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"Competing Standards Battle for DVD Writable Supremacy" 
  06/01/2002

As you obviously follow the computer industry, you are probably already used to the acronyms that are thrown around. Along with the standards that you are accustomed to, there are a couple of new items making the rounds: DVD-RW (DVD-R) and DVD+RW (DVD+R). The two technologies are competing for the rights to replace CD-RW drives as a standard for your PC. The marketing people from both corners are flooding the marketplace with information that leads a consumer to believe that the respective technologies are perfect, you’ll soon see that they are both lacking in various ways.

Before we look at these two technologies, we’ll take a quick look at the first DVD writable technology. Known as DVD-RAM, the format has never really taken a great share of the marketplace although it has been available since 1997. It was originally developed as backup or storage device and that’s really all that it has ever amounted to.

DVD+RW, which is being promoted by the DVD+RW Alliance (the alliance includes industry giants such as HP, Dell, Philips, Sony, Ricoh and Mitsubushi) also has roots back to 1997 when it was first announced. However, the development took much longer and DVD+RW drives are only now becoming regularly available. After the initial announcement, there were nearly three years passed before any drives actually shipped. This device has promised playback in consumer DVD players which is one of its biggest selling points. In late 2001, the first generation of DVD+RW drives finally arrived on the scene. To further enhance this format, at a recent Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Microsoft stated they would be providing Mt. Rainier file system support and read/write support for DVD+RW in the next version of Windows XP (codenamed Longhorn) that is due later this year or early next year.

During this same time, another rewritable format, DVD-RW emerged. Developed by Pioneer, DVD-RW also promised compatibility with consumer drives. DVD-RW and DVD-RAM is being promoted by the Recordable DVD Council and DVD Forum. Both sides criticize the shortcomings of the other format while touting the features and benefits of their own.

The obvious question is: “Which format is better?" Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy answer, and to prove it, we’ll look at the benefits of each format when compared with the other:

DVD+RW Advantages:

  • DVD-RW drives are currently limited to 1x record speed (10 megabits/second),
    whereas DVD+RW drives can write at 2.4x speed (about 25 megabits/second). This is a
    difference, although in head to head comparisons, the actual record speeds are nearly
    identical.
  • DVD+RW supports defect management and DVD-RW does not.
  • DVD+RW drives support both CLV (constant linear velocity) and CAV (constant
    angular velocity) spin rates.
  • DVD+RW has been adopted by Microsoft.
  • DVD+RW supports variable bit-rate encoding for video, resulting in better image
    quality in high-motion scenes.
  • There's no lead-on or lead-out times needed during write
  • There's no "finalize" state to creating a DVD video disc, unlike DVD-RW.

DVD-RW Advantages:

  • Despite the goal of universal compatibility, more consumer DVD players to date
    will read DVD-RW’s than DVD+RW’s.
  • Most mastering houses that press consumer DVDs are set up to accept DVD-R media or
    DVD-RW.
  • There's greater use and awareness of DVD-RW among authoring professionals.
  • Macs can natively read and write DVD-RW.

The prices of comparable drives are nearly the same, and as you have sees, the unfortunate part of this is that neither of these formats is perfect. Therefore, you are left deciding which is best for your particular needs. Although the DVD+RW Alliance would have you believe otherwise, it appears that current players can playback DVD-RW discs more readily. If you are happy with your current CD-RW drive, and it has enough storage capacity for your needs, you may want to simply keep what you already have. There is a new format that is projected to be available in 2004 that uses a new laser to provide 30GB of capacity that might be universally adopted. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a drive at this time, the DVD-RW drives seem to have a little better compatibility and are more widely supported on the Mac OS, and because of this, it might be an ever so slightly better choice at this time.

 - by Clayton Crooks

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