Digital Versatile Disc

- see also   VideoHelp Glossary 

- the DVD standards are located at  

Technology moves so fast, these days.  Why, only a couple of years ago, the Movie Rental stores had just a small smattering of titles, that were relegated to a small corner.  Today, DVD's have taken over, and now represent about half of the titles, with VHS constituting the other half. 

Here we cover all aspects of DVD's  -  from the technology of the discs, to authoring your own. However, we will concentrate on PC DVD.  We will not cover VCD or SVCD, which are a method of encoding MPEG1 video to CD's (a kludge IMO).

The Acronym

"DVD" originally stood for Digital Video Disc, and then later it was revised to Digital Versatile Disc.  Finally, in 1999 the DVD Forum decided that neither acronym was justified, and decreed that it shall stand for nothing - just DVD (see 6.1 of the DVD FAQ).  Nevertheless, as usually happens when industries try to change or remove acronyms . . . they never go away in people's minds . . . and today, most people still view the acronym as "Digital Versatile Disc".



DV (Digital Video) is mentioned here only to state that it has nothing to do with DVD !!  It is it's own, separate NTSC standard, and defines the format used by Digital camcorders to store video on digital tape - it also defines the format that is used for PC digital video capture.

DVD Discs

There are many types of DVD discs (see DVD discs Explained).  A standard, DVD-5 disc has the following features:

DVD Players

This term has caused major confusion:

Let's simplify this for the remainder of these pages  .  .  .  every time you see the term "DVD Player" it will mean the HT system player.  For the PC we will use the term "DVD Drive" or "DVD burner", and we will refer to the software players as "software DVD player".

HT DVD Players

We won't go into detail on this - but it is an important consideration.  Older DVD players often have trouble reading PC recorded DVD's - a very important factor when buying DVD burners.  But for the new players, fortunately, the vast majority can read all four DVD-recorded formats, so you can breathe a bit easier when making a purchase.  They are all fairly similar, so just do your usual product review homework on the web prior to the actual purchase.  Make sure the platter supports at least 3 DVD's so you don't have to get up as much !!

In the future, DVD-18 (dual-sided, dual layer, over 8 hours of playtime) will probably become popular, as manufacturers begin making dual-sided players (either two lasers or the ability to flip the disc).  However, so far there are very few titles in that format, and there are no "flipper players" available yet.

DVD Drives

With PC's a DVD drive is either DVD-ROM or DVD Recorder (DVD burner).  Both support playback of DVD's - both audio and video.  The advantage of DVD audio is that it supports multi-channel (surround sound) Dolby 5.1 and DTS discs.  However, be forewarned that some units, such as the Pioneer DVD-R units do not come with a digital output port (S/PDIF) !!  I found that out the hard way.  The S/PDIF port is for playback of DTS or Dolby 5.1 DVD's.  It can connect to your HT system or to some of the newer surround sound cards, such as the Audigy 2.

DVD-ROM drives are for playback only and DVD Recorders allow both playback and recording.  DVD recorders come in several flavors, and it is very confusing  .  .  .  DVD-R,  DVD-RW, DVD+R, and DVD+RW.  When you consider which to buy - most will probably go for the cheaper DVD-ROM.  But if you plan on authoring or copying DVD's - you will need a burner.  Most new DVD-ROM drives come with a digital out port, but make sure to check before buying.  More on this later.  

DVD Burners


DVD-to-DVD copying  -  DVD-to-DVD copy utilities are used to make copies of rentals.  There - I said it  -  MAKE COPIES OF RENTALS !!!  I don't condone and I don't admonish that - it's just a simple fact.  The DVD copying vendor websites go out of their way to say, over and over again  .  .  .  "to make personal backups of your DVD titles".  Of course, they have to say that, but even the posters on the message boards are making sure to add that in with their questions on copying, as if the cops will bust down their door.  Yet nobody would spend the hours it takes - to make a personal backup copy of a DVD.  I am not promoting copying rentals, but I am stating the truth.  People buy DVD copy utilities for copying rented DVD's - and that is the only reason they buy them.  That's the fact, you make your own judgment on the morality of it. 

VHS to DVD copying - this is another matter entirely.  This can be a worthwhile endeavor, but only if the VHS is rare, valuable, or an important tape of family footage.  Like DVD copying  (it is a very slow process, and not worth the time for your average flick).  The quality of VHS tapes definitely declines, and it only takes a few years to go from a clear picture, to a soft, grainy picture.


Unless you are very, very serious about creating your own DVD's - forget about it.  DVD burners can also be used to create your own  (DVD authoring)On the surface, this seems awfully exciting  . . . to be able to create your own movie on your PC, burn it to a blank DVD, and send copies to your family and friends.  Well, let me caution you here - the whole thing is expensive and slow as molasses.  I spent about a thousand bucks on this hobby, and so far have very little to show for it.  It is tedious, tedious, tedious.  The encoding software and the DVD players are extremely picky about the MPEG2 format that must be used.  The process of making your own videos is a huge, complex, slow task.  The process of converting AVI or MPEG1 to MPEG2 will have pulling your hair out as you battle numerous compatibility issues - and it is very slow.  Finally, burning the DVD is horrendously slow !!!   Oh yes, and one more thing.  DVD's are long - they are not meant to store that funny little clip of Grandma taking a spill on the dance floor, or the kids playing with the puppy.  Just to create a few DVD's, you will need many hours of footage - are you really going to be able to create hours upon hours of interesting video?