As technology has progressed, we have seen recording media change. We've had IBM computer cards, paper tapes, tape reels, 45 records, 33 1/3 records, 8 track tapes, cassette tapes, beta, VHS, Cd's, DVD's, memory sticks, HD DVD, Blu-Ray, and now various digital formats. like mp3, and toys to store the digital formats. I'm sure it will change again in the future. After all, nothing endures but change. The sad thing is every time we have one of these technology changes, every one has to run out and re-buy all their old music and videos on the new format. Well that's the American economy, let's change the format, and we'll make big bucks on old songs.
What characterizes each of these formats was the amount of information it could store, and of course, the shape and fragility of the physical media . Presently, a lot of software and recordings are coming over the Internet. I expect that to continue in the future, but in the meantime, the software and recording industries, still are selling software on DVD's, and DVD recordings retail. Yes, it's declining and one could argue you don't need a DVD drive on your computer.
DVD drives are useful for other reasons, to backup your data to a DVD, to backup your music, and videos to DVD. To give a friend a playlist of songs for a party, you might want to record a DVD/CD for him. You get the idea to write data to the DVD. These are referred to as "DVD burners." I recommend one internal 5.25 inch wide, DVD "burner" drive for your computer at this point in history.
I've seen drives priced from $20 to $240. What's the difference and what should I look for? Let's lay out some simple specifications for ourselves. We want one drive that can both read and write DVD's. It would be nice if the transfer rate was high, perhaps a SATA connected drive. SATA cables have replaced the older IDE cabling, because of their higher transfer rates. I prefer SATA, but there are some cautions with SATA cabling. I will talk more about this when we talk about cabling. We want to mount it in our computer, so it should be an "internal" drive.
Optional is the ability to read the Blu-ray format. If you would like to watch a Blu-ray movie on your computer, that may be connected to your Hi-Def TV, then also get Blu-ray capability, of course, at a higher price. The alternative is either not to jump into Blu-ray movies, or buy a separate Blu-ray drive for direct connection to a Hi-Def TV. You could do both.
Neat. All set. Well hold on here, what are all these crazy letters after the drive like: DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD-ROM, DVD+RW, DVD-RAM, Let's take this a step at a time. All those DVD-XXX are different formats that are used to record on plastic disks that are made for that particular format. You mean I have to be careful on what type of blank disks I buy? Well, you may depending on the drive you select.
Let's declutter here a bit. DVD stands for DVD, duh. DVD stands for "Digital Video Disc." The R alone stands for read-only, as does the ROM. The drive will read media, but not record media. And you guessed it RW stands for read and write, which is what we want. RAM is later technology that is extremely fast at both writing and reading.
Throw out all those drives that just have the R and not the RW. Darn, there go those cheap $20 models. This leaves us with three competing formats DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM. You want your drive to read and write all three, any other formats are optional to me. If you have some old CD's floating around, you'll find most of these drives will read the CD format also.
Then we have the X's, as in: 4X, 8X, 24X, etc. this is easy, the higher the X the faster the drive, each format on the drive will have a different X next to it to indicate how fast it can read and write. The higher the X the better.
There is one other optional feature called, "LightScribe." This is a disc-etching technology that allows you to etch a label on the non recording side of the DVD. It could take about 20 minutes to do this, and tends to slow the overall drive down, I don't care much for it, your choice.
As far as manufacturers, there are several good one's out there like: Pioneer, PLEXTOR, ASUS, LG, and Sony. I prefer Sony, they've been reliable, and they originated the Blu-ray format.