Old 18-12-2004   #1
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F.A.Q. for PC DVD-Writers (revised on 22 April 2006)

F.A.Q. for PC DVD-Writers

This F.A.Q. aims to address some of the commonly asked questions that apply to all (or almost all) DVD-writers. Some of the drive-specific sub-forums (such as the NEC Forum and the LiteOn Forum) may have their own F.A.Q. that you should read for common issues specific to those drive types.

Credits: Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this F.A.Q.; you know who you are! The old F.A.Q. written by alexnoe can be found here.

If you would like to send feedback or contribute to this F.A.Q., please feel free to send me a private message.

Information is meant to be free, so you may copy this F.A.Q., adapt it, and do whatever you wish with it, as long as you follow the terms stated here.



Table of Contents
  1. General Questions
    1. Which DVD-writer should I get?
    2. I want to back up DVD movies. What is the best writer for this?
    3. How do I use my DVD-writer to back up my movies?
    4. What is the difference between CLV, Z-CLV, CAV, and P-CAV?
    5. How long does it take to burn a full 4.7 GB (4.38 GiB) disc?
    6. What is the drive buffer? How large should it be?
    7. What is a riplock?
    8. External drives are expensive, so can I buy a Firewire/USB enclosure and put an internal drive in it instead?
    9. I have an internal slimline optical drive in my laptop. Can I replace it?

  2. Media
    1. What is the capacity of a DVD disc? Is it 4.7 GB or is it 4.38 GB?
    2. What is the difference between plus (+) and dash (-) media? Which one should I use?
    3. What is the media code (or MID) of a disc? Why is it important?
    4. Can you recommend some DVD media for me?
    5. Please tell me about DVD-RAM.
    6. Please tell me about double-layer media (DVD±R DL).
    7. What is bitsetting and booktype? Why should I care about this?
    8. Can I burn DVD±R discs faster than their rated speed (overspeeding)?
    9. How do I check the quality of a burned disc?
    10. How do I interpret the PI/PIF results that I am getting from a disc quality scan?
    11. Could I improve the quality of my burn by slowing down the burn?

  3. Firmware
    1. What exactly is firmware and how is it different from a device driver?
    2. How do I check my firmware version?
    3. Where do I get firmwares?
    4. How do I flash (install) a firmware?
    5. Is there any point in flashing to an intermediate fimware? For example, should I flash from A to B before flashing to C?
    6. How do I make my drive region-free (RPC-1)?

  4. Troubleshooting
    1. DMA problems with older VIA chipsets causing slow operation



General Questions


Q: Which DVD-writer should I get?
A: There is no "best" drive because this depends on what you think is important in a drive. Some users care about the ability to back up copy-protected games while some do not. Some users care about bitsetting while some do not. Etc. So there is no single best drive for everyone. Keeping this in mind, you may want to look around the stickies here at the general Recording Hardware forum for drive comparison threads.

Also, please note that, in general, when people refer to the burn quality of a drive, they are referring to its performance overall, averaged across a wide range of different media codes. As such, when it comes down to individual media codes, it is possible for a drive with good overall burn quality to burn poorly on a specific media code that a drive with poor overall burn quality could burn well on. With this in mind, it is important to note whether someone is referring to the drive's burn quality on one specific media type or the drive's burn quality in general when statements are made about how great or how terrible a drive's burn quality is.


Q: I want to back up DVD movies. What is the best writer for this?
A: This is a question that gets asked a lot, so I feel that it's necessary to clarify some things. A DVD video disc is physically no different than a DVD data disc and is written to no differently than a DVD data disc. Unlike the backup of CD games, there are no special "tricks" in the physical format of a DVD disc that need to be dealt with. Also, the movie data is, of course, digital, and thus your drive selection would have no effect whatsoever on audio quality or picture quality. Thus, if a drive is a good overall burner, then it will be a good movie burner, so you should refer to the question and answer right above this one.


Q: How do I use my DVD-writer to back up my movies?
A: If you have a dual-layer movie that you are backing up onto a single-layer disc (i.e., if the size of the movie is greater than the capacity of the blank disc), then you will want to take a look at the Transcoding Software Forum for the answer to this question. Otherwise, you can use DVD Decrypter.


Q: What is the difference between CLV, Z-CLV, CAV, and P-CAV?
A: Erik Deppe wrote an explanation of the difference here: http://www.cdspeed2000.com/faq.html#4


Q: How long does it take to burn a full 4.7 GB (4.38 GiB) disc?
A: Please note that the following times are approximate and can vary (and vary by quite a lot at speeds greater than 6x) between drives as the result of different lead-in/lead-out times and different speed types (CLV, CAV, etc.).
- 1x speed: 59 min
- 2x speed: 30 min
- 2.4x speed: 25 min
- 4x speed: 15 min
- 8x speed: 8 min
- 12x speed: 6 min
- 16x speed: not much less than 6 min


Q: What is the drive buffer? How large should it be?
A: A drive's buffer is a place where data is temporarily stored after it is received from the computer and before it is burned. Most drive buffers are 2 MiB in size. The purpose of a drive buffer is to smooth out any irregularities in the flow of data to the drive. For example, if, in the middle of the burn, your hard drive suddenly slows down (perhaps because the data on the drive is fragmented and thus the hard drive has to seek to a different physical location of the drive), the burn is not necessarily slowed down because there is still data in the buffer. The larger the buffer, the longer the drive can sustain burn operation in the event of a drop in transmission from the computer.

Having said that, the drive buffer is actually very insignificant. Large drive buffers are generally 8 MiB in size, but given that DVD burners can now burn at up to nearly 20 MiB/s, a 8 MiB buffer would provide less than half a second of protection when burning at the fastest speed. Instead, modern burning software have software buffers that are generally many times larger than drive buffers, and these software buffers are by far much more important and effective in smoothing the flow of data. Large drive buffers are just a marketing gimmick that provide no significant real value.


Q: What is a riplock?
A: Although a drive may be advertised as being able to read at some speed such as 16x, it may not actually do so. This is because of two different things that can slow down a drive's reading performance.

The first is the riplock, which is really just a short name for video riplock. Riplocks will slow down the reading speed of video DVDs, oftentimes to somewhere in the ballpark of 2x. As such, riplocks should not affect the reading of DVD data discs. Riplocks serve two purposes: first, it makes the drive quiet when watching DVD movies, and second, it makes the movie industry happy because it makes ripping videos a very slow process.

In addition to the video riplock, drives also have speed limits based on media type: slower speeds for recordable, rewritable, and dual-layer (pressed or otherwise) media. These media-specific limits affect data DVDs as well as video DVDs.

Ultimately, how fast your drive will read a disc will depend on what the maximum advertised read speed is and the two factors just described here. Not all drives will have video riplocks, and the amount a drive slows down for different media types vary from drive to drive.


Q: External drives are expensive, so can I buy a Firewire/USB enclosure and put an internal drive in it instead?
A: Yes, you can. You should be careful, however, in picking a good external enclosure, especially when dealing with fast 16x burning; it is important to have an enclosure with a good chipset that will support the transfer rates necessary. For more information, please refer to The big external enclosures thread.


Q: I have an internal slimline optical drive in my laptop. Can I replace it?
A: In most cases, yes. Like the standard 5.25-inch half-height drives for desktop computers, slimline drives for laptops are made to a set of industry specifications and are thus interchangeable. There are a few exceptions, however, such as the slot-in drives for some of Apple's notebooks.

Some laptop manufacturers may sell drives that come in proprietary casings. For example, Dell's media bay modules are actually industry-standard slimline drives, but enclosed in a proprietary Dell casing. In such cases, it may be possible to open the casing and replace the drive inside.

Of course, the bezel might not match up too well, so it may not look great cosmetically.

Warning: Unlike the half-height drives for desktop computers, it may not be easy to change the IDE location setting (i.e., the master, slave, or cable select setting normally controlled by a jumper on desktop drives) of slimline drives. While some slimline drives may have DIP switches to control this, most do not have a physical interface for controlling the IDE location setting. In these cases, it might be possible, depending on the drive's manufacturer, to change the setting via a change in firmware or via the use of special utilities provided by the manufacturer. Depending on your laptop's IDE configuration, this may also cause conflicts if other IDE devices are set to occupy the same IDE location.




Media


Q: What is the capacity of a DVD disc? Is it 4.7 GB or is it 4.38 GB?
A: Technically, a blank single-layer DVD disc is 4.7 GB in size, which is equal to 4.38 GiB. GB and GiB are actually different units of measurement, and the confusion comes from the fact that "GiB" is very often mislabeled as "GB". This page explains what the difference is.
- For single-layer discs, it is 4,700,372,992 - 4,707,319,808 bytes (about 4,482 - 4,489 MiB or 4.38 GiB).
- For double-layer discs, it is 8,547,991,552 bytes (about 8,152 MiB or 7.96 GiB).


Q: What is the difference between plus (+) and dash (-) media? Which one should I use?
A: The dash format was created first by the DVD Forum. Certain members of the DVD Forum grew frustrated with the dash format and set about to create a newer (and supposedly better) format, which became the plus format. An in-depth article explaining the technical differences between the two can be found here: http://www.cdfreaks.com/article/113.

As for which format you should use, this would depend on your drive type. There are some drives that tend to do better with -R/-RW discs, and there are some drives that tend to do better with +R/+RW discs. It is highly recommended that you look at the DVD Media Tests forum to determine what is best for your particular drive.


Q: What is the media code (or MID) of a disc? Why is it important?
A: There is a very short and well-written explanation here: http://club.myce.com/showthread.php?t=93797


Q: Can you recommend some DVD media for me?
A: Recommendations are difficult because media is complicated. There can be variations between batches. Some drives may do well on media types that other drives do poorly on. And the marketplace changes, with shifting alliances and frequent changes in who manufactures for what brand. You should visit the Media Forum for more information.


Q: Please tell me about DVD-RAM.
A: According to Jim Taylor's DVD F.A.Q., DVD-RAM uses phase-change dual technology mixed with some magneto-optic features. Most DVD-RAM media offer 4.7 GB (4.38 GiB) of single-sided storage or 9.4 GB (8.76 GiB) of double-sided storage. DVD-RAM has the advantage of defect management and fast access, making it superior to DVD±RW for data storage, but is not compatible with most DVD players and PC DVD drives. So far, Hitachi-LG and Matsushita (Panasonic) supply most of the drives supporting DVD-RAM (which are compliant with the DVD Forum's Super-Multi specification). The fastest speed for DVD-RAM is 5x but it works more like 2.5x due to the defect management verification. The release time of 16x DVD-RAM is unknown at this time. DVD-RAM media is relatively expensive because of low volume and higher production costs.


Q: Please tell me about double-layer media (DVD±R DL).
A: This article is an excellent read for an introduction to double-layer media. In order to burn double-layer media, you will need a drive capable of burning such media. At the time of the writing of this F.A.Q., almost all new drives now have support for +R DL. The prices for +R DL are still prohibitively high, and the speeds for +R DL recording is still fairly low, although this may change in the near future. There is a new double-layer format, -R DL, that will soon debut. Only drives that explicitly say that -R DL is supported will be able to burn -R DL media; a burner that supports the original +R DL format will not necessarily support -R DL. There does not seem to be any technical advantage offered by -R DL, and it is unlikely that -R DL will be more compatible than +R DL.

There are also playback compatibility issues surrounding double-layer media. In the case of +R DL, compatibility problems can be solved by using bitsetting.

Additionally, it is reported that there can be a brief noticeable pause at the layer-break when playing back DVD±R DL media (this is not something that can be resolved with bitsetting).


Q: What is bitsetting and booktype? Why should I care about this?
A: There is an excellent article addressing this issue here: http://www.cdfreaks.com/article/150


Q: Can I burn DVD±R discs faster than their rated speed (overspeeding)?
A: Maybe. There are some drives that officially support the overspeeding of a number of media types (most notably, BenQ/Philips drives), and there are some drives that officially support the overspeeding of only a small handful of media types (if any at all). Generally, high-quality media such as Taiyo Yuden are officially supported for overspeeding.

It may be possible to force the overspeeding of certain media types through the use of unofficial (i.e., modified) firmwares. Of course, there is no guarantee of positive results from such overspeeding, but generally, it tends to work well with high-quality media. At the time of the writing of this F.A.Q., such unofficial firmwares for overspeeding are available only for LiteOn, NEC, and Pioneer drives.


Q: How do I check the quality of a burned disc?
A: In order to check the quality of a burned disc, you will need a drive that is capable of performing PI/PIF scanning. LiteOn drives and BenQ DVD burners are the most popular and commonly used drives for PI/PIF scanning. You cannot perform a PI/PIF scan unless you have a drive, such as a LiteOn or a BenQ, that is capable of this! A list of drives capable of PI/PIF scanning can be found here: http://www.cdspeed2000.com/cdspeed30.html (Note: this list may not be complete; at the time of the writing of this F.A.Q., none of the LiteOn 3S drives such as the SOHW-1633S were listed even though they are supported.)

Please note that DVD-writers are recommended for performing these PI/PIF scans. While there are some DVD-ROM and DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drives that can perform these scans, it is not recommended to use them to do so because the results produced by them do not seem to be as useful because their results do not seem to correspond very well with the results that DVD-writers report.

The Disc Quality Test feature in CD-DVD Speed (it comes bundled with Nero, but can also be downloaded separately as freeware if you do not have Nero) can be used to perform PI/PIF scanning. If you have a LiteOn drive, you can also use KProbe for PI/PIF scanning. Plextor drives can scan using either PlexTools or PxScan/PxView (freeware). Please see the Media Testing/Identifying Software forum for more details about these programs and/or if you have any questions about them.

What if a drive capable of PI/PIF scanning is not available? CD-DVD Speed's Transfer Rate test can be used to check to see if a disc could be read smoothly (if the drive has to constantly slow down, it may be indicative of a poorly burnt disc). The ScanDisc test (also using CD-DVD Speed) can be used to determine how much of a disc can be read without errors. While neither of these two tests can provide a very illuminating picture of the quality of your disc, they are, as the saying goes, better than nothing.

If you need help posting a disc quality scan in this forum, please read these instructions.


Q: How do I interpret the PI/PIF results that I am getting from a disc quality scan?
A: Please refer to this thread in the media forum: http://club.myce.com/showthread.php?t=80545


Q: Could I improve the quality of my burn by slowing down the burn?
A: That slowing down a burn will always improve quality is a myth. The answer is maybe. Often, burning at a slower speed can help. But sometimes, burning at a slower speed will actually produce worse results. This is because the quality of a burn depends on other factors in addition to the burn speed. The quality of a slower burn would depend on whether or not the disc was designed for lower speeds (16x media, for example, use chemicals optimized for high-speed burning) and whether or not the drive was designed to burn that particular media at lower speeds (i.e., whether or not the drive's hardware is optimized for lower speeds, whether or not the drive's firmware is optimized for lower speeds, and whether or not the drive has a good, optimized low-speed write strategy for that particular media type). All this varies between drive types and different media, so the only way to know for sure would be to try it out.

If you are considering the use of a hacked firmware to force slower burns: If a drive's firmware does not officially support a lower speed for a particular media type, forcing the drive to burn at an otherwise unsupported lower speed through the use of a hacked firmware will likely produce undesirable results.




Firmware


Q: What exactly is firmware and how is it different from a device driver?
A: Your burning software, your operating system, and your device drivers are all software. They are all programs that reside on your computer. Your optical drive, of course, is the hardware. However, the software does not interact directly with the hardware. Windows does not directly control the motor in the drive, for example. There is an intermediate element called the firmware (it is somewhere between software and hardware, hence the name). The firmware is a piece of special software that resides on a chip inside the drive and does not reside on your computer. Thus, the firmware is always there, with the drive--you can move the drive to a different computer or wipe out your hard drive, and the firmware will still be right there. When your computer communicates with the drive, the commands are intercepted by the firmware, and it is the firmware that ultimately controls the drive's tray, motor, laser, etc.

So as you could see, the firmware is perhaps the most important thing, aside from hardware, that governs the performance of the drive. As such, it is not unusual to see the firmware making a significant difference in the performance of a drive.


Q: How do I check my firmware version?
A: There are many ways to check your firmware version. Perhaps the easiest way is to use Nero InfoTool, which comes bundled with Nero or can be downloaded separately as freeware if you do not have Nero.


Q: Where do I get firmwares?
A: If they are available, official firmware updates are generally posted on the website of your drive's manufacturer. In addition, there is the CD Freaks firmware repository as well as the huge firmware collection at The Firmware Page. Unofficial (modified) firmwares could usually be found in the forums at The Firmware Page and also in some the drive-specific sub-forums here at the CD Freaks Recording Hardware Forum.


Q: How do I flash (install) a firmware?
A: The procedure for firmware flashing varies between drive models. Please consult the documentation and resources for your specific drive type.


Q: Is there any point in flashing to an intermediate fimware? For example, should I flash from A to B before flashing to C?
A: Generally, no. When you flash your firmware, the old firmware is erased from your drive's chip and completely replaced by the new firmware. Thus, there is no point in flashing to some intermediate firmware. For example, flashing from firmware A to firmware B and then to firmware C will generally produce the exact same results as flashing directly from firmware A to firmware C.


Q: How do I make my drive region-free (RPC-1)?
A: Go here and click on the appropriate links to find the page for your drive's brand and model. Please note that removing a drive's region protection is only the first step in making your system region-free (more info). For more information about DVD regions, RPC-1, and RPC-2, please read this guide.




Troubleshooting


Q: DMA problems with older VIA chipsets causing slow operation
A: Some older VIA chipsets will not allow optical drives to operate in UDMA mode when the optical drives are installed on the Secondary IDE channel. A very simple work around for this problem is to put the hard drive, or hard drives, on the Secondary IDE channel and install the optical drives on the Primary IDE channel. It doesn't matter that the optical drives are before the hard drives and the hard drives will operate in the proper UDMA mode on the Secondary IDE channel. Some systems may require a change to the BIOS boot settings, for the new configuration to work. Link 1, Link 2 and link 3.



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