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With all this talk of DVD making and copying, there's one obvious question that always pops up: Can I make backup copies of DVDs I buy in the store?
Hey, don't ask me; I'm a computer guy, not a lawyer! But I can tell you that one group you would think would be aghast at the idea of duplicating a copyrighted piece of work - the Motion Picture Association of America - apparently doesn't think it's such a big deal.
According to the story at http://tinyurl.com/a2hex, the MPAA made a copy of a movie critical of the group that was to be presented at a film festival. The film discusses the MPAA rating system from a critical perspective. Why duplicate a review copy of this particular film, when the director would most likely be glad to supply another copy if the original got scratched? Really makes you wonder what they were thinking! If it's good enough for the MPAA, it should be good enough for the rest of us.
Without getting into too many details, which are many and complicated (in the US, you can make backups as long as you don't try to "beat" encryption), you need a DVD writer for your PC or Mac to copy DVDs - or your own video creations. And of course, you can't beat DVDs for plain old data storage, keeping a copy of those files you know are going to come in handy one day.
Nowadays, most of the newer DVD writer models will write DVD-R and +R (I hope you saved last week's column) at a speed of 16x. If your computer is more than a year old, chances are good that your DVD writer is slower, more likely 12x, 8x or 4x (the "x" being the drive's "spin rate" as compared to the speed of a standard audio CD). Naturally, the slower the speed, the longer it takes for a DVD to be written. Generally, to burn a DVD, here is the amount of time you can expect to wait from each write speed to fill a 4.7 GB drive: 1x speed - 59 minutes; 2x speed - 30 minutes; 4x speed - 15 minutes; 8x speed - 8 minutes; 16x speed - a bit less than 6 minutes. Note that the write speed for rewritable discs - DVD -RW or +RW - are significantly slower than for those of single use discs.
Also something to check is the drive's playback speed, which should be something like 8x or 16x - but may be limited by something called video riplock, which slows down the reading speed of video DVDs, often to as slow as 2x. Ostensibly, riplocks are there to keep the drive quiet on DVD playback, but they also make "ripping" (copying) a DVD much slower.
Riplocks are said to be a concession on the part of manufacturers to the entertainment industry, which at one time was planning to "go after" manufacturers of DVD writers in their attempt to stem the seemingly unstoppable tide of video and audio pirating.
Related to the "X speed" are a bunch of funny looking acronyms, which will have you wondering when you check out DVD writers. Not to get too technical about it, but CLV ("Constant Linear Velocity") is generally considered to be a faster method of writing than CAV ("Constant Angular Velocity"). PCAV is good, because it's a combination of the two, and ZCLV is the fastest of them all. One can assume the manufacturer has matched each speed with the most advantageous method of writing. Note, however, that there are many mitigating circumstances in a drive's write speed. Your system's architecture has a lot with whether you'll get the actual speed the drive claims to provide, and the quality of the drive itself also counts, with some cheap brands known to have a fine speed in the lab, but slowing down considerably once installed in customers' computers.
Also important to take into account when considering DVD speeds - and, indeed, the success of a write altogether - is the quality of the media you use. With DVD writing, especially at higher speeds, the process tends to be more delicate. While I, like you, always seek out the generic product over a name brand wherever possible, in this case you're better off with the more expensive stuff from a reputable company.
Defects in the media will cause defects in your written disc. Sometimes you can see physical defects in the media on the underside (where you are writing through the disc to the recording layer under the printed side, or in the middle of a DVD R/RW). Physical defects include things like scratches, scuffs, stains, contamination, defects in the plastic, pinholes in the metal layer or areas where the recording dye is missing.
While your DVD writing software (which we'll be covering shortly) includes the ability to keep your DVDs' file system "open," allowing you to add files later, the practice is not recommended when creating discs for use in a set-top DVD player. Although technically there shouldn't be a problem, many players have been known to experience difficulties with DVDs made in this manner. And, of course, you already know to handle discs by their edge, keeping fingers off the areas where the data is written to. Most discs come with one or another version of DVD writing software, and while the "brand" of software should also not matter, stranger things have been known to happen. Some newer burners come with the ability to do something called PI/PIF scanning, which allows you to check the quality of a burned disc. Some software programs, like Nero, also include the ability to run this test even if your disc's native software doesn't include it, and we'll check out Nero and other DVD writing packages next time.