Terminology Roundup: DVD and CD formats


When writing my last article, I was searching for a good link to printable DVDs. I noticed that they came in both DVD-R and DVD+R variations, and realized that despite having seen both terms before, I was unclear on the difference. In the event that you feel the same way, I’ve compiled the results of my research here.

DVD-R is the first recordable DVD format, developed by Pioneer in 1997. It is officially recognized by the DVD Forum, an international organization composed of hardware, software, media and content companies that use and develop the DVD and HD DVD formats. The Forum was initially known as the DVD Consortium when it was founded in 1995.

DVD+R was developed in 2002 by a competing collection of companies, which was known after-the-fact as The DVD+RW Alliance. DVD+R was made a direct competitor to DVD-R, which caused the DVD Forum to not recognize it as an official format until January of 2008.

Here’s where it gets weird: the differences between the two formats are highly technical and mostly negligible. The main difference is an incredibly small difference in how much each disc can hold, measured in GiB, or Gibibytes (a shortening of “giga binary byte”), with DVD-R claiming 4.38 GiB and DVD+R offering 4.377 GiB. Hardly a difference that matters to the average consumer. Other small differences include the way data is archived on each disc, with each format offering slightly different technology which is, again, basically invisible to the traditional user.

Since combination drives that burn and read both formats have been commercially available for years now, there is not much reason to choose one over another. DVD-R has been around longer, so if you are burning a disc and are unsure of who will be playing it, DVD-R may be the best choice as it will work in older drives (both computer and home video player) than DVD+R will. Other than that, it’s simply a case of two competing companies offering a product and the industry never setting a standard. If you’re working on a highly technical project, find out the technical details and choose the one that best suits your needs. Otherwise, either should be fine.

It’s important to note that CDs do not suffer from the same problem of nomenclature, and one CD-R will be comparable to the next. There is no such thing as a CD+R, as far as I can figure out.

The addition of RW to any of these brands (including CD-RW) means that the disc is re-writable and can be burned over with new data more than once, while regular CD-R and DVD-R (or +R) discs are write-once and need to be “finalized” (meaning no more data can be added) before they will work in most players.

Hopefully this breakdown shed a little light on an otherwise baffling subject. It was interesting to learn about the history of these products and I’ll continue to demystify office and tech terms in the future.

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