The 10 Best DVD Drives
This wiki has been updated 16 times since it was first published in October of 2016. Optical media is still incredibly useful, even in the age of streaming, and one of these drives will take care of all your CD and DVD playback and recording needs. We've included models that are compatible with both Macs and PCs and offer everything from average to excellent read/write speeds, as well as a few Blu-ray models that can help prepare you for 4K video. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best dvd drive on Amazon.
What Goes Around... Plays Films
In 1987 the CD was adapted for analog video like the LD before it, and in 1993 it added digital storage.
There's nothing like watching a good movie.
Lest you think that movie-making is the rare American institution that Tom Edison had nothing to do with, think again: he actually held the patent for the Kinetoscope, the first-ever video player, infamous for enabling the peep shows of the early 1900s. The Menlo Park resident did supply the electromechanical wizardry, but it was his photographer and longtime devotee William Dickson who did the lion's share of photochemical work on the influential machine. Unfortunately, there weren't a whole lot of shows to watch by that point, and it's believed that Edison was likely unaware of the concept of binge-watching.
Since its inception, cinema has undeniably helped to shape culture in the United States. But even as the latter half of the century wore on and home televisions increased in size and clarity, movies were still mostly restricted to theaters. In 1977, VHS tapes burst onto the scene, allowing everyone to take the silver screen home. It was a huge milestone, but it was also steeped in issues. They degraded quickly, displayed low resolutions, produced subpar color, and were unwieldy to navigate. No-one worried for long, however, because the next year, LaserDisc came to the rescue!
LaserDisc mostly fell off the map before it caught on in the USA. In 1987 the CD was adapted for analog video like the LD before it, and in 1993 it added digital storage. Unfortunately, it didn't have the capacity to store a meaningful amount of video. Luckily, the conceptual precursor to the DVD entered development in 1995.
Big News Afoot
At the time IBM researcher Alan Bell was tasked with developing a file system for the SD, he was already aware of an alternate project in the works courtesy of industry giants Philips and Sony called the Super Density disc, and the wise man took steps to prevent a budding format war that had the potential to derail years of development. In a move reminiscent of the roundtable that Bill Lear called to help the industry adopt the 8-track, he summoned experts and industry heads together, forming a Technical Working Group to develop an overarching set of specifications.
Finally, the industry had removable storage capable of delivering high-definition video and audio anywhere in the world for just a few cents of postage.
In 1995, five prominent home computer manufacturers of the day took the next real steps by banding together and declaring that they would only accept one, universal DVD format. The TWG agreed, voting to boycott both solutions in the event that the two camps failed to reach a compromise. Frankly, if the burgeoning computer and home theater industries remained deadlocked much longer, half the consumers would miss out on half of the titles. Rather than put everyone through such a trial, the opponents started to make concessions. Ultimately, Sony and Philips backed off and abandoned their acronym, some optical storage experts helped out with the data-oriented file system, and the TWG met Sony's original, ambitious deadlines of 1996 and 1997 releases in Japan and worldwide.
The DVD revolutionized home video in almost no time at all. Finally, the industry had removable storage capable of delivering high-definition video and audio anywhere in the world for just a few cents of postage. An entire industry formed around digital file structures and optical media. Now acting as worldwide economic players, Hollywood and Silicon Valley were forced to up their game. Growing production and distribution outfits began to snatch up graphic designers, coders, hardware technicians, and all manner of eggheads with a quickness that only capitalist competition can inspire. And as Hollywood feeds its obsession with CGI blockbusters, those programmers will only see more and more work ahead of them.
It's Hip To Be Round
Like many discs before them, DVDs spin around a central axis and feature a spiral-shaped information layout. This spiral is lined with pits and bumps that represent 1s and 0s, rather than variable voltages that inform an analog amplifier. The track requires a 405- or 680-nanometer laser, depending on whether it's a standard or HD DVD. And though they're encoded to play video and audio at 1.4 megabytes per second, their data transfer rates reach as high as 24X, or over 33 megabytes per second.
Ever-smaller chipsets and stronger materials mean that today's drives are only slightly thicker than the DVDs themselves.
One of the only knocks against personal computers in general is the issue of compatibility, also the most frustrating and limiting factor with regards to recordable media. For quite a few years, it was anyone's guess if a particular drive would properly read a finalized DVD-R. Countless refinements over the years have resulted in a lineup of powerful and effective drives that can decode as well record using nearly any disc you can offer it.
Ever-smaller chipsets and stronger materials mean that today's drives are only slightly thicker than the DVDs themselves. Additionally, advanced internals help the newest units to last longer than before and operate more quietly, while also using less electricity. Slim, portable options are currently the most popular, as well as the easiest to use; they generally require only the power that passes through the USB cable, as long as your system uses USB 3.0 or newer. Alternately, it might be a good idea to pick up an internal drive, if you often use a desktop PC. Multi-purpose PC drives are often Blu-ray-ready, so you won't have to make another purchase once you upgrade to Ultra HD. Keep an eye on the DRM capabilities of your choice, as well. One of the industry upsides of digital media is its powerfully restrictive copy protection.
In the end, the guys putting out the movies did alright for themselves, and in fact they moved on to bigger, better things with four times as many pixels. But there are still an awful lot of old DVDs out there in great shape, just begging to be watched again. And because the tech's been around for quite a while, much of the equipment is very affordable. And while it's always been a relatively sound medium, further tweaks over 20-plus years have ensured that you'll have movie night covered for a while with an inexpensive, reliable DVD player.
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