Choosing DVD Recorders and Recordable Media

You've come this far, so it's a good guess you already have a DVD recorder in your PC. If so, you might consider replacing it with something new. If not, you definitely need to go out and buy one. In either case, in this section I'll give you an overview of the DVD recorder business and present a basic rundown of the major brand-name PC DVD recorders.

A DVD recordable format war is going on. It's unclear how this will shake out. The latest entrants?drives using write-once DVD+R and rewritable DVD+RW?seem to have the greatest potential for universal compatibility, ease of use, and performance. But being late to the party may mean they'll miss out on all the fun.


Virtually all DVD+RW drives from Philips, Sony, and HP have Ricoh DVD+RW drives at their core. Despite the different labels, they are essentially clones. Ricoh's latest, the MP5125A, is the second-generation DVD+ drive that finally supports both DVD+R and DVD+RW. Ricoh sells this drive under its own label in Europe and Japan.

For the moment, the write-once DVD-R format has the greatest overall acceptance and compatibility. All DVD-RW drives and some DVD-RAM drives write to DVD-R media.


If you plan to have a replication firm mass-produce your DVD project, you have two options for mastering media: DVD-R and DLT (Digital Linear Tape). DLT is not all that appealing because you have to buy a DLT machine and upgrade your DVD-authoring software to one with DLT as an output option (DVDit! PE has that capability).

DVD-R clearly is your best bet for making a replication master. At the moment, most mass replicators do not accept DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, DVD+R, or DVD+RW masters. Rewritable discs are not suitable because the data may not be contiguous on the disc. For an extra fee you can have a replicator copy files from any of these media types to DLT or DVD-R.

DVD-RAM may find itself relegated only to data backup because it can be rewritten at least 100,000 times, versus 1,000 times for DVD+RW and DVD-RW. Also, DVD-RAM drives cannot record CD-RW and CD-R discs, so they have limited appeal as general-purpose recordable drives.


All versions of DVDit! support all DVD formats: DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM.

Here's a quick rundown of the heavy hitters in the PC DVD recorder game:

Pioneer? Its fourth-generation product, the DVR-A04 or DVR-104 DVD-RW drive, is a small step up from the A03/103 (a.k.a. the Apple SuperDrive). Pioneer set the recordable DVD market on fire with its earlier models and continues to drive prices down and foster further DVD-RW acceptance with this model. It writes to DVD-RW, DVD-R, CD-RW, and CD-R.

Panasonic? Its LF-D321U records to both DVD-RAM and DVD-R media. The company promotes the LF-D321U primarily as a DVD-video production drive. In some ways it may be the dual-role drive many customers seek: DVD videos plus data archiving using the very durable DVD-RAM discs.

Hewlett-Packard? Its second-generation DVD+RW drive, the DVD200i, replaces the first-generation, non-DVD+R-compatible DVD100i. The 200i outscores the Pioneer A04 in performance tests. Drawbacks include the higher-priced media and lack of consumer acceptance.

Sony? It, too, is in the DVD+RW camp. Its second-generation DRU120A (replacing the DRU110A) is on par with HP's DVD200i. If you plan to go the DVD+RW route, the choice between these two may come down to bundled software and price.

Philips? Surprisingly its latest DVD+RW drive (the DVDRW208, as of June 2002) is a first-generation DVD+ drive and as such does not support DVD+R. The company has indicated a DVD+R-compatible drive is in the works, which means this Philips drive, as well as the HP DVD100i and the Sony DRU110A, all are landfill candidates.

Toshiba? Its SD-W2002 has limited appeal. It writes only DVD-RAM discs, not DVD-R or any other write-once media. Few non-DVD-RAM drives can read DVD-RAM discs. Therefore, the SD-W2002 simply cannot function as a recorder for DVDs you plan to play in set-top boxes.

Selecting Recordable Media

DVD recordable media is swiftly approaching commodity status. That is, there soon may be no discernible difference between one brand and another. For the moment, though, it still appears that you get what you pay for.

Selecting "house brand" media remains a hit-or-miss proposition. One unsubstantiated test I saw showed some store-brand recordable DVDs have 40% failure rates. That is, 4 out of 10 discs became proverbial cocktail coasters.

Obviously, companies that sell branded drives along with their own branded media?HP, Pioneer, Panasonic, and Sony?want you to think that you can't have one without the other. But selecting from that top tier of the price chart may be overkill (although, their prices are coming down).

I recommend taking the middle ground: Buy name-brand, generic media from firms such as Verbatim, Memorex, Maxell, Mitsui, and TDK.

Because prices continue to drop, it makes little sense to include specific prices here. In general, though, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • DVD-R is the least expensive.

  • DVD-RW and DVD+RW are both about 50% more than DVD-R. Because they're rewritable, you don't need all that many of them anyway.

  • DVD+R, being the latest media and in limited demand, is about twice as expensive as DVD-R.

  • DVD-RAM remains the most expensive media, nearly three times as expensive as DVD-R.

As DVD recordable media approaches commodity status, there are still a few minor "gotchas" to watch out for:

DVD-R Authoring versus General? Authoring media is specifically for authoring drives such as Pioneer's DVR-S201. You probably don't own such a drive. Early DVD-R drives were able to make bit-for-bit copies of other DVDs. By early 2001, the movie industry responded by creating the Content Scrambling System (CSS) encryption scheme and getting DVD manufacturers to change their drives to make it physically impossible for them to copy CSS discs. So, if you have a DVD-R-capable drive, it probably uses DVD-R General recording media.

Matching media quality to your drive recording speed? If you want to take advantage of faster DVD recording speeds, you need to buy media rated for those speeds. For instance, look for 2x in the product name or specs if that's the speed of your drive.

Capacity? You may never need to buy anything other than 4.7GB DVD recordable media. That is, standard single-side, single-layer media at full DVD capacity. Several other capacities are available, so make sure you get ones that suit your project size and drive specifications.

    Part II: Enhancing Your Video