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To DVD or Not to DVD? That is the Question….

For well over a decade the DVD video disc has been the standard replacement for the VHS tape format when it comes to a common video distribution format. Although eclipsed by high definition formats such as Blu-ray discs and HD (and now 4K) streaming services such as YouTube and Netflix, DVDs are still the popular choice for a destination format for many consumer’s home movies, whether they have been transferred from a 20 year old video tape or a more modern hard drive digital camcorder. However, we are seeing an increase in the number of our customers who are requesting their home movies/films/slides/etc. directly to digital media files. Still more of our customers come in asking, “Which is best for me?”

Both DVDs and USB thumb drives are still viable formats for transferring old videos

The simple answer is - it depends on your end use. Since much of the original media content is of an analog, standard-definition type (as least when it comes to video tape formats), DVD maintains and preserves the quality of the original as well as any format - save large, cumbersome uncompressed digital files which are overkill for this sort of application - and allows easy portability, meaning you can literally pop it out of a player, take it to Grandma’s to show the family at Thanksgiving, and bring it back home. The DVDs we create here at Goodheart Media are also non-rewriteable, so there’s no chance of accidental erasure. When handled and stored properly, DVD discs will last decades. However, when it comes to viewing the content on something other than a set-top DVD player, the DVD-Video format’s file structure is confusing and does not lend itself to use with many consumer (and even some professional) video editing programs. Even trying to back up DVD content requires copying the entire folder and not a single, simple file.

DVD file structure
DVD file structures break video into several parts. For easier viewing on computers MP4 files generally work best.

Unlike DVD discs, digital files are much more flexible. We typically recommend digitizing to the MP4 file format due to its efficiency of file size while still maintaining quality. Also, MP4 files are playable on most devices such as tablets, smartphones, and smart TVs. They are also easily uploadable to YouTube, Facebook, and a variety of other online video services. Finally, most editing programs now accept the MP4 as a valid format for importing and working with video content.

When transferring to MP4, the files are typically delivered on a USB thumb drive. Unlike DVDs, which have a fixed storage capacity (4.7 GB for single layered discs), USB thumb drives can come in whatever capacity is needed, from 4, 8, and 16GB up to 128, 256, or larger sizes. Using variable bit rates and hardware compression, an hour of video only uses about 1 GB of space for standard definition images. So essentially all of your videos could be transferred to a single USB drive (as separate files of course).

USB thumb drives are a convenient way to store and transport multiple video files

It is important to note that whether one chooses to transfer their home movies to one format or the other, they are both in essence digital files; the two main differences are how the file is written and organized and the physical media (or lack thereof) on which it resides. Anyone with the proper software can easily convert from one format to another; DVD “ripping”software will take the multiple files from a DVD and join/convert them to a single digital file (MP4 or other format). We highly recommend Handbrake, a free MP4 transcoder, for purposes such as this. Likewise, any DVD authoring software can take a single digital file and convert it into the proper formatting to create and burn a Video-DVD that will play in set-top players. It is important to note that simply burning an MP4 or other video file to a DVD without specifically using DVD-Video authoring software only creates the DVD as a data disc which cannot be read by set-top DVD players.

If you are unable to decide, or see the benefits of both formats, it is also possible to create both a Video-DVD disc and an MP4 file at the same time. This has the added effect of giving you a primary and backup format of your transferred originals, as well as the peace of mind knowing that you have added insurance against the loss of the memories you hold so dear.

Finally, whether transferring to disc or USB drives, it is ideal to have at least one backup or your content. Discs can get scratched and USB drives can fail or get lost, so having some redundancy can help guarantee you and your family will have video memories to enjoy in perpetuity.


Marc Vadeboncoeur is the owner of Goodheart Media Services, a professional video production company which also specializes in video, audio, film and photo transfers as well as disc and USB duplication. He can be reached via the company web site at

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