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DVD-RAM Revisited

By John Virata

Today's DVD burner market has been saturated with so many formats it makes the VHS versus Betamax war seem like a frolic in the park. Currently, the market is supporting DVD-R/RW recorders, DVD+R/RW recorders, DVD-R/+/RW recorders, DVD+R DL media recorders, and DVD-RAM recorders. When DVD recorders first came out, the recorders burned to the DVD-RAM format. By far the oldest format on the market, it had been relegated to archiving solutions at best as system and OEM manufacturers went with first the DVD-R format, and then the DVD+ format. Today, most DVD recorders on the market support either the DVD-R/RW or DVD+R/RW format. Many support both formats. Dual support occurred in part to alleviate some of the confusion brought to the consumer by the manufacturers in their quest to determine which format was the best format for consumer needs. DVD-RAM was just not marketed to compete with these other formats, and in the meantime, the DVD+R DL 8.5GB formats hit the market, further bringing confusion to the marketplace.

This all might change as Panasonic begins to push the format even more in the United States (For more on this, click here ) for both the consumer DVD recorder set top space as well as the PC storage space. And in its quest to aggressively push the DVD-RAM format, the company has teamed with Hitachi-LG, LG Electronics, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Samsung, TEAC, Toshiba, and JVC to promote the DVD-RAM format. The group is collectively known as the RAM Promotion Group The RAM Promotion Group  touts the DVD-RAM format as superior to both the DVD- and DVD+ formats in a variety of ways, including durability and re-writability. While the DVD-/+RW formats can rewrite data up to 1,000 times without any disc/data degradation, the DVD-RAM format, according to the RAM Performance Group, can be rewritten up to 100,000 times without degradation of the physical media.

In this article, we are going to revisit DVD-RAM technology with the $149 Hitachi LG HL-DT-ST DVD-RAM drive, a 3X DVD-RAM drive that is commonly found in OEM PC systems but is widely available on the Internet. The Hitachi LG HL-DT-ST GSA 4082B DVD-RAM drive is a non-cartridge based drive that writes and rewrites the following formats at the corresponding speeds: DVD-R (8x, 4x, 2x),  DVD-RW (4x, 2x, 1x), DVD-RAM (3x, 2x),  DVD+R (8x, 4x, 2.4x), DVD+RW (4x, 2.4x), CD-R (24x, 16x, 8x, 4x), CD-RW (16x, 10x, 8x, 4x), and can read DVD-ROM, DVD-Video, DVD-R, CD-ROM, CD-R/RW, CD-DA, Photo CD, and Video CD discs.  While the Hitachi LG HL-DT-ST DVD-RAM drive is compatible with all the other DVD formats on the market except the dual layer 8.5GB variants, it has more going to it than compatibility with the competing formats in that it records to DVD-RAM, a format since long forgotten by the likes of Pioneer, Sony, and other companies which have aggressively promoted the other rewritable formats with their dual format drives.

The DVD-RAM difference

The DVD-RAM format is a different beast than that of DVD+RW, DVD-RW and its variants in that when you burn to a DVD-RAM, the disc acts like a hard disk drive, meaning that you can add and delete information from the disc without having to rewrite the entire disc. It also offers random access capabilities just like that of a hard drive, and instant playback capabilities while you record to the disc. So you can be playing a video that is on the disc while saving an image file to the disc at the same time. For digital photographers, you can save your images to the DVD-RAM disc for archiving and storage purposes and then later open up an image that is on the disc with an image editor, edit that image, and save it back to the DVD-RAM disc without having to first save the image to the host computer's hard disk drive.

The DVD-RAM specification has always lagged behind its rewritable competitors, but with the introduction of 5X DVD-RAM devices and media, the specification has passed its rewritable competitors by 1X. But that is with regard to the rewritable format, and not the DVD-/+R formats, which offers up to 16X burn speeds with the appropriate drives. The DVD-RAM format employs a defect management process that may contribute to the slower burn speeds. This process ensures that the data it is writing from the hard disk is identical to what is written on the DVD-RAM media. If it detects errors, the defect management system will rewrite that data on another area of the disc, known as the spare area for defect management. The other rewritable formats do not employ such a practice. What is of real interest to those who burn data to DVD is not only the multiple formats that the Hitachi drive supports, which is all formats except the dual layer formats, but the fact that you can stick a DVD-RAM disc into the drive and use as if it were a hard disk drive. That is the true beauty of this device and all other devices like it.

The capability to burn a folder of images or video onto a DVD-RAM disc, edit that content directly from the disc and save the changes directly back to the disc without having to set up a burn session really makes archived data an editable archive. You no longer have to set up a burn session, which is great, and you don't have to interrupt the creative process either. So should your next DVD recorder include the DVD-RAM capability? At the current 4.7GB capacity, DVD-RAM may seem a bit dated, considering 8.5GB discs are available. And the price of the DVD-RAM media, at around $5 per disc in three packs, is still a bit pricier than the other rewritable formats. On the horizon is a DVD-RAM disc that is supposed to be capable of accommodating more than 9GB of data, so the manufacturers are responding. If you need the larger capacity now, then drives that support DVD-RAM are not a realistic choice, but if you like the way the DVD RAM format behaves, in that you can write and rewrite data without having to constantly set up a burn session, then the DVD-RAM format can be a compelling solution, And besides, the current crop of DVD-RAM drives support most all of the DVD +-R formats.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at
Related Keywords:DVD-RAM, DVD recorders, DVD-RAM recorders


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