DVD Record Modes - Recording Times For DVDs

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DVD into DVD Player.

A common question from owners of DVD recorders, as well as persons considering a DVD recorder purchase, is: How much time can you record on a DVD?

Commercial DVD Time Capacity

For the answer, let's start with the traditional DVD that you would purchase at your local retailer or order from online.

The amount of video time that is 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 also accommodate any extra features), most commercial DVDs have two layers which means that both layers together have a capacity of 260 minutes, which is why it seems that the DVD is holding a lot more than two hours of information.

Home Recorded DVD Time Capacity

While commercial DVDs have a set time/layer relationship - in accordance to its own format specifications, recordable DVDs for home use offer more flexibility in how much video time can be recorded onto the disc, but at a price (and I don't mean money).

For those that make, or want make, DVDs at home a standard recordable blank DVD for consumer use has 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.

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

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

NOTE: Specific DVD record mode labeling for each DVD recorder brand is explained in both the published specifications (which are usually available online) and the user manual for that specific 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 fair quality - you may experience some minor stalls or skips.

The remaining record modes should be avoided, if possible, as the video compression needed to place this much time on a disc will cause many more digital artifacts and will affect play 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. Of course, all this results in, the 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 reference is made about how much video time can be recorded on a DVD, we are not talking 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, instead, compressing the video. This results in the discarding of more and more video information as you desire to get more video time on the disc - which, as mentioned above, results in poorer recording/playback quality as you move from the 2hr to 10hr record modes.

Another issue that confuses consumers regarding how much you time you can fit on a DVD, involves the term "Disk Writing Speed", which has nothing to do with how much time you can fit on a recordable DVD.