DVD Size: How Much Data Do the Various Formats Hold?

Capacity varies among writeable DVD formats

Cutaway of a DVD burner
Felipe La Rotta / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

Writable DVDs aren't all the same. Among the most important factors in choosing the proper DVD for a project is the size of the data that needs to be stored. Capacity is a key difference among the various DVD formats.

Factors Affecting Size

A standard, single-layer, recordable DVD has 4.7 GB of storage space–enough for up to 2 hours (120 minutes) of video at DVD quality. Since the DVD's invention in 1995, however, manufacturers have developed formats that allow for significantly greater storage capacity.

The size of data that DVDs can hold is governed mainly by the number of sides (one or two) and layers (one or two). As you might expect, double-layer (sometimes called dual-layer) and double-sided DVDs hold more than standard single-sided, single-layer DVDs. Many DVD burners for computers now burn double-sided and double-layer DVDs.


DVD Formats

DVDs are available in various formats, each of which supports various capacities. A few of the most common include:

  • DVD+R and DVD-R: Can be recorded on only once
  • DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW: Can be written to, erased, and rewritten many times
  • DVD+R DL, DVD-R DL: Has two layers; writing/rewriting are a bit slower than other formats
Recordable DVD - Blank Disc Examples
Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Common DVD Sizes

The numbers in each format refer, roughly, to capacity in gigabytes. Actual capacity is less because technical parameters changed since the nomenclature was designated. Still, the number is a valid way to approximate how much data the DVD will hold when you're deciding which to purchase.

  • DVD-5: Holds 4.7GB; single-sided, single-layer; supported by the DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW formats
  • DVD-9: Holds 8.5GB; single-sided double-layer; supported by the DVD+R and DVD-R formats; officially known as DVD-R DL and DVD+R DL
  • DVD-10: Holds 8.75GB; double-sided single layer; supported by the DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW formats
  • DVD-18: Holds 15.9GB; double-sided double-layer; supported by the DVD+R format

Check the specifications of your DVD burner to be sure of the format you need.

DVDs Compared to Similar Media

DVDs definitely have their uses but there are also other kinds of discs you could use to store files, whether they're software programs, pictures, videos, MP3s, etc. In some cases, you might need a disc that can hold more or less data.

For example, if you need more storage space because your DVD isn't enough, you might grab a single-layer Blu-ray Disc that can hold 25GB. There are even write-once BDXL formatted discs that can hold upwards of 100-128GB of data.

However, there's also the opposite–CDs that are good for storing less than what a DVD is capable of holding. If you only need less than one gigabyte of storage, you might be better off sticking with a CD-R or CD-RW that maxes out at 700MB.

Generally, smaller capacity discs are the least expensive discs you can buy. They're also more widely acceptable in disc drives. For instance, your average 700MB CD-R can be used in basically any modern computer or DVD player, and the same goes for most DVDs. However, a Blu-ray Disc is only usable if the device includes Blu-ray support.

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