what! Yes, the disc would be obsolete.
Add to this the fact that the newer formats have not been tested by consumers yet. Yes, consumers are the ultimate test-bed. Think Vioxx. Blu-Ray will have an incredibly thin but hard layer over the dye. Will this hold up? HD DVD will have a thicker layer, meaning a lower capacity for storage. Will it be a better bet for that reason? How about dyes sensitive to blue light. Will they be more stable than those sensitive to long wavelengths? Information, you know, is lost with time. It is a corollary of the second law of thermodynamics.
In the early days of personal computers a person could do about what he wanted with 16 KB ram and a floppy. Now the programs have hugely extended features, many if not most worthless, and require megabytes. Computers have grown to provide those megabytes and the needed speed. In stead of providing a nice means of editing and formatting a document as Word once did, it now can give you largely erroneous grammar suggestions, frustrating autocorrections to words you do not intend, automatic reformats to Microsoft-only-knows-why useless formats which you never intended (and can't undo) and many other benefits.
Probably by the time Blu-ray and HD DVD are ready and better tested, there will be some new necessary evil which will fill their space. It is Parkinson's Law.
Submitted by: Ralph D.
While all the letters and signs (DVD-, +, R, RW, RAM, DL) can be confusing, the good news is that most new computer burners and set-top players can read most, if not all formats.
When DVDs came out, there was never a unified format, so we are stuck with DVD+ and DVD- discs. Each disc can either be purchased in R (write-once) and RW (rewritable) forms. Unless you plan on reusing the discs, you don't need to spend the extra money on RWs.
DVD- discs are commonly recognized in most DVD players, though the DVD player I own recognizes both + and - formats. DVD+ discs generally have faster write times, and newer players can read both. DVD+RW discs are my favorite to use for my home-theater based DVD recorder. They can record programs, and without being finalized, they can be played in other DVD players or computers, then returned to the DVD recorder and erased. But if you don't have a DVD recorder, DVD+RW discs aren't totally necessary.
Next you have dual-layer vs. single-layer discs. Single-layer DVD discs can store 4.7 GB of data, while a dual-layer doubles that. Many new DVD movies are on dual-layer discs so the movie and the special features can be stored on a single disc. Not all DVD burners are capable of burning dual-layered discs. However, there is no hardware difference between a single-layer and dual-layer burner, only a firmware change, so the cost between the two is minimal.
DVD-RAM discs are primarily used for DVD camcorders, though many of the new camcorders are moving towards the +/- discs, or can use all three forms. Most DVD burners are capable of reading and writing on these. Probably the biggest advantage of DVD-RAM is that it can be rewritten over 100,000 times whereas the DVD+ and -RW discs have a rewrite capacity of 1,000 times. However, DVD-RAM discs are a bit harder to come by and may not work in DVD players so are not the best choice for making movies.
A good resource for disc formats can be found here: http://www.tomshardware.com/2004/07/07/double/index.html
Blu-Ray (made by Sony) and HD-DVD (made by Toshiba) discs are the two options for the next format of DVDs. Blue lasers focus light on a smaller wavelength, so more data can be stored on an identical-sized disc. They are capable of storing upwards of 27 GB of data on a single-layered disc, and 44-50 GB on a dual-layer. HD-DVD disc can hold 30 GB of data on a dual-layer disc, 15 on a single. While Blu-ray can store more data, HD-DVD discs are cheaper and easier to produce (requiring only slight modifications in current disc manufacturing hardware), and may even be able to play on current DVD players, though they would not look any better than standard DVDs. Currently, it looks like Sony has more movie studios supporting its Blu-ray format, but it also looks like a format war is unavoidable. These discs and players are just emerging, and if burners are available, they won't be cheap. Unless you're a tech geek, or want the absolute best for your HD TV I would wait a bit before getting into Blu-ray or HD-DVD.
Here's a link explaining a bit more about HD DVD vs Blu-ray: http://news.cbsi.com/FAQ+HD+DVD+vs.+Blu-ray/2100-1041_3-5886956.html
If that's not enough, there is also a technology out there called lightscribe. Lightscribe burners can etch a black and white label onto lightscribe-ready discs, thus eliminating the need to print labels on stickers and put them on discs or using a sharpie marker to label discs. However, the discs are a bit more, about a buck apiece.
So what DVD burner is right for you? Most new burners, as long as you're not buying the absolute cheapest, will read and write DVD+, -, R, RW, and RAM, and a growing number of burners also have dual-layer and lightscribe capabilities. A quick search of Google yielded results in the $100 and up range that are dual layered and lightscribe capable. If you have a desktop and want the best performance for the money, a burner you install into your tower will be cheaper and faster. If you have a laptop or want a burner that you can take with you, or don't want the hassle of opening up your tower, a USB-based burner is the best option. Most will write at 16x speed max, and with storage capabilities nearing 18GB (using a double-sided dual layer disc), you'll want to be able to write as fast as possible. Happy shopping!
Submitted by: Jeremy S.
BUY a DVD burner that burns to DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and dual-layer ones. You should find that most of the DVD burners burn all those formats right now.
HD-DVD and Blu-RAY DVDs are a little too new right now to be worth the investment. In fact, you will be hard pressed to find blank DVDs for burning dual layers...and if you do, they will be significantly more expensive than the single layer, more standard DVDs that you can get in the store right now.
NOW...since you are a little confused on the different DVD formats...here is a brief summary of them. When DVDs first came out...they were on 4.7 GB diskettes and in the " - " The "R" means that it is RECORD only...i.e. you record it and that is it, no more re-record (re-write). The "RW" means the diskette can be re-recorded or Re Written (hence the RW). The "-" format was the first format to come out and as such is the most common format. All you really need to know between the "-" and "+" format is that the "+" format is newer and as such, is about 10x more stable when burning the DVD....as it checks and "syncs" to the data it is recording to ensure what it wants to record is actually what is recorded.
The dual layer has to do with how many areas on the DVD can be recorded... i.e. a dual layer can record to two areas of the disk and as such can store up to 9.4 GB of data. That is significant in that most movies on DVDs need more space than the standard 4.7 GB...so...they record them on dual layer. Most DVD players can read the dual layer and so, the user never knew that one movie might be on a single layer DVD and others might be on a dual layer DVD.
As I said earlier, most DVDs in the store are single layer DVDs and because the "-" format was the first, the and not required to be "sync'd" as much, the process to certify the validity of the disk batch box of 10 or 50, is cheaper to do so, the 10-pack or 50-pack of disks is cheaper to buy. The "+" format factory certification is a little more costly to do, so buying a 10-pack or 50-pack of "+" format blank DVDs is a little more expensive.
Hope this helps ..
Submitted by: John S.
This was a tough question for me to answer when I first bough my dvd burner when they were first coming out. But I have an answer for you. What happened was when they first came our with writable DVDs they created two standards sorta like VHS & Beta. The industry expected that one would mostly take over like what happened with VHS but that did not happen. So essentially DVD-R and DVD+R are almost identical. They both store the same amount of information. DVD-R and DVD+R are both single time writings like CD-Rs are. Those discs are good for burning home movies and things like that, stuff that will be embedded in there forever.
DVD-RW and DVD+RW are re-writable DVDs. These are good for things such as Data backups as they can hold 4.7 gigs and can be erased at a later time. Now I personally would try and find a DVD Burner that supports both of these options as some stand alone DVD players only accept one kind or another if it is older. You would have to check your DVD player specs. I find that most older DVD players can play most DVD-r discs.
Now you asked about dual layer. What this essentially does is burn 2 layers of information so you get twice the space. The reason they created this was in for backup of your DVDs in case of loss or damage. Most movie DVDs were created using a stamp press so they are not limited to the 4.7 gigs and most new movies are at least 8 gigs. So with dual layer you can simply copy the DVD straight. These discs are typically more expensive however. With the DVD-R and DVD+R you need to first compress the information down to 4.7 gigs to fit and lose some quality. DVD-RAM I believe is mostly used for movies or recording television shows from a stand alone DVD-Recorder that plugs into your TV. And finally HD-DVDS are fairly new to the market. They allow you to record High Definition Picture and Sound to the disk to be used with your HD-Ready TV. You need to make sure that the Information you are recording is HD already though.
Hope this helps.
Submitted by: David J. of Toronto, Ontario