A Digital Versatile Disk — Read Only Memory, or DVD-ROM, is a media storage disk that closely resembles a CD or compact disk. The major difference is that the DVD-ROM is formatted to hold far more data. A CD commonly has a capacity of 650 megabytes, while the smallest capacity DVD can store about seven times more data, or 4.38 gigabytes (GB).
There are various kinds of DVDs, but the DVD-ROM refers to a read-only disk, or a disk that cannot be written over. If you purchase a DVD movie from the local video store, you have a good example of a DVD-ROM. Blank DVDs with designations like "DVD-R" and "DVD+R" are formatted, recordable DVDs. The —R and +R refer to competing format standards, but both will record movies, audio or other data.
A DVD-ROM encodes data in the form of a spiraling trail of pits and lands separated by mere nanometers. The trail starts at the center of the DVD-ROM and winds around countless times until it reaches the outer edge. In the case of a double layer disk, the trail continues on a second layer of material. If the disk is also double-sided, the trail of pits and lands extends to side two.
A laser beam in the DVD player tracks the beam as the disk spins, while a special device reads the intensity of the reflection as it bounces off the pits and lands. The reflective variance gets translated to bits of data which form bytes. Hence, DVDs, including the DVD-ROM, can vary in capacity as follows:
Single-sided single-layer disk — 4.38 GB
Single-sided double-layer disk — 7.95 GB
Double-sided single-layer disk — 8.75 GB
Double-sided double-layer disk — 15.9 GB
The DVD-ROM has replaced the videocassette, being far more efficient and superior in all respects. For one, a DVD-ROM stores data in digital form, while the videocassette uses less precise analog technology. A DVD-ROM, under normal conditions, remains error free and consistent, regardless of the amount of times it is viewed, while a video cassette stretches with wear and eventually needs replacement. The DVD-ROM can also hold more information in a higher format, and one can skip to specific scenes without the need for fast-forwarding or rewinding. Finally, the DVD-ROM is much more compact and easier to store, and DVD players can double as CD players.
If purchasing a DVD player, be sure to get one that can play all DVD-ROM formats, including double-sided double-layered disks. For home theater systems look for models equipped with a 192 kilohertz (kHz), 24-bit digital/analog converter (DAC) for true Dolby theater quality. By comparison, standard DVD players use 96 kHz, 24-bit DACs. This is still a big improvement over CDs, however, which use 44.1 kHz, 16-bit sampling to produce audio. For this reason, people are moving towards DVDs to store music. An audio DVD can hold just over an hour of multi-channel music at 192 kHz, the highest bit rate; about two hours at 96 kHz; and close to seven hours at the standard CD sampling rate of 44.1 kHz.
While cassettes, videocassettes and laser disks have become legacy technologies, the DVD-ROM appears to be here to stay. Recordable DVDs are available wherever music and movies are sold, including department stores, office supply chains and discount marts.