What are DVD Drives?

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DVD drives read information stored on a DVD or CD. These drives (along with CD drives) belong to the optical disc storage media family.


They are backward compatible with CD media which means that they can play audio CDs and CD-ROMs. CD players are unable to play DVDs and DVD-ROMs.

DVD drives can record to CD and DVD media.

What is a DVD? - Some History

A DVD was originally called a Digital Video Disc and was later called a Digital Versatile Disc. Today, the letters DVD do not stand for anything... DVD is now an international standard with just three letters - DVD.

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DVD is an optical storage medium which is used for multimedia, games, video and audio applications.

After its development, the DVD became one of the most successful products on the consumer electronics market. It has the support of all the major computer hardware companies, the electronic companies and the major music and movie studios.

DVDs have now become the No. 1 computer storage media. They cover computers, home entertainment and business data.

Although the DVD's capacity is much more than a CD, it looks like a CD and its physical dimensions are the same. But, in contrast to the CD, the DVD must have a file system.

This system is called the Universal Disc Format (UDF) which enables the storage of data, audio, video or all three within a single physical file structure.

Because DVDs have more storage space than CDs, they are a very popular choice for computer users. They have 4.7 GB (single-sided), 8.5 GB (dual-layer single-sided) and 9.4 GB (double-sided) which can hold more than thirteen times the amount of information on a CD.

The DVD is able to double its data storage capacity by being able to use both sides of the disc and also by using dual-layer which is achieved by superimposing one layer on top of another layer on the same side of the disc.

The quality of a DVD movie is far superior to a VHS movie; thus, the DVD is now making the need for videotaping obsolete. Eventually, they will replace CD-ROMs and audio CDs.

There is now a new type of DVD disc called Dual-Layer which holds approximately 8.5 GB on a single sided disc. This disc requires a dual-layer DVD writer to write information to it.

There are a number of DVD formats available which include DVD-Video, DVD-Audio and DVD-ROMs. DVD-Video is sometimes referred to as DVD.

There are recordable varieties associated with the DVD-ROM. They are the DVD-R (Recordable) DVD-RAM (Random Access Memory), DVD-RW and the DVD+RW (Rewritable)

DVD-ROMs:
DVD-ROMs (like CD-ROMs) are for computer use. They are Read Only memory which stores computer data that is read by computer DVD drives.

Unlike the CD-ROM (which can hold approximately 680 megabytes (MB) of data) DVD-ROMs can store up to 4.7 GB of information. With additional layers and double-sided discs, larger storage capacities are possible.

DVD Writers:
DVD Writers (DVD-R/RW) will allow computer users to backup their old VHS movies or to create backup copies of CDs and DVDs.

DVDs - Regional codes:
DVD-Video discs have regional codes signifying where in the world the DVD should be distributed and played. You should, therefore, buy DVDs for your regional code.

Computer DVD Drives

Computer DVD drives can be used to watch DVD video, play audio CDs and store information on DVDs and CDs. DVD drives are now being installed in new computers instead of CD drives.

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Computer DVD drives are able to read data stored on CD-ROMS and DVDs and can play both video and audio DVDs. CD-ROM drives cannot read DVDs.

DVD-ROM drives can read CD-ROM discs, so if you have a DVD-ROM drive, you don't need an extra CD-ROM drive. DVD-ROMs are now set to replace CD-ROMs.

Playing DVD movies requires DVD decoding software or a video capture card with hardware decoding.

Recording enthusiasts can now use the MPEG-2 (Moving Picture Experts Group) compression technology to store a full length movie on a 4.7 GB single-sided DVD disc.

If you are playing a DVD which includes MPEG-2 video or DVD movie, an MPEG-2 decoder is required for viewing the video.

Using an MPEG-2 hardware decoder instead of a MPEG-2 software decoder is recommended since the hardware decoder frees up the CPU to perform its other functions. The hardware decoder also enhances video by providing smooth 'jerkless' playback.

Similarly, using the MP3 compression technology, hundreds of songs can also be recorded to a single-sided 4.7 GB DVD disc.

Some of the advantages of installing computer DVD drives are:

  • Durability:   DVD discs are not affected by magnetic fields and will not deteriorate over time.
  • Versatility:  These drives can read both CDs and DVDs. A CD drive can only read CDs.
  • Easy to use:   DVD discs do not need re-winding after watching.
  • Storage:    Dual-layer DVDs will give up to 4 hours of the very best quality video on a single side of the disc.
  • Speed:    DVD drives have a faster data transfer rate than CD drives.

DVD Technology Update

Optical drives, such as the outdated IDE and P(ATA), are now being replaced by SATA (Serial ATA) drives. This SATA interface allows faster data access speeds. It is simpler to set up since this drive does not need to have a jumper installed to designate whether it is master or slave.

If you have two or more of these SATA drives in your PC, simply connect them using SATA data and power cables and they will automatically be configured as individual drives.

With the advent of extended DVD movies, the dual-layer DVD disc was introduced. This has a capacity of 8.5GB. There is also a double-sided DVD disc with a 9.4GB capacity.

The dual-layer DVD disc consist of two recordable layers - one superimposed on the other giving a total of 8.5GB. These media are ideal for DVD titles with extras that exceeded two hours.

Most double-sided DVDs presented movie titles on one side in full screen (4:3) and the other side in wide screen (16:9).

Blu-ray vs. HD DVD

The new rave is about High Definition TV (HDTV) and this started the format "war" between Blu-ray and HD DVD. Both these formats provide full high definition TV (1080P).

HD DVD, provided by Toshiba, was the first to launch a high definition DVD disc followed by Sony (Blu-ray)

HD DVD clearly had the lead with movie titles but was eventually overtaken by Sony (Blu-ray). After a bitter rivalry, HD DVD succumbed to Blu-ray because the majority of movie makers gravitated to the Blu-ray technology hence there was an overwhelming majority of Blu-ray titles vs. HD DVD titles.

Some of the major factors that influenced the decision are:

  • HD DVD discs - Single-layer holds approximately 15GB and dual-layer 30GB.
  • Blu-ray discs - Single-layer holds approximately 25GB and dual-layer 50GB.
  • HD DVD discs are more susceptible to damage.
  • Blu-ray discs are almost indestructible because they are built with a protective layer.

At the introduction of HD DVD and Blu-ray, these players were extremely expensive at about $1,000 - $1,500 each. With time, these prices have fallen dramatically especially HD DVD players which now may be purchased at approximately $300 each. Prices of Blu-ray players have also fallen although they are above HD DVD players.

Blu-ray disc drives for computers are now available. Some are capable of writing to Blu-ray discs and reading HD DVD discs. These combo drives (as they are called) are backward compatible with standard DVDs and CDs meaning that they can write and read DVDs and CDs. These drives sell for approximately $400 - $600. Blu-ray disc players for computers are available for approximately $150 - $200.

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Final Thoughts

Overall, because of the versatility of DVD drives, you will only require a DVD writer to read/write to CDs and DVDs. However, if you intend to watch a lot of DVD movies and listen to audio CDs, you should install a dedicated DVD-ROM drive. This will preserve your DVD writer for burning or saving data.

If you find yourself with a lot of extra cash, you can purchase a Blu-ray DVD writer and HD DVD player combo drive. This will enable all your viewing of high definition to regular DVD movie titles.

Click here to read about the installation of a DVD-ROM drive.

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