What Are All the Recordable DVD Formats?

DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM: What's the difference?

DVD going into laptop

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There are five recordable DVD formats for set-top DVD recorders and computer DVD burners:

  • DVD-R
  • DVD+R
  • DVD-RW
  • DVD+RW
  • DVD-RAM

DVD-R and DVD+R can only record data once. DVD-RW and DVD+RW can be rewritten thousands of times, just like the CD-RW format. Some manufacturers offer set-top DVD recorders and DVD burners that record in both "dash" and "plus" format. DVD-RAM is less compatible than the others, as it includes a removable storage device for burning and recording. Here we'll look at each format in detail.

DVD-R/RW will not record in a DVD+R/RW recorder or burner, and vice-versa. This is not an issue when using a multi-format recorder or burner, and most DVD players and DVD-ROM drives will read either format. If you record as DVD-RAM, it will likely only playback in a DVD-RAM recorder.

DVD-R

DVD-R is a "write-once" format compatible with most existing DVD players, recorders, and DVD-ROM drives. It can only be formatted from DVD recorders and burners that support DVD-R recording or multi-format recording. It can hold up to 4.7GB of data or video, or two hours of MPEG-2 video on the standard (SP) speed setting.

DVD-RW

DVD-RW is the rewritable version of DVD-R. It allows for approximately 1,000 re-writes before it is used up. In general, DVD-RW discs are slightly less compatible than DVD-R, and like any other only works with DVD recorders and players that support DVD-RW. Like DVD-R, it can hold up to 4.7GB of data or video.

DVD+R

Another write-once format, DVD+R is functionally no different than DVD-R. These discs hold 4.7GB of data or video and are compatible with most DVD players and DVD-ROM drives. The only way DVD+R differs is in how the device determines the location of the laser beam when inserted in a player or recorder. More important is its compatibility, or whether or not the format is meant to work with the hardware you're trying to use.

DVD+RW

This is the re-writable version of DVD+R. It can record approximately 1,000 times and hold up to 4.7GB of data or video. Like DVD+R, the only technical difference between DVD+RW and DVD-RW is that the latter has slightly shorter burn times, and is slightly more compatible with DVD players. Like other formats, though, it's more a matter of matching the format with the hardware.

DVD-RAM

DVD-RAM comes in two varieties and storage capacities. The discs come in both cartridge and non-cartridge varieties, as well as single-sided or double-sided. Offered by only a few manufacturers (Panasonic, Toshiba, and a few other minor ones), DVD-RAM is useful if used like a hard drive. Because it supports up to 100,000 re-writes, you can use the disc to record TV shows, view them, and then re-write over them. Single-sided discs hold 4.7GB and double-sided discs hold 9.4GB, allowing for longer recording times. The downside is that DVD-RAM is the least compatible of the five recording formats, typically used for recording and playback on the same set-top DVD Recorder.