Buyer's Guide: DVD Writers

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted May 02, 2002
Wayne N. Kawamoto
Managing Editor, www.smallbusinesscomputing.com

These days, CD burners are standard equipment on almost every new PC. But the immediate future lies in more powerful DVD burners that work with discs that can hold 4.7GB of data, and may be used for performing back-ups and storing movies that may be viewed through consumer DVD movie players.

For some time, CDs have provided a convenient way for computer users to distribute data and back up hard drives, but the medium's storage limits in this era of 100 GB and larger hard drives leaves much to be desired. So if DVD is clearly the way to go, it should be a simple matter to purchase a DVD burner. However, the industry is involved in a war of standards that is yet to be resolved, and early drives are pricey.

On the DVD writing side, there are two main competing standards. The standard known as DVD-R/RW (this is a combination of DVD-R and DVD-RW-note the minus in the name) is supported by Pioneer and other manufacturers and has taken an early lead. The other competing standard, DVD+RW (note the "plus" in place of the dash), is being backed by HP and Sony and making a strong bid.

The situation is similar to that of the competing VHS and Beta video standards decades ago. But unlike the video tapes of old, the two main competing DVD standards are designed to create discs that may be read by most consumer DVD movie players. And both standards can read commercial Hollywood DVD movies, as well as work as CD readers and burners.

Both DVD-R and DVD+R let you write a single time to a DVD (similar to CD-R technology). Once you use a DVD-R or DVD+R disc, you can't write data to that disc again. Note that DVD+R capabilities were not available on the first DVD+RW drives from HP and Sony, and drives with this capability are just coming to market. On the other hand, DVD-RW and DVD+RW technologies let you write continually write to a DVD, just as you can to a CD-RW disc or a floppy.

A third DVD rewritable standard, DVD-RAM, runs a distant third. This technology is incompatible with commercial DVD players-data stored on a DVD-RAM disc can't be read by DVD movie players, or many other DVD drives. The only real use for DVD-RAM is as a high-capacity network backup medium. DVD-RAM discs are housed in cartridges and hold between 2.6 GB and 9.4 GB.

DVD-R and DVD-RW media, as well as DVD+R and DVD+RW media, are generally compatible with newer DVD movie players and DVD-ROM drives on PCs. At the moment, there are differences between manufacturers of different DVD drives, but acceptance of DVD discs by different drives will improve over time. This evolution will probably resemble that of the early days of CD-R and CD-RW drives. You may recall that initially, older CD players couldn't read all the media that newer ones could.

As with Beta versus VHS, DVD standards will eventually iron themselves out. The difference is that whether you choose DVD-RW or DVD+RW, you should, in theory, be able to create DVD discs that can be read by most DVD-ROM drives and DVD movie players. And the more the standards evolve, the stronger this compatibility will become. The best option is to wait for the standards and equipment to mature. But if you absolutely need to use a DVD burner to backup data or create DVD movies, you can do so now.

Test Drive: Sony DVD+RW DRU110A
Sony's rewritable DVD drive can adequately save data and video onto DVD+RW discs and works as a CD-RW drive, but its technology is outdated. For now, it's best to wait before buying this technology. 

Test Drive: HP DVD-Writer dvd100i DVD burner
Small business owners who want to backup data onto DVD discs and burn DVD movies may find lots to like about HP's dvd100i drive. However, when it comes to writing on DVDs, the technology is still maturing and there's more to come. 

Test Drive: Pioneer DVR-A03 DVD-R/RW Writer 
Yes, you can burn your own video onto DVD discs that will play on set-top DVD players. But will a DVD burner such as the Pioneer DVR-A03 also suit your backup needs? We take the drive through its many paces.

First Look: Sony's Second Generation DVD+RW/+R and CD-R/RW Drives
Sony's upcoming DVD+RW/+R drives will finally support write-once capabilities.


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