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DVD is an optical disc storage media format that can be used for storing data, including movies with high video and sound quality. DVDs resemble compact discs: their physical dimensions are the same—12cm or the mini 8cm—but they are encoded in a different format and at a much higher density. Unlike CDs, all DVDs must contain a file system. This file system is called UDF, and is an extension of the ISO 9660 Standard used for Data-CDs.


History of the DVD

During the early 1990s there were two high density optical storage standards in development; one was the Multimedia Compact Disc (MMCD), backed by Philips and Sony, and the other was the Super Disc (SD), supported by Toshiba, Time-Warner, Matsushita Electric, Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric, Pioneer, Thomson and JVC. IBM led an effort to unite the various companies behind a single standard, anticipating a repeat of the costly format war between VHS and Betamax in the 1980s. The result was the DVD format, announced in September of 1995. Philips and Sony abandoned their MMCD format and agreed upon Toshiba's Super Disc format with two modifications that are both related to the servo tracking technology. The first one was the adoption of a pit geometry that allows 'push-pull' tracking, a proprietary Philips/Sony technology. The second modification was the adoption of Philips' EFMPlus. EFMPlus is 6% less efficient than Toshiba's Super Disc code, which resulted in a capacity of 4.7 Gbyte instead of SD's original 5 Gbyte. The great advantage of EFMPlus is its great resilience against disc damage such as scratches and fingerprints. The official DVD specification was released in Version 1.0 in September, 1996. It is maintained by the DVD Forum, formerly the DVD Consortium, consisting of the ten founding companies and over 220 additional members. The first DVD players and discs were available in November of 1996 in Japan and in March of 1997 in the United States.

By the spring of 1999, the price of a DVD player had dropped below the US $300 mark. At that point Wal-Mart began to offer DVD players for sale in its stores. When Wal-Mart began selling DVDs in stores, DVDs only represented a small part of their video inventory; VHS tapes of movies made up the remainder. As of today, the situation is now completely reversed. Most retail stores offer mostly DVDs for sale, and VHS copies of movies make up a minority of the sales, while mostly out-of-print tiles are still available on used item websites such as Amazon.com and eBay.com. The price of a DVD player has dropped to below the level of a typical VCR; a low-end player can be purchased for as little as US$25 in a number of retail stores.

In 2000, Sony released its PlayStation 2 console in Japan. In addition to playing video games developed for the system, it was also able to play DVD movies. In Japan, this proved to be a huge selling point due to the fact that the PS2 was much cheaper than many of the DVD players available there. As a result, many electronic stores that normally did not carry video game consoles carried PS2s. Following on with this tradition Sony have decided to implement one of DVD's possible successors, Blu Ray, into their next PlayStation console currently known as the PlayStation 3. Microsoft's Xbox, released a year after the PlayStation 2, also had the capability to play DVD discs with an add-on kit, cementing the DVD's place in video game consoles.

"DVD" was originally an initialism for "digital video disc"; some members of the DVD Forum believe that it should stand for "digital versatile disc", to indicate its potential for non-video applications. Toshiba, which maintains the official DVD Forum site, adheres to the interpretation of "digital versatile disc." The DVD Forum never reached a consensus on the matter, however, and so today the official name of the format is simply "DVD"; the letters do not "officially" stand for anything.[1] (http://www.dvddemystified.com/dvdfaq.html)

Technical information

A single-layer DVD can store 4.7 Gbyte, which is around seven times more than a standard CD-ROM. By employing a read laser at 650 nm (was 780 nm) wavelength and a numerical aperture of 0.6 (was 0.45), the read-out resolution is increased by a factor 1.65. This holds for two dimensions, so that the actual physical data density increases by a factor of 3.5. DVD uses a more efficient coding method in the physical layer. CD's error correction, CIRC, is replaced by a powerful Reed-Solomon product code, RS-PC; Eight-to-Fourteen Modulation (EFM) is replaced by a more efficient version, EFMPlus, which has the same characteristics as classic EFM. The CD subcode is removed. As a result, the DVD format is 47% percent more efficient with respect to CD-ROM, which uses a 'third' error correction layer.

A DVD can contain:

  • DVD-Video (containing movies (video and sound))
  • DVD-Audio (containing high-definition sound)
  • DVD-Data (containing data)

The disc medium can be:

  • DVD-ROM (read only, manufactured by a press)
  • DVD-R/RW (R=Recordable once, RW = ReWritable)
  • DVD-RAM (random access rewritable; after-write checking of data integrity is always active.)
  • DVD+R/RW (R=Recordable once, RW = ReWritable)
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Two DVDs with different bottom sides.

The disc may have one or two sides, and one or two layers of data per side; the number of sides and layers determines the disc capacity.

  • DVD-5: single sided, single layer, 4.7 gigabytes (GB), or 4.38 gibibytes (GiB)
  • DVD-9: single sided, double layer, 8.5 GB (7.92 GiB)
  • DVD-10: double sided, single layer on both sides, 9.4 GB (8.75 GiB)
  • DVD-14: double sided, double layer on one side, single layer on other, 13.3 GB (12.3 GiB)
  • DVD-18: double sided, double layer on both sides, 17.1 GB (15.9 GiB)

The capacity of a DVD-ROM can be visually determined by noting the number of data sides, and looking at the data side(s) of the disc. Double-layered sides are usually gold-colored, while single-layered sides are silver-colored, like a CD. One additional way to tell if a DVD contains one or two layers is to look at the center ring on the underside of the disc. If there are two barcodes, it is a dual layer disc. If there is one barcode, there is only one layer.

Each medium can contain any of the above content and can be any layer type. Double layer DVD+R discs are already on the market.

The DVD Forum created the official DVD-R(W) standards. As the licensing cost for the technology was very high, another group was founded: the DVD+RW Alliance who created a standard with lower licensing costs. At first, DVD+R(W) media were typically more expensive than DVD-R(W) media, but the prices are now very similar. Since DVD+R(W) discs are not technically DVDs as per the DVD Forum standards, they are not allowed to display the DVD logo; instead, they display an "RW" logo. However, they are readable by most DVD drives, so they are referred to as DVD+RW or DVD+R.

The "+" (plus) and "-" (dash) are similar technical standards and are partially compatible. As of 2004, both formats are equally popular, with about half of the industry supporting "+", and the other half "-". It is open to debate whether either format will push the other out of the market, or whether they will co-exist indefinitely. All DVD readers are supposed to read both formats, though real-world compatibility is around 90% for both formats, with DVD-R having the best overall compatibility in independent tests. Most new DVD writers can write both formats and carry both the RW and DVD logos.

Unlike compact discs, where sound (CDDA, Red Book) is stored in a fundamentally different fashion than data (Yellow book et al.), a properly authored DVD will always contain data in the UDF filesystem.

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DVD pick-up head and drive.

The data transfer rate of a DVD drive is given in multiples of 1350 kB/s, which means that a drive with 16x speed designation allows a data transfer rate of 16 x 1350 = 21600 kB/s (21.09 MB/s). As CD drive speeds are given in multiples of 150 kB/s, one DVD "speed" equals nine CD "speeds", i.e. 8x DVD drive should have data transfer rate similar to a 72 x CD drive. In physical rotation terms (spins per second), one DVD "speed" equals three CD "speeds", so the amount of data that are read during one rotation is three times larger for DVD than for CD and 8x DVD drive has the same rotational speed as 24x CD drive.

Early CD and DVD drives read data at a constant rate. The data on the disc passed under the read head at a constant rate (Constant Linear Velocity, or CLV). As linear (meters per second) track speed grows at outer parts of the disc proportionally to the radius, the rotational speed of the disc was adjusted according to which portion of the disc was being read. Most current CD and DVD drives have a constant rotation speed (Constant Angular Velocity, or CAV). The maximum data rate specified for the drive/disc is achieved only at the end of the disc's track (discs are written from inside). The average speed of the drive therefore equals to only about 50-70% of the maximum nominated speed. While this seems a disadvantage, such drives have a lower seek time as they do not have to change the disc's speed of rotation.


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A DVD-Video.
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Typical DVD-Video file structure.

DVD-Video discs require a DVD-drive with a MPEG-2 decoder (eg. a DVD-player or a DVD computer drive with a software DVD player). Commercial DVD movies are encoded using a combination of MPEG-2 compressed video and audio of varying formats (often multi-channel formats as described below). Typical data rates for DVD movies range from 3-10 Mbit/s, and the bitrate is usually adaptive. A high number of audio tracks and/or lots of extra material on the disc will usually result in a lower bitrate (and image quality) for the main feature.

The audio data on a DVD movie can be of the format PCM, DTS, MPEG audio, or Dolby Digital (AC-3). In countries using the NTSC standard any movie should contain a sound track in (at least) either PCM or Dolby AC-3 formats, and any NTSC player must support these two; all the others are optional. This ensures any standard compatible disc can be played on any standard compatible player. The vast majority of commercial NTSC releases today employ AC-3 audio.

Initially, in countries using the PAL standard (e.g. most of Europe) the sound of DVD was supposed to be standardized on PCM and MPEG-2 audio, but apparently against the wishes of Philips, under public pressure on December 5, 1997, the DVD Forum accepted the addition of Dolby AC-3 to the optional formats on discs and mandatory formats in players. The vast majority of commercial PAL releases employ AC-3 audio by now.

DVDs can contain more than one channel of audio to go together with the video content. In many cases, sound tracks in more than one language track are present (for example the film's original language as well as a dubbed track in the language of the country where the disc is being sold).

With several channels of audio from the DVD, the cabling needed to carry the signal to an amplifier or TV can occasionally be somewhat frustrating. Most systems include an optional digital connector for this task, which is then paired with a similar input on the amplifier. The selected audio signal is sent over the connection, typically over RCA jacks or TOSLINK, in its original format to be decoded by the audio equipment. When playing compact discs, the signal is sent in S/PDIF format instead.

Video is another issue which continues to present problems. Current players typically output analog video only, both composite video on an RCA jack, as well as S-Video in the standard connector. However neither of these connectors were intended to be used for progressive video, so yet another set of connectors has started to appear in the form of component video, which keeps the three components of the video, one luminance signal and two color difference signal, as stored on the DVD itself, on fully separate wires (whereas s-video uses two wires, uniting and degrading the two color signals, and composite only one, uniting and degrading all three signals). Additionally, the connectors are further confused by using a number of different physical connectors on different player models, RCA or BNC, as well as using VGA cables in a non-standard way (VGA is normally analog RGB, not component). Even worse, there are often two sets of component outputs, one carrying interlaced video, and the other progressive. In Europe and other PAL areas, SCART connectors are typically used, which carry both composite and analog RGB interlaced video signals, as well as analog 2-channel sound on a single multiwire cable, and which offer a reasonable compromise between video quality -- which is superior to S-Video though inferior to progressive component video -- and cost.

DVD Video may also include one or more subtitle tracks in various languages, including those made especially for the hearing impaired. They are stored as images with transparent background which are overlayed over the video during playback. Subtitles are restricted to four colors (including transparency) and thus tend to look cruder than permanent subtitles on film.

DVD Video may contain Chapters for easy navigation (and continuation of a partially watched film). If space permits, it is also possible to include several versions (called "angles") of certain scenes, though today this feature is mostly used -- if at all -- not to show different angles of the action, but as part of internationalization to e.g. show different language versions of images containing written text, if subtitles won't do.

A major selling point of DVD Video is that its storage capacity allows for a wide variety of extra features in addition to the feature film itself. This can include audio commentary that is timed to the film sequence, documentary features, unused footage, trivia text commentary, simple games and film shorts.


DVD-Video has four complementary systems designed to restrict the DVD user in various ways: Macrovision, Content Scrambling System (CSS), region codes, and disabled user operations (UOPs).


Discs can specify that the player use Macrovision, an analog anti-copying mechanism. The video itself is not Macrovision signaled (unlike Macrovision-enabled VHS tapes); instead, discs may have an instruction that tells the DVD player to add the Macrovision signal during playback. Some DVD players can be configured to disable Macrovision.

Macrovision prevents the consumer from copying the video onto a VCR tape by using a deliberately-defective signal which may also cause problems for some projection TV's as well as older television models. This alone would not prevent the duplication of DVDs in their entirety without decrypting the data, given suitable equipment, although "consumer-grade" DVD writers deny this ability by refusing to duplicate the tracks on the disc which contain the decryption keys.

Content Scrambling System

Most DVD-Video titles use Content Scrambling System (CSS) encryption, which is intended to discourage people from making perfect digital copies to another medium or from bypassing the region control mechanism (see below).

The CSS system has caused problems for the inclusion of DVD players in strictly open source operating systems, since open source player implementations cannot officially obtain access to the decryption keys or license the patents involved in the CSS system. Proprietary software players may also be difficult to find on some platforms. However at least one successful effort has been made to write a decoder by reverse engineering, resulting in DeCSS. This has led to long-running legal battles and the arrest of some of those involved in creating or distributing the DeCSS code, through the use of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, on the grounds that such software could also be used to facilitate unauthorized copying of the data on the discs.

Region codes

Each DVD-Video disc contains one or more region codes, denoting the area[s] of the world in which distribution and playback are intended. The commercial DVD-Video player specification dictates that a player must only play discs that contain its region code. In theory, this allows the motion picture studios to control the various aspects of a release (including content, date and price) on a region-by-region basis. In practice, many DVD players allow playback of any disc, or can be modified to do so. Entirely independent of encryption, region coding pertains to regional lockout, which originated in the video game industry.

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Typically, a DVD-Video disc's outer packaging bears a symbol indicating its region code.
Region code Area
0 Informal term meaning "playable in all regions"
1 Bermuda, Canada, United States and U.S. territories
2 The Middle East, Europe, Egypt, Greenland, Japan, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland
3 Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea and Taiwan
4 Central America, Oceania, South America, Mexico
5 The rest of Africa, Eastern Europe, the Indian subcontinent, Mongolia, North Korea
6 Mainland China
7 Reserved for future use
8 International venues such as aircraft, cruise ships, etc.

See a world map showing region codes (http://www.robertsdvd.com/world.gif)

European Region 2 DVDs may be sub-coded "D1" through "D4." "D1" identifies a UK-only release. "D2" and "D3" identify European DVDs that are not sold in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. "D4" identifies DVDs that are distributed throughout Europe.

Any combination of regions can be applied to a single disc. For example, a DVD designated Region 2/4 is suitable for playback in Western Europe, Oceania and any other Region 2 or Region 4 area. A so-called "Region 0" disc (actually coded Region 1/2/3/4/5/6) is meant to be playable worldwide.

The term "Region 0" also describes DVD players that were designed or modified to incorporate Regions 1-6 simultaneously, thereby providing compatibility with virtually any disc, irrespective of region[s]. This apparent solution was popular in the early days of the DVD format, but studios quickly responded by adjusting discs to refuse to play in such machines. This system is known as "Regional Coding Enhancement" or RCE.

Nowadays, many "multi-region" DVD players defeat regional lockout and RCE by automatically identifying and matching a disc's region code and/or allowing the user to manually select a particular region. Others simply bypass the region code check entirely. Some manufacturers of DVD players now freely supply information on how to disable regional lockout, and on some recent models, it appears to be disabled by default.

Many view region code enforcement as a violation of WTO free trade agreements; however, no legal rulings have yet been made in this area.

User Operations

DVD-Video allows the disc to specify whether or not the user may perform any operation, such as selecting a menu, skipping chapters, forwarding or rewinding—essentially any function on the remote control. This is known as disabled user operations, or UOPs for short. Most DVD players respect these commands, although some can be configured to ignore them. Many grey-market players ignore UOPs.


Main article: DVD-Audio

DVD-Audio is a format for delivering high-fidelity audio content on a DVD. It offers many channels (from mono to 5.1 surround sound) at various sampling frequencies and sample rates. Compared to the CD format, the much higher capacity DVD format enables the inclusion of either considerably more music (with respect to total running time and quantity of songs) or far higher audio quality (reflected by higher linear sampling rates and higher vertical bit-rates, and/or additional channels for spatial sound reproduction).

Despite DVD-Audio's superior technical specifications, there is debate as to whether or not the resulting audio enhancements are distinguishable to typical human ears. DVD-Audio currently forms a niche market, probably due to its dependency upon new and relatively expensive equipment.

DVD-Audio discs employ a robust copy prevention mechanism, called Content Protection for Prerecorded Media (CPPM). Unlike DVD-Video's content-scrambling system (CSS), as of 2005, CPPM has not been cracked.

DVD types

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A DVD-RAM is easily recognized due to the numerous rectangles on its surface.
  • DVD-ROM discs are pressed similarly to CDs. The reflective surface is silver or gold colored. They can be single-sided/single-layered, single-sided/double-layered, double-sided/single-layered, or double-sided/double-layered. As of 2004, outside of television boxsets, new double-sided discs have become increasingly rare.
  • DVD recorders became available in Japan during 1999, and in the rest of the world soon after, with a familiar battle for format dominance beginning. As with the adoption of USB, Apple Computer was one of the early adopters of the technology. DVD recorders require a special unit to write and can use 1 or 2 disc sides (the disc capacity is measured in GB/side):
    • DVD-R for Authoring discs are special-purpose DVD-Rs used to record DVD masters, which can then be duplicated to pressed DVDs by a duplication plant. They require a special DVD-R recorder, and are not often used nowadays since many duplicators can now accept ordinary DVD-R masters.
    • DVD-R discs (strictly, "DVD-R for General") can record up to 4.7 GB in a similar fashion to a CD-R disc. Once recorded and finalized it can be played by most DVD-ROM players. This format is supported by the DVD Forum.
    • DVD-RW discs can record up to 4.7 GB in a similar fashion to a CD-RW drive. Supported by the DVD Forum.
    • DVD-RAM (current specification is version 2.1) require a special unit to play 4.7GB or 9.4GB recorded discs (DVD-RAM disc are typically housed in a cartridge). 2.6GB discs can be removed from their caddy and used in DVD-ROM drives. Top capacity is 9.4GB (4.7GB/side). Supported by the DVD Forum.
    • DVD+R discs can record up to 4.7 GB single-layered/single-sided DVD+R disc, at up to 16x speed. Like DVD-R you can record only once. Supported by the DVD+RW Alliance.
    • DVD+RW discs can record up to 4.7 GB at up to 4x speed. Since it is rewritable it can be overwritten several times. It does not need special "pre-pits" or finalization to be played in a DVD player. Supported by the DVD+RW Alliance.
    • DVD+R DL is a derivate of DVD+R that uses double-layer recordable discs to store up to 8.5 GB of data. Supported by the DVD+RW Alliance.

All above formats are also available as 8 cm (3 inch) sized DVD mini discs (not mini-DVD, which describes DVD data on a CD) with a disc capacity of 1.5 GB.

DVD players and recorders

Modern recorders often support additional formats, including DVD+/-R/RW, CD-R/RW, MP3, SVCD, JPEG, PNG, SVG, KAR and MPEG4 (DivX/XviD). Some also include USB ports or flash memory readers. Many are priced at under $/ 99.

Competitors and successors

There are two successors to DVD being developed by two different consortiums: the Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD.

On November 18, 2003, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported the final standard of the Chinese government-sponsored Enhanced Versatile Disc (EVD), and several patents for it.

On November 19, 2003, the DVD Forum decided by a vote of eight to six that HD-DVD will be the HDTV successor to DVD.

On April 15, 2004, in a co-op project with TOPPAN Printing Co., the electronic giant Sony Corp. successfully developed the paper disc, a storage medium that is made out of 51% paper and offers up to 25 GB of storage, about five times more than the standard 4.7 GB DVD. The disc can be easily cut with scissors and recycled, offering foolproof data security and an environment-friendly storage media.

See also


  • DVD Demystified, Jim Taylor; McGraw-Hill Professional; ISBN 0071350268 (2nd edition, December 22, 2000)
  • DVD Authoring and Production, Ralph Labarge; CMP Books; ISBN 1578200822 (August 2001)

External links


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