DVD Record Modes – Recording Times For DVDs

Use the DVD record mode that works best for you.

A common question from owners of DVD recorders and individuals considering a DVD recorder purchase is, "How much time can you record on a DVD?" The answer depends on a few significant details about the DVD.

DVD recorders have become very rare as manufacturers have dropped out of the U.S. market. It's challenging to find a new DVD recorder, and used DVD recorders from third-party sources often cost a great deal. The following information is valid for those that own and operate a DVD recorder.  

DVD Disc in player
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Commercial DVD Time Capacity

To find out how much time you can record on a DVD, let's start with the traditional DVD that you purchase at your local retailer or order online.

The amount of video time allocated on a commercial DVD depends on whether the DVD has one or two physical layers.

Using this structure, a commercial DVD can hold up to 133 minutes per layer, which is enough for the vast majority of movie or TV content. However, to extend this capacity further (and still maintain the necessary playback quality and accommodate any extra features), most commercial DVDs have two layers. Both layers together have a capacity of 266 minutes, which is why a commercial DVD could hold a lot more than two hours of information.

Home Recorded DVD Time Capacity

While commercial DVDs have a set time/layer relationship — following its format specifications, recordable DVDs for home use offer more flexibility in how much video time can record on the disc, but at a price (and we don't mean money).

A standard recordable blank DVD for consumer use includes a data storage capacity of 4.7GB per layer, which translates to 1 (60 min) or 2 hours (120 min) of video recording time per layer at the highest quality record modes.

Most DVDs used for home recording are single-layer discs.

Below is a listing of DVD recording times using specific record modes. These times are for single layer, single-sided discs. For double-layer, or double-sided discs, multiply each time by two:

  • XP - 1 Hour
  • SP - 2 Hours
  • LP - 4 Hours
  • EP - 6 Hours
  • SLP - 8 Hours
  • SEP - 10 Hours

Some DVD recorders also feature HSP (1.5 hours), LSP (2.5 hours), and ESP (3 hours).

Specific DVD record mode labeling for each DVD recorder brand is in both the published specifications (which are usually available online) and the user manual for that particular DVD recorder.

Video Recording Time vs Quality

Just as with VHS VCR recordings, the less recording time you use to fill the disc, the better the quality will be, and a better chance of compatibility for smooth playback on other DVD players.

  • XP, HSP, SP are the most compatible and provide what is considered standard DVD quality (depending on the quality of the source material)
  • LSP and LP would be the next best choice — which should still be compatible with playback on most DVD players at an acceptable quality — you may experience some minor stalls or skips.

You should avoid the remaining record modes, if possible, as the video compression needed to place more time on a disc will result in many more digital artifacts and affect playback compatibility on other DVD players.

You may find that the disc will freeze, skip, or when playing, exhibit unwanted artifacts, such as macroblocking and pixelation. All this results in DVD playback video quality that would be very poor at the least, and unwatchable at the worst — about the same or worse than the VHS EP/SLP modes.

Record Modes Not Record Speeds

When referencing how much video time can record on a DVD, we do not talk about recording speeds, but recording modes.

What this means is that even though you can switch from mode to mode — the disc already has a locked rotation speed pattern (Constant Linear Velocity) for DVD recording and playback (unlike videotape in which you change the speed of the tape get more video time).

What happens when you increase the amount of video recording time on a DVD, you are not changing the rotation speed of the disc, but compressing the video. It results in the discarding of more and more video information as you desire to get more video time on the disc. As mentioned above, this results in lower recording/playback quality as you move from the 2hr to 10hr record modes.

Another issue that confuses consumers involves "Disc Writing Speed," which has nothing to do DVD Record Modes, but is how fast you can copy video or data onto a DVD from another Disc or hard drive.