They're at it again!
It's not exactly BetaMAX vs. VHS, but consumers are once again
supposed to absorb the headaches and hassles caused by greedy manufacturers who have created proprietary
formats in the vain hope of locking in a captive audience
of customers. They never learn. From a technical standpoint it's a draw, they each have
pros and cons. From a data standpoint, they both produce big blobby
and a kludgey disk menu data table. They both also embrace every possible flavor
of sucky copyright protection known to
Hollywood, leaving commercial DVD pirates
unscathed, but making it impossible for the rest of us to enjoy any measure of fair use. But that's another
It's not really necessary or even likely that, either the "Plus"
format, supported by the DVD +RW Alliance1 ,
or the "Dash" format, promoted by the DVD Forum2 ,
will win the format wars. Much
more likely is that we'll have something denser, cheaper, more reliable and just
all around mo betta than either Plus or Dash in another few years. Blue
lasers and double density disks are just over the horizon, and these formats
will likely be able to read most of the DVDs created by today's models.
The nitty gritty
DVD, originally meant Digital Video Disk, but was transformed into
the Digital Versatile Disk, once manufacturers began to introduce versions
of the format that could be recorded on a home PC or dedicated DVD recorder3.
Commercial movies are delivered in the basic DVD-Video format.
All DVD players can play DVD-Video disks. Beyond that things get
DVD media comes in two basic varieties: write once disks, that cost
a buck or two and can only be recorded once (R), and re-writable (RW) disks
that cost about twice as much, and work like a hard disk that can be recorded,
erased and re-recorded many times.
DVD-ROM was the original DVD standard and is a read-only format.
Compressed video files, or game code is burned onto the DVD disk once and
the DVD will run only on DVD-ROM drives, usually installed in computers.
DVD-ROM isn't seen much anymore and was primarily used as a data/application
DVD -R and DVD -RW (collectively known as "Dash")
was first to market, and captured the hearts and minds of millions almost
immediately through the simple wonder of simply working. Cheap,
recordable disks that hold almost five gigabytes of data, music, or
video are a wonderful thing. From the day that Apple started offering
DVD Dash drives in many of its models, desktop video entered a new era.
Complicating matters for the Dash format is the fact that DVD-R discs come in two
flavors: DVD-R/A, for "authoring" (i.e. mass replication), and DVD-R/G, for
"general" usage. You cannot record R/A disks on a R/G drive or vice
versa. In addition to Apple, Pioneer, Toshiba and Panasonic are
promoting the Dash format.
DVD +R and DVD +RW (together, known as "Plus")
is mainly backed by Philips, HP and Dell. Plus came to the market a
little later than Dash, but has already caught up in terms of estimated total
users. Plus seems to be on the offensive with respect to new features, and
general 'tude. Another important factor is the preliminary selection of Plus
for built-in support in Microsoft Windows. Dell and HP together sell
more computers than anyone else, so Dell's recent announcement that it would
begin supplying DVD Plus drives in its new systems could also be an important
sign of the format's ascent.
DVD -RAM is the odd duck out in the
format wars. It was originally intended, or at least marketed as a
data-oriented format, sort of a zip drive on steroids. With the common
availability of DVD recorders, it appears that DVD-RAM has made the crossover
to video and
is provided as a re-writable format on Panasonic DVD recorders.
Compatibility tests performed by Digital Video Magazine and other
independent labs seem to agree that both -R and +R disks will play on 90+% of
all DVD players. The +RW and -RW re-writable formats appear to be
somewhat less compatible and will play on about 70% of the DVD players tested.
So, which should I choose?
Exhausting this subject could burn
up a few thousand syllables, and our patience at the same time. Suffice it
to say that as of today there isn't an obvious right answer, or a wrong answer
either. Both formats seem to work pretty well, and
you can "Finalize" your disks with most systems so that they can be
played on almost any modern DVD player. So you can burn a disk for Mum and
be pretty confident that she'll be able to play it. If you can afford to wait awhile, multi-format compatible drives, such as the Pioneer DVR-A06, that can read and write DVD +/- formats.
So, if you net out all the conflicting trendlines, I think the conclusion is
that either format will probably work for most folks. The only valid technical advantage that I found in Plus over Dash, was the annoying extra complexity of the "A/G" sub-format in Dash. On balance I think that DVD Plus has the
current edge in both features and momentum. That's what I bought, but
primarily because that's what came on the Philips DVD recorder with all the
other features I wanted.
Update May 2004 - Dual Layer Formats
As if to reinforce their distain for the consumer, both the Plus and the Dash
camps are in the process of delivering yet another set of "standard"
formats for us to struggle with. Recordable dual layer (DL) technology is
upon us and once again, caveat emptor. Like its pre-recorded
counterpart, DVD-9, DL allows the recording of 8.5 gigabytes of storage on a
standard 12cm disk, enough for up to four hours of high quality video The Plus
team is first out of the dock with DVD+R DL products due to arrive in the next
few months. Dash supporters need not despair however, as DVD-R DL
recorders and disks have been promised for early 2005. To add icing to
this confusing cake, rumors of rewritable versions of both DL flavors are
already in the wind.
This development may be good news for a minority with highly specialized
needs, but for most of us it just means more headaches. At this point the
likelihood of the DL formats catching on seems slim, since the disks are
expected to initially cost about $10 (US) each and given the past history of DVD
formats, compatibility problems in existing players can be expected.
Recent customer surveys and tests by the DVD Forum and OSTA have shown that
serious compatibility problems still exist the current DVD standards. So
one might reasonably ask, why the industry can't take a breather and consolidate
rather than throwing yet another set of competing standards out into the
1 DVD +RW Alliance website (Plus):
2 DVD Forum website (Dash):
3 General DVD Format Info: