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DVD-Video Tutorial

The basics of the DVD-Video format

article last updated on 4.22.2003 | printer-friendly format click for printer-friendly format   

If you just read our DVD Tutorial, you would have realized that DVD-Video is one of the application formats of the general DVD specification.  If you haven't read it, we recommend that you read it first, as it talks about the physical aspects and data capacities of the DVD format and introduces the various application formats of DVD, of which DVD-Video is one.

A Revolutionary Format

DVD-Video logo DVD-Video is a revolutionary format for video content.  It is doing for movies what the Compact Disc (CD) did for music.  The video and audio information stored on a DVD-Video are pure digital for a crystal clear picture and CD-quality multi-channel surround sound.  Among these and other reasons, DVD-Video is the ideal format for enjoying and collecting movies and other video content.  Let's discuss the various features that make DVD-Video so exciting as a format.

The Picture

The DVD-Video format provides up to 480 horizontal lines of resolution.  This is a significant improvement over the 260 horizontal lines of resolution of standard VHS, and the 330 horizontal lines of resolution for broadcast TV.  The color is brilliant, rich, and saturated, accurately rendering skin tones.  With the right equipment and set-up, you can enjoy a picture that approaches the quality of film.

DVD-Video contains digital video information that is compressed using MPEG-2 (Motion Pictures Experts Group), to minimize the amount of data required for video.  If the video information is left uncompressed, DVDs would contain only tens of minutes of video footage, instead of several hours.  (MPEG-2 is the same compression algorithm used in digital satellite TV.)  The digital format provides a picture virtually free of video noise with unsurpassed detail and color fidelity.

Editor's Note: To fully take advantage of DVD's superior picture, a component video interface, or S-video interface to the TV is recommended.

Aspect Ratios

True to its promise of delivering the cinematic experience, DVD-Video can reproduce the original widescreen theatrical formats of movies as they're shown in movie theaters.  DVD-Video can deliver the 1.85:1 aspect ratio (where the screen width is 1.85 times the screen height), or the 2.35:1 aspect ratio (where the screen width is 2.35 times the screen height).  Of course, DVD-Video can also provide the "full-frame" 1.33:1 aspect ratio (where the screen width is 1.33 times the screen height, or 4 units wide by 3 units high) that represents the standard NTSC [National Television Standards Committee] television screen (the standard TV format for the U.S. and Canada).

The sweeping vista of a 2.35:1 aspect ratio widescreen movie


The sweeping vista of a 2.35:1 aspect ratio widescreen movie

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" - copyright New Line Cinema - all rights reserved

State-of-the-Art Surround Sound

To complement the sweeping vistas of the widescreen format are theater-quality surround sound from the audio track(s) of the DVD.  The DVD specification requires Dolby Digital 2.0 2-channel audio to be encoded on every DVD-Video disc (for countries using the NTSC TV standard).  This 2-channel soundtrack allows Dolby Surround Pro-Logic to be encoded in the stereo audio channels for backwards compatibility with pre-existing Dolby Surround Pro-Logic sound systems.

Optionally and frequently the case, the DVD-Video disc includes the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound format that provides five channels (i.e., center, left, right, surround left, surround right; giving it the "5" designation) of full frequency (with respect to the range of human hearing, 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz) effects, plus a sixth channel for low frequency effects (LFE).  The LFE channel is usually reserved for the subwoofer speaker(s), or those speakers capable of reproducing low frequency ranges.  The low frequency effects channel gives Dolby Digital 5.1 the ".1" designation.  The ".1" signifies that the sixth channel is not full frequency, as it contains only deep bass frequencies.

An alternative to Dolby Digital is DTS Digital Surround, another 5.1-channel capable surround sound format.  DTS offers higher data rates (up to four times higher) for audio information than Dolby Digital, meaning the multi-channel audio information is not as compressed.  This higher data rate and the resulting actual performance lead many audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts to claim that DTS is better than Dolby Digital.

As if Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1-channel surround sound weren't enough, the DVD-Video format can also support the newer extended surround formats such as THX Surround EX and DTS-ES matrix and DTS-ES discrete 6.1.  For more information, click here to read more about the different surround sound formats.

Editor's Note: In countries outside the U.S. and Canada where the PAL video system is used, a DVD-Video disc must have either Dolby Digital 2.0 or MPEG 2.0 soundtrack.

Multiple Language Dialogs and Soundtracks

Many DVD-Video movies are distributed with multiple language options (e.g., English, Spanish, French), each with its own dialog and soundtrack.  With up to eight (8) languages or soundtracks.


Closed captioning and/or subtitles are also supported, with up to 32 separate closed caption and/or subtitle tracks encoded into the DVD disc.  This feature is activated by using the DVD-Video player's remote control.

Multiple Angles Option

The DVD-Video format can support the director's use of simultaneous multiple camera angles to put a new spin on the plot.  Though not many DVD-Video titles offer this option, the "Tomorrow Never Dies: Special Edition" DVD-Video uses the multi-angle feature to cross reference the current scene with associated storyboard designs and layouts.

Bonus Materials

Many DVD-Video movie releases come with bonus materials (that are normally not included in the VHS version), such as:

  • deleted scenes and alternate endings

  • director's audio commentary

  • "the making-of" and various "behind-the-scenes" featurettes

  • cast and crew interviews

  • multi-angle storyboard vs. final film comparisons

  • theatrical trailers and TV spots

  • music videos

  • still photos

  • cast and crew biographies and filmographies

Some studios are pretty creative when it comes to the type of bonus feature content, while others are not as innovative.  Some studios consistently provide little, if any bonus programming, even with recent blockbuster theatrical releases.  Bonus features content will vary from movie-to-movie, even released by the same studio.  Some bonus features are actually DVD-ROM features where the same disc features DVD-ROM application content.  Such DVD-ROM content (e.g., full screenplay text cross-referenced with video playback, web access, and games) requires a computer with a DVD-ROM drive for viewing.  Overall, bonus features make movie collecting on the DVD-Video format all the more rewarding.

Random Access To Scenes

Video content on DVD-Video discs are organized into titles and chapters, similar to how songs are on tracks of an audio CD.  Think of titles as being analogous to the top-level directories of your computer hard disk, then chapters would be subdirectories under these titles.  You can jump to your favorite scenes directly using the "skip chapter" button on the DVD player or its remote control, entering the chapter number directly using the remote control, or using the DVD disc's menu feature (which is the easiest approach).  With this random access approach, there is no more rewinding of videotapes!

Seamless Branching

DVD-Video has a unique feature called "seamless branching" where different video segments can be pre-programmed to combine in various combinations.  This allows for the same DVD-Video disc to contain different versions of the same film, like an original theatrical release version and a director's cut version of the same film.  For example, if you chose the "original theatrical release" version from the main menu, the DVD-Video disc will play the original version of the movie by playing the same scenes as shown in the movie theaters.  If you chose the "director's cut" version from the main menu, the DVD-Video disc will play back the director's cut of the movie, which may skip to scenes there were previously unreleased during certain segments and automatically branches back to the common scenes shared with the theatrical version.  These scene transitions are nearly instantaneous and transparent to the viewer.

Parental Control

The DVD-Video format offers parents the ability to lock out viewing of certain materials by their children.  Furthermore, different versions of the same movie with different MPAA ratings (e.g., G, PG, PG-13, R) can be stored on the same DVD, using the seamless branching feature we mention in the previous section.

Region Codes

Region code is not so much a feature for consumers as it is for the studios releasing movies and other video content to DVD-Video.  DVD-Video region codes divide the world up into numbered regions:

  • Region 0: World-wide (i.e., no specific region encoded)

  • Region 1: North America (United States and Canada)

  • Region 2: Western Europe and Japan

  • Region 3: Southeast Asia

  • Region 4: South America and Australia

  • Region 5: Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia

  • Region 6: China

By encoding each DVD-Video disc and DVD players with region codes, only similarly coded software can be played back on DVD hardware.  In other words, a "region 1" coded DVD-Video can be played back only by a DVD player that is compatible with "region 1".  This allows movie studios to release a DVD-Video of a movie, while preparing the same movie for theatrical release of the same movie overseas.

Wide Selection of DVD Movies

There are over 14,500 titles available on DVD-Video as of April 2002.  Many national and local video rental chains and independents are renting DVDs today.  There are even on-line merchants that rent DVDs, such as, that carry a large selection of DVD-Video titles.  DVDs are here to stay and has become the new medium of choice for home viewing and movie collecting.

DVD-Video Players Are Now Mainstream

The adoption rate for DVD-Video players have far surpassed that of any consumer electronics device to date and has long since passed the "early adopter" stage.  With prices below $100 for an entry-level DVD-Video player, DVD-Video is now a mainstream format by every measure.

Are You Ready For DVD-Video?

Are you ready to enjoy movies in the DVD-Video format?  It's really only a question of time... Now is as good a time as any to take the plunge into DVD.  If you're ready, we can help you find the right DVD player for your needs and budget.

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In This Article


> A Revolutionary Format

> The Picture

> Aspect Ratios

> State-of-the-Art Surround Sound

> Multiple Language Dialogs and Soundtracks

> Subtitles

> Multiple Angles Option

> Bonus Materials

> Random Access to Scenes

> Seamless Branching

> Parental Control

> Region Codes

> Wide Selection of DVD Movies

> DVD-Video Players Are Now Mainstream

> Are You Ready for DVD-Video?


Also Read:


> DVD Overview

> DVD Tutorial

> DVD-Audio Tutorial


DVD & Blu-ray Release Dates


> August 2010

> September 2010

> October 2010

> November 2010

> December 2010

> January 2011

more >>   


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