by October 11, 2003 0 comments

Traditionally, the audio/video industry has generated a need for higher capacity and faster optical storage media. This media is then adopted for computer and software usage. After it reaches the mainstream desktop, the demand rise for the medium to be able to take larger backups, carry bigger software or store higher quality movies. It happened with CDs, is now happening with DVDs and is expected to happen with technologies like Blu-ray disk (BD). 

Beyond DVDs
Advancements in digital A/V technology are fuelling developments in optical storage 
DVD Formats an d Media
DVD disks vary in capacity, application, and storage format. It is important to know what is available before you choose a DVD writer
DVD Writing in Linux
Writing data DVDs on PCQLinux 8.0 with growisofs
Consolidate your movies collection 
Put any movie that spans multiple VCDs on a single DVD
Creating Multi-boot DVDs
Put all your operating systems together on a single bootable DVD
The Best

We put eight drives to the test. Here are the winners

Final scores were based on performance and price
DVD Writers Specifications 
DVD Writers Test Results  

Currently, there is a lot of action in the DVD market, with lots of different options to choose from. There are DVD-drives, combo drives, DVD-writers and recorders-cum-players. This is further compounded by the plethora of DVD formats supported by different DVD recorders. Then there are both internal and external versions . So let’s simplify matters to help you decide which drive, recorder or writer you want to buy .

The first step is to identify the needs of a consumer when it comes to optical storage. The simplest one is of course where you just want read access. The choices here are CD or DVD drives. A DVD drive is a better option today because prices have come down and data DVDs are becoming more commonplace. Plus, a DVD drive can also read CDs, and you have the advantage of being able to watch your favorite DVD movies on them. Moving beyond, the other needs can be classified as follows: 

  • Sharing data, taking backups
  • Multimedia applications
  • Recording video

Sharing data and taking backups 
The need here goes beyond reading data. You want to be able to share your data, such as music and software with others. For this the options would be a little costlier than plain read only drives. You could either go for a DVD combo drive, which can read DVDs and write CDs; or you could buy a CD-writer and DVD-drive separately. The cost of both would be nearly the same. A combo drive would be good if you don’t have enough free bays in your system, or if you only like to do one thing at a time. Two separate drives can be handy if you want to access your DVDs/CDs and also burn CDs at the same time. Or if you’re into CD-to-CD copying, then two drives are a must. One drawback with a combo drive is that if it fails, you may not be able to perform any optical storage function. 

If a CD-writer is not sufficient for your backup needs, then the next option in optical storage is a DVD-writer. It can be used for doing personal data backup due to the large storage capacity. In an office, a network administrator could use a DVD-writer to store all the frequently used software, and even create multi-boot DVDs (covered later in this story) containing multiple OS. It can be used for taking complete system backups.

Multimedia applications
If you’re into a lot of multimedia kind of work, where you record/edit a lot of video, then a DVD-writer option is worth considering. At home, you could shift your movies from multiple VCDs into a single DVD. Most of these applications have been covered later in this story. A PC can facilitate both writing data, authoring video DVDs and recording data either from TV or any other source. This is achieved by using a video capture card coupled with a DVD authoring software. 

The X factor 
Users shouldn’t confuse DVD writing speeds with those of the CD. Though the speeds for both are depicted with an X, such as 2X, 4X and 52X, there’s a big difference between them. The X for CDs denotes a transfer rate of 150 KBps. So a 52X CD-writer can write at a maximum speed of 52X150 KBps or 7,800 Kbps or 7.6 MBps. The X in a DVD-writer on the other hand, denotes a transfer rate of 1,380 KBps. So a 4X DVD-writer can actually burn DVDs at a speed of 4X1380 or 5520 KBps.

One thing that you may miss in this kind of video recording is that it is not on the fly. You are first recording to your hard disk and then authoring it onto a DVD. There is no need to worry about this because there are various software available, like Ulead Movie Factory 2, that would let you directly write to the DVD, on-the-fly, without using your hard disk while encoding directly from your digicam. This method of DVD encoding saves a lot of time but does not allow you to edit the video once it is written on the DVD. This type of encoding can also be done directly from your VCD. The hardware requirements for this application would be quite high. 

DVD Recording 
There are a lot of people out there who are not into burning data. Their application is just recording video. There are DVD recorders available from various manufacturers for this band of people. DVD recorders work in the same manner as VCRs, except they record on optical media. All functions of a VCR, among other features, are available in a DVD recorder. Some of the common features being pre-scheduled recording directly through cable, controls of TV through the same remote, one- touch recording from TV etc. The recording can be done directly from the TV or from other devices like digital cameras, videos, component input, s-video input etc. Support for various inputs such as SPDIF, S-Video and component input is dependent on the manufacturer.

System specs 
The minimum system requirements for using a
DVD-writer are a P III 450 with 128 MB of RAM. The recommended specs for the same however, hover around a PIII 800 with 256 MB RAM. Furthermore if you plan on buying an external drive, then it would either come with a FireWire or USB 2.0 interface. In that case, you’ll need to ensure that you have these ports on your machine.

Some recorders even let you record from the DVD/TV/digicam/component input, directly onto an inbuilt HDD. This can also be a good option for the hobbyist who would like to keep his/her movies. But these recorders are also limited in their usage since most of the commercial DVD videos available in the market are copy protected and cannot be written on the

The consumer may find the exorbitant pricing a big bottleneck. Costs can be as high as Rs 70,000. At this price, one can buy a blazingly fast PC with a DVD-writer. This is where convenience of the product coupled with the purchasing power of the consumer can make the product useful.

Which format? 
The applications for DVD-writers can be many and quite useful. But there are too many options for comfort. For instance, DVD-writers are available in three major writing formats: DVD+R, DVD-R and DVD-RAM. There is a detailed discussion about these formats in our article, DVD Formats and Media explained in this story. 

For any format to be popular, it should have a strong industrial backing as well as strong customer support. Two out of the above-mentioned formats, namely the DVD+R and DVD-R are more popular, more so in the Indian context. Between these two, the DVD+R format is supported more than the DVD—R format. The media and price of both are similar.

There are three kinds of drives available for the user, one each for +R and -R formats and the other, a combo drive supporting both formats. As mentioned there is no significant difference in the prices of the +R and —R drive. On the other hand, there is a 10-20% cost overhead if you want to buy a combo drive that can write on both the formats.

While most writers support 4X writing speeds on the —R/+R formats, the difference comes while rewriting. The +RW speed is 4X, while —RW speed is still stuck at 2X. While you would get writers that support +RW 4X speed, getting media of the same speed is currently a problem. The most commonly available DVD +/- RW media is 2.4X for +RW and 2X for —RW, with a street price of around Rs 750- Rs 800. 

Though there is a difference between the two writing methods, all disks are easily readable by most DVD players. 

The user on the other hand has to be careful while buying the media that is compatible with the writer owned. The third format (DVD-RAM) is aimed basically at data only and neither the drives nor the disks are easily available in India. 

As you can now see, the world of DVDs is vast, storing something for everybody. In the pages to follow, we’ve gone deeper into this world explaining the various applications of DVDs and DVD-writing, followed by reviews of eight of the latest DVD-writers in the market.

Geetaj Channana

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