DVD formats can confuse

January 03, 2002|By Kevin Washington

One of the most confusing things about making DVDs is that there are too many ways to do it.

The industry leaders, including Philips, Pioneer and Toshiba, haven't agreed on a single format and actually offer three - two of which are distinguishable only by whether they have a "dash" or "plus sign" in the name.

While most DVD writers can all read or play pre-recorded DVD-ROMs, they save information in different formats. In some instances, they won't read other disc formats either. That means you'll have to make sure to buy the right type of disc for the DVD-writer you purchased.

And to make things worse, the three formats have varying degrees of compatibility with the standalone DVD players hooked up to millions of television sets.

Here's a quick guide to the three recordable DVD formats:

DVD-RAM ($20 and up per disc), uses a double-sided disc enclosed in a cartridge.

This format has been around for a couple of years and has been successful as a general storage medium, since a double-sided disk can store up to 9.4 gigabytes of data.

That's twice the capacity of a one-sided DVD.

Unfortunately, discs created with current DVD-RAM burners have problems playing in many set-top DVD players, although the manufacturers claim they're now making the discs compatible with newer standalone playback devices.

DVD-R/RW ($8 per writable disk disc; $16 for rewritables) is backed by Pioneer, which released a $700 writer last year. You have your choice of types of discs - one that can be written to once only, and one that can be rewritten.

This format, too, has compatibility issues with set-top players, although it's more likely to work than a DVD-RAM.

Panasonic's DVD-RAM LF-D311N DVD Burner ($550) will write to DVD-R and DVD-RAM discs.

DVD+RW ($15 per disc) is the latest format offered to the public, and the manufacturers boast that it's the one most likely to play back in set-top DVD players - but it still won't work in all of them, particularly older players.

This is the format we used for our tests.

Backed by several major manufacturers including Philips, Mitsubishi, Hewlett Packard and Dell, the DVD+RW format allows all its discs to be erased and reused, but the format is one-sided only.

If your taste runs to Macs, the Apple Power Mac G4 that ships with the SuperDrive DVD-R/CD-RW writer and iDVD software for fast, high quality DVD authoring starts at $2,500.

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