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DVD Markings Explained

There are a number of markings and symbols on professionally produced, commercial DVDs that might make you wonder what they mean and why they were included on the disc or case. Let's take a look at some of the more common ones:

This is referred to as a "sound mode icon," and this one in particular indicates the disc contains 1-channel Dolby Digital audio (mono). A mono channel is often used for DVD content such as director commentary.

Disc contains 2-channel Dolby Digital audio (stereo).

Disc contains 3-channel Dolby Digital audio (surround).

Disc contains 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, i.e., surround with a LFE (low-frequency effects) channel.

Dolby Digital Surround EX, a system co-developed by Dolby and Lucasfilm, was first used theatrically for Star Wars: Episode 1. Dolby Digital Surround EX soundtracks contain 5.1 channels of discrete audio, plus an additional matrix encoded surround channel. These DVDs are compatible with all playback systems and provide an enhanced surround effect when used with a Surround EX enabled system.

6.1 channel surround from DTS, a competitor to Dolby. This format adds a rear center speaker to the surround sound package found on selected music and movie discs.

THX EX is 7.1 channel surround from Lucasfilm. There aren't many movies encoded with 7.1 (all the new Star Wars films are), nor many preamps to play it. You'd also have to add more speakers to your system. If you have such a setup, can we come over?

DTS was developed for “Jurassic Park” in 1993 and is the main competitor to Dolby Digital in the AV market. DTS’ advantage over Dolby is its 3:1 compression versus 12:1. Most current receivers and preamps are capable of playing both Dolby 5.1 and DTS surround DVDs.

Stands for Meridian Lossless Packing, a lossless compression scheme used on DVD-Audio to get the highest resolution surround sound and stereo music from a DVD disc. DVD-Audio sounds better than the 16-bit audio on CDs.

The disc is playable only in DVD players from region 1, i.e., North America. There are eight regions (seven geographical and an eighth reserved for airlines, cruise ships, etc.).

The disc is playable in DVD players from all regions of the world.

NTSC stands for the National Television Systems Committee, and is the color video standard used in North America, Canada, Mexico, and Japan. NTSC uses 525 horizonal lines of which only 487 make up the active picture. It's an inferior video standard compared to PAL (below).

PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line, and is the TV standard used in Europe and much of Asia. It was designed to correct problems in the NTSC system. PAL uses 625 horizontal lines, of which 576 are used for the picture. In other words, it has roughly one sixth more resolution than NTSC, resulting in better color and sharper resolution.

The disc contains video content with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (or 4:3). This is the basic dimension of a television monitor.

The disc contains video content with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (or 16:9), also referred to as "anamorphic widescreen." In addition to 1.78:1, there are other anamorphic screen ratios such as 1.66:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 and 2.39:1 which you might see listed on DVDs.

The disc contains closed captioning for the hearing impaired.

We're all familiar with the DVD logo, and its many variants (ROM, Video, Audio, etc.).

You haven't seen any discs with this symbol yet, but you will sometime in 2005. It stands for High Definition/High Density DVD, the next-generation optical disc format, developed by an industry consortium led by Toshiba and NEC. HD-DVDs are capable of storing 15GB of data, and use the MPEG4 codecs for compression.

Another next-generation optical disc format that hopes to replace DVD. Developed by Philips and Panasonic, Blu-ray Disc will be a competitor to HD-DVD. Blu-ray Disc allows 29GB of data (nearly twice HD-DVD), but it uses the MPEG2-based codecs, which are not as efficient as MPEG4. The latter can reduce file size by two thirds, meaning a 15GB HD-DVD disc can hold 180 minutes of high-definition video, whereas a 29GB Blu-ray disc can hold 132 minutes. Will one format beat out the other to become the replacement for DVD? Or will they co-exist? Stay tuned...

We created all of the above symbols using a font called "CombiSymbols DV." It saved us an awful lot of time searching the Internet for all the various symbols and logos, and because it's a font, the symbols can be placed on any color background or photo, making it ideal for CD/DVD labeling. The font package contains a few hundred other useful symbols as well. It's available for download here as well as from the


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