DVD Formats and DVD Codecs Explained

By Erin Monaghan
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Shopping for a DVD player can be confusing. Some are $25 while others are $200 or more. Essentially both the cheap and expensive players perform the same function: playing DVDs. However, the more expensive DVD players provide additional features like the ability to play CDs, recorded DVDs or DivX DVDs. Many of these terms sound or appear similar. To unravel the language of DVD players, use this glossary to decipher exactly what you need in a DVD player.

DVD-Video
The most common DVD format on the market today. It uses a combination of the MPEG2 video codec, various audio formats and data files. DVD players can then parse the information on the disc and display it appropriately. All DVD players and DVD ROMs support this media.

MPEG2
This is the video codec most commonly used on standard commercial DVDs. It provides a picture and audio to the screen. All DVD players and DVD ROMs include the ability to decode MPEG2. It’s also a safe bet if you record a home video or download a movie and burn the DVD disc using an MPEG2 codec that the DVD will play in almost any standard DVD player.

DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW
These are recordable and re-writable DVDs. You can use these DVDs to record video from your computer or in a DVD recorder with removable media. Whether you use the “+” and “-“ symbols depends on the DVD burner in your computer. Most DVD recorders will work with both “+” and “-“ media.

CD
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Most DVD players include the ability to play Compact Discs. CDs are the standard medium for commercial music recordings.

CD-R/RW
Like a DVD-R, CD-R/RWs are recordable CDs. You need a computer to record a CD. Although most DVD players will play CD-Rs with no problems the older models sometimes don’t recognize the media. If you frequently rip music or purchase songs online then burn them to a CD, double check the playback specs on newer DVD players for this feature.

VCD
A CD with the ability to contain video, simply a Video CD. VCDs have about the same video quality as a VHS tape and are kind of the middle ground between the invention of CDs and DVDs. VCDs were very popular in Asia, but never really sold well in the United States. However, they are still available and are more commonly used to record shorter videos from a computer.

SVCD
A second generation video CD; SVCD stands for Super Video Compact Disc. The quality is better than a VCD but less than that of a modern DVD. SVCDs were commonly used for karaoke because of their ability to play music and display words through to a television set using a supported DVD player. Again SVCDs were more popular in Europe and Asia than the U.S.

JPEG
JPEG is probably the most common photo format. A DVD player with the ability to display JPEGs means the player can display digital photos from your computer, those edited into a slideshow or a disc directly from the local developer.

MP3
A common audio format most commonly used when downloading music from the Internet. A DVD player that supports MP3s can play a burned CD or DVD.

WMA
A common music format specifically for windows media player. Some music download sites only license their music in WMA format. Instead of converting the files you can just burn the CD and play it in the DVD player.

WMV
Windows’ proprietary video format. Windows Media Video is commonly used online either on sharing sites or commercial video download sites. Instead of converting the video to a DVD compatible format you can simply burn a DVD in WMV format and play it in your living room DVD player.

DivX
A video format codec commonly attached to movies and videos downloaded online. If your DVD player supports DivX then you can easily download a movie and burn it to a DVD with the DivX code and not convert the file to the more commonly supported MPEG2 format. It is less common to see DVD players supporting this feature, but with downloaded movies more common than ever it’s quickly becoming a popular feature.

Xvid
Similar to DivX and a self proclaimed rival it is rare to see this codec supported in DVD players. However, it’s not impossible.

HDCD
High Definition Compact Digital is a disc that uses a standard CD and enhances its sound quality by squeezing up to an additional 8-bits of sound signal onto the media. This format is currently owned by Microsoft and is compatible with Windows Media Player versions 9 and above. Few DVD players currently support this format, but as it becomes more popular with recording artists, the more common the HDCD format will become.
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