DVD Writers

Questions to ask the retailer

What interface does the writer use? Do I need a FireWire PCI card, IDE or other type of connection card for the DVD writer I choose?

DVD writers use a variety of interfaces, ranging across IDE, SCSI, FireWire and USB. Generally, internal DVD writers will connect via IDE, but some external products will require other interface compatibility.

The most common interface used by external models is FireWire, a high-throughput standard developed by Apple. It is also known as IEEE 1394, Lynx and i.Link, depending on the vendor. FireWire is a high-performance serial bus, which connects devices to your computer. It provides a single plug and socket connection, to which up to 63 devices can be attached. Speed is rated at 400MBps (or 800Mbps for FireWire800). FireWire is a peer-to-peer interface (in other words, one camera, DVD, etc can hook up to another without the need of a PC).

However, more and more DVD writers use USB 2.0 to hook up to your PC. USB 2.0, which offers theoretical data speeds of up to 480Mbps, is 40 times faster than its predecessor USB 1.1. USB 2.0 should look the same as 1.1 from a user's point of view, with the only noticeable difference being faster data transfer from peripherals. In order to get the higher speed, users will need to have USB 2.0 connectivity.

If you don't have a FireWire connection and are installing a new interface card, simply open the computer case, put the card into an available PCI slot, close the case and restart your computer. IDE, or Integrated Drive Electronics, is based on IBM standard architecture. Internal DVD drivers will generally use this interface. IDE is the most common interface installed in PCs, with most computers sold today featuring the enhanced version of IDE known as EIDE.

What are the minimum system requirements for a DVD writer?

DVD writers can vary greatly in the amount of hard disk space, memory and processor speeds required.

If you are going to be burning the full 4.7GB of data at once with a standard writer, then you will need that much space on your hard drive. With DVD-RAM writers, you only need as much space as is required for the operating software, due to the way in which your computer reads and writes the information to disc.

Another factor might be the speed of your computer. Unless you're running an ageing dinosaur into the ground though, you should be right with the 500MHz CPU and 128MB RAM minimum requirements. Windows 2000 is commonly the base operating system needed.

What sort of warranty do I get with these products?

Most writers will come with a one-year warranty.

What do I get with the product?

It is important to check what software and accessories come in the box to see whether you require any extra pieces to use the writer. Besides the authoring software, other things that may or may not be included in the box are interface cards, which you'll need if your computer does not support certain interface standards.

All writing packages that you receive with the burner will let you back up data and copy unprotected discs without having to purchase extra software.

The future of DVD

Although DVD has revolutionised home cinema, its days are numbered in its current form. The huge popularity of the medium has created heavy investment in next-generation technologies. Manufacturers have been striving to create the ultimate DVD, acutely aware of how lucrative it might be. So if you're hoping that in the near future you won't have to worry about different DVD formats like + and -, don't hold your breath.

Two blue-laser standards have emerged in this "arms race" as the major contenders. One is HD-DVD (HD stands for high definition or high density). Backed by Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo, an HD-DVD disc will have three layers, each holding 15GB of data (a total of 45GB). The format has been approved by the DVD Forum, and has the support of some major US film studios.

In the blue corner of the fight for DVD supremacy is Sony and its format, Blu-ray. Blu-ray layers hold 25GB, so the double-layer disc will offer 50GB.

Despite not consulting the DVD Forum, Sony has garnered good support for Blu-ray. The Blu-ray Disc Association includes Dell, HP, LG, Panasonic and Philips. Also on board are Twentieth Century Fox and Walt Disney Pictures.

Forgoing DVD Forum approval has allowed Sony to deviate from DVD standards more than HD-DVD companies. However, Blu-ray discs will require different manufacturing and replication processes to DVD, which could make them more costly to produce. As a result, HD-DVD is expected to be available commercially before Blu-ray.

Although they are different technologies, both standards will use the same compression schemes (MPEG-2, AVC MPEG-4, and VC-1). As such, there should be no discernable difference in picture quality between the two. Also pleasing is that while neither standard's media will work with existing DVD players, the next generation of writers will be backwards compatible. This means you will be able to play current DVDs and CDs on an HD-DVD or Blu-ray writer.

The DVD format battle is a developing story. In recent times, Toshiba has said that it has been in discussions about a unified next-gen DVD format, but Sony has been more tight-lipped. Whatever happens, it's worth keeping an eye on. The outcome will determine what you buy to replace your DVD writer.

This guide was last updated in October 2005.

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