Below you can find an article I wrote about the current DVD format war, to help people decide what format to pick at this moment. I know there are people here with a lot more knowlegde then me and I would be very pleased with any comments on this article, so I can correct any errors and mistakes before I post it on the mainpage...
If you're in the market for a DVD recorder you will find out that currently one of the major issues is the 'DVD format war', as many people describe the competition between the DVD+R/DVD+RW (DVD+ or DVD plus) and the DVD-R/DVD-RW (DVD- or DVD minus) formats. Both are DVD recordable formats and developed to store data on a DVD recordable disc that can be played on a DVD(-ROM) player. DVD+/-R stands for DVD recordable and can only be recorded once, DVD+/-RW stands for DVD rewritable, and this discs can be written and erased, making it possible to record them up to about thousand times.
Both DVD plus and DVD minus have their own supporters and both formats are claiming they have their own benefits. In this article we are going to try to distinct the differences between both formats and take a look from a consumers perspective. We aim to give you an advice on what kind of recorder you should buy at this moment, a dual format recorder that supports both DVD-R(W) and DVD+R(W) discs, or a recorder that supports only one of the formats (either DVD- and DVD+).
Before we wrote this article we met several important people from both DVD recordable formats at CEBIT 2003. From the DVD plus format we talked to Ms Harpe from Philips, from the DVD minus format we talked to Mr Yoshimura from Pioneer.
Why two formats ?
While the CD recordable format was widely adopted by all companies in the industry, all companies could not agree on one single DVD recordable format. At the start of the war it was clear what companies supported DVD minus and what companies supported DVD plus, unfortunately at the current moment this is less clear, many companies have chosen to support both formats. South Korean and Taiwanese companies, who have a large market share in the optical storage industry, have all told us that they will not pick one format, but follow the market. DVD plus is mainly backed by Philips, HP and Dell. DVD minus is mainly backed by Pioneer, Toshiba and Apple.
Is it really a war ?
The struggle between both formats is many times described as a war, we would prefer to call it more like a competition or a race. There is chance that over the years both formats will still be present in the market. Both DVD minus and DVD plus told us that there is not really a need for a winner. Many people refer to the BetaMAX, VHS war that took place when the video recorder came into the living room. Both formats where incompatible with each other and without a winner a lot of consumers would be left in the cold. DVD plus and DVD minus are for a large share compatible with each other, and a real winner is not necessary. Also there are dual format recorders on the market, which are able to record to both the DVD plus and the DVD minus format. Altough many people see them as a solution, as a consumer you will still need to decide which DVD recordable disc you need to buy.
What is important when looking for a DVD recorder ?
As a consumer you prefer to get the best product for the lowest price. When you are buying a DVD recorder you will need to know the issues related to buying a DVD recorder. One of the main issues will be compatibility. If you buy a DVD recorder and the discs do not play in the devices you intended, you will be dissapointed. Another issue is that it has the functionality you want. We have tried to determine if there are any differences on the hardware level that makes one of the formats superior to the other. When looking at the technical details you will notice that they do not differ a whole lot, many issues seem to be software related. So issues that remain are compatibility and price.
When looking at the numbers of researches performed by independent companies there is not really one format that is MUCH more compatible then the other, DVD-R and DVD+R are compatible with about 90% of the devices while DVD-RW and DVD+RW are compatible with about 70%. If you buy either a DVD plus or a DVD minus recorder you also have the option to try DVD recordable media of several manufacturers/brands and it is likely you will find one combination that will play in your DVD player. Altough compabitility is an issue, it seems to be improving a lot lately and chances you will find a combination of DVD media, a DVD recorder and a DVD player that works are very, very high. Both formats are in general compatible with each other. However be warned, if a device claims it reads both DVD+RW and DVD-RW it might not work with the media you bought. In case it doesn't, try different media.
So it's all about the Benjamins (money) ?
At the moment it seems that only price makes a real difference when buying a DVD recorder, another issue is availablity. From our perspective DVD plus has a better marketing machine and is more offensive in putting their format on the market as having more functionality. DVD minus seems to be more defensive and has to battle everything DVD plus is saying. However most technical advances marketed by DVD plus seem to be software based and there is no reason for DVD minus to not implement the features that are currently marketed by DVD plus. According to both spokesmen the current market situation is pretty stable and numbers are 50/50, so none of the formats is currently clearly ahead. However it must be said that DVD plus has entered the market after DVD minus.
Another important factor is that Taiwanese and South Korean companies are not supporting one of the formats, they support both. Companies like LG, Lite-On, Samsung and Benq are key players on the market and LG and Lite-On have already announced to be releasing dual format recorders for less then 200 EURO/Dollar. At this moment DVD plus media and recorders are more expensive then DVD minus equipment, and according to both spokesmen this has nothing to do with a structural problem. The production of both media types is technically about the same and there is no reason for DVD plus to be more expensive other then less production. Once both formats have about the same output of recordable discs, it is expected that also the prices of both will be about the same.
As for Microsoft supporting the DVD plus format, this might be seen as an important issue, however this is only a small step. Technically it is relatively simple to implement support for both formats.
The market decides
If we need to give an advice on what format to buy we will go with the same approach as the South Korean and Taiwanese companies, the market decides. It is important to know that DVD plus is supported by Dell and HP, both are number one and number two of the PC building market. They have a large market share, and they are key factors in promoting the DVD formats. The largest share of the PC market is in their hands (meaning most consumers who buy a new PC, buys from them) and it is likely that their support will give the DVD plus format a large boost. HP has already announced it will start to ship DVD plus drives as standard equipment in their PC's. If also Dell with follow this trend it won't take long before DVD plus recorders can be found in many homes.
This will raise the demand of DVD plus recordable discs and make them cheaper. Once the media is cheaper there will likely be a larger demand for DVD plus recorders and media, possibly making them cheaper again, creating a larger demand again, etc. This scenario is very likely and therefor if we have to pick one format as a winner, we would pick DVD plus.
Does this mean DVD minus will leave the market ? We don't think so. There is no reason to believe that DVD minus is less superior then DVD plus and there are already millions of happy owners of DVD minus drives. We also expect that development of DVD minus drives will continue. (according to Pioneer the maximum writing speed will be about 16 speed). We however expect that the price of media and drives will make the difference.
So our conclusion
Altough dual format recorders might not be the real solution from a consumers perspective we would advice to buy one. The dual format recorder allows you to buy the cheapest media and if you are lucky you will be able to find both DVD minus and DVD plus media that works with your DVD player.
LG and Lite-On both announced that they will sell dual format drives for about 200 EURO/Dollar. In the CD recordable era they have build up the reputation of making quality drives for a very good price. Knowing this there is no reason to pick one format, as the price for a one format and a dual format will likely to be very close. There is however one problem, availablity! At this moment (April 2003) only Sony is able to ship dual format recorders and they are still pretty expensive.
In case you can't wait and want to buy a DVD recorder you will need to chose between DVD plus and DVD minus. If you want our advice, we think a DVD plus recorder will currently be the best choice for the long term.
We however want to add that in case you have a DVD minus, or plan to buy one, this is still not a bad choice, but likely not the best.