How Does a DVD Recorder Work?

by Isaiah David

The Basics

A DVD recorder is a device for writing data onto a disc. DVD recorders are most commonly used to record copies of movies and TV shows, and so many people think of them as the next step up from the VHS tape. In practice, however, a DVD recorder is actually much closer to a CD burner. The main difference is that DVD burners are a newer technology which features greater data storage and a more durable disc. There are actually two competing formats which work with DVD recorders: the DVD-R and the DVD+R. A third one, the DVD-RAM, is no longer widely used. Most modern DVD players and recorders can support both major formats, so to most users it really doesn't make much of a difference which format a disc is in.

How It Works

Nearly all DVD recorders also function as DVD players, and use two lasers: one to read and one to write. Each recordable DVD has a small data layer made out of foil coated with dye in between two protective plastic plates. The data layer has small grooves in it much like a record does, which show the laser how to follow the DVD. To begin with, the die is transparent, allowing the laser to shine through it and reflect off the metal plate. In order to burn a DVD, a DVD recorder shoots a high-powered laser at the dye, making it translucent. Each translucent spot represents a bit of information. In order to read all of this information back, a DVD player shoots a weaker laser at the data plate. When the laser bounces back, the DVD player knows the dye hasn't been marked. When the laser doesn't bounce back, the player knows it has been marked. Through millions and millions of tiny marks, a DVD recorder can record a whole movie.


There are several different types of DVD recorders, used for different purposes. Usually, the term is used to refer to standalone DVD recorders. These are simple, self-contain units designed to record movies or TV. They are easy to use, but you can't hook them up to your computer. Some of them also have copy protection, meaning that you will not be able make a backup of commercial DVDs you own. The term DVD burner is often used to refer to DVD recorders built into a computer. These recorders can be used to store movies, songs, and any other information you want. They can also usually circumvent copy protection, making them more useful for many users.

About the Author

Isaiah David is a freelance writer and musician living in Portland, Ore. He has over five years experience as a professional writer and has been published on various online outlets. He holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan.

More Articles