VIDEO MEDIA GUIDES -> Blank media quality guide & FAQ



This guide originally started out as a single-page reference for those who wanted to buy high quality DVD media, with information on which discs are good and which discs are not so good. As time has gone on, and a few years have passed, the subject has grown more and more complex. We have also been asked several times to include articles on CD and VHS/S-VHS media. In order to include all of this new data, and to make this complex topic easy to understand, as well as keep the information up to date, the guide has been broken down into several sections, each on on its own page.

DVD Media ID Quick list:
1ST CLASS (A): PVC, MXL, TY/YUDEN, MCC/MKM, TDK/TTG/TTH, SONY
2ND CLASS (B): RICOHJPN, PRODISC, RITEK, FUJIFILM, OPTODISC, INFODISC
3RD CLASS (C): CMC, LEADDATA, DAXON, INFOMEDIA, MBI, MAM-E/A, PRINCO, ONID, GSC, PHILIPS
4TH CLASS (F): LONGTEN, YIJHAN, AN/ANWELL, AML, INFOSMART/ISO, VDS, UME, WFKA

 
Blank DVD media quality guide
Not all media is good. In fact, with the high influx of cheap media from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, I'd venture to say most media is bad (the best media comes from Japan). This review guide section is meant to shed some light on who manufactures and brands quality DVD media, both single layer and dual/double layer discs. 

Advanced concepts of blank DVD media quality
There are a number of mitigating factors that can affect typical media quality as discussed in the prior guide section. Disc manufacturing outsourcing, overprinting, dye grades, burner firmware issues and several other variables are explained in this section. Be aware that this section is NOT an easy read, and folks who are new to disc quality discussions may want to skip this for now.

How to test the burn quality of CD or DVD media
The creation of optical media is a fairly complex process with little room for variance or error. There is no single test out there which can state the quality of a disc, at least not with any kind of legitimate accuracy. However, it is possible to get a fairly reasonable assessment by performing several different tests and analyzing the results. 

How long do discs and tapes last?
There are a number of misinformed folks out there scaring people much in the same way Chicken Little screamed that "the sky is falling." Your DVDs and CDs are not dying on the shelf, your VHS tapes are not disintegrating. This guide section will shed some light on the various aspects of longevity and what you can do to insure a long media lifespan. 

Blank DVD format and sizes FAQ
DVD-R or DVD+R? Single-layer or double-layer? When it concerns DVD-Video playback on DVD players, the quickie answer here is that DVD-R works more often than DVD+R, and that DVD+RW works more often than DVD-RW or DVD-RAM. But this topic can get complex, and there are several factors to consider when deciding what type of media should be used. DVD media also comes in different "sizes" for storing data. 


the following questions have no expanded articles, just the short answers...

What's difference between a burned disc and a "store bought" disc?
"Hollywood" doesn't burn media. "Real" discs are pressed metal, mechanically made media. The presses are precise. Burning is a sloppy method to recreate the process, using dyes that can have pits and grooves "burned" into the chemical, making an illusion of how a "real" disc would look and work. If you compare a pressed media and a burned media under a microscope, you can see that the pressed media is fairly precise, while the burns are fairly erratic, and it's almost a miracle that burning works at all.  

What's a coaster? Why is this page called NoMoreCoasters.com?
For those that are new to CD or DVD media, a "coaster" is a reference to "drink coaster"... the thing you put your cup on in a restaurant or your mother's coffee table. When a disc goes bad, it has no other use. They become coasters, Frisbees, trashcan liners ... maybe even practice pigeons for NRA members. In this context, this page is aimed at helping you to make "no more coasters". 

Where are some more sites to learn about media?
The topics of media quality and media longevity are largely confusing and online user forums often make this situation even worse. The blank media information on this site is compiled by a select handful of knowledgeable individuals that have experience with countless thousands of pieces of blank media, and is put online for the sole goal of helping people like you to make smart choices. We want you to have a good buying and burning experience. The same cannot be said for individuals found in forums, as many of them jump to wrong conclusions, have bad attitudes when confronted or questioned, and their experiences are far from advanced (or even intermediate). Please be careful out there. Do not be misled by a shill or by somebody that has no more experience than yourself. 


>>>>> Blank DVD media quality guide

Not all media is good. In fact, with the high influx of cheap media from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, I'd venture to say most media is bad. This review guide is meant to shed some light on who manufactures and brands good and not so good quality DVD media. 

Use this list as an assistant when selecting what media to buy and use. It shows what generally works as the best media. Individual results may very, depending on the burner and how the media chooses to cooperate, though typically not by much. Read the advanced topics guide after becoming familiar with the basics presented on this page.

While some cheap media may work for you, it's a gamble that often loses. Try to use 1ST class media, maybe 2ND class if the situation must budget tightly. Do yourself a big favor and just outright avoid 3RD class media, if at all possible.


Who makes the disc: Brand vs. Media ID

The thing that must be realized is that most media is produced by a relative small number of factories, located in several different places. These factories are mostly present in Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, India, some European locations. There are more, but those are the largest ones. The best media generally comes from Japan and Singapore. The worst typically comes from Taiwan or China (in stores) and Hong Kong (online).

This being said, understand that the media brand means nothing. Apple is a great brand, but they do not make their own discs, instead outsourcing to MXL (Hitachi/Maxell) or MCC (Mitsubishi Chemicals). Verbatim became infamous in 2002 by switching from high-quality MCC ID media to the inferior CMC ID media, although they quickly returned to using MCC. Companies like Memorex, Fuji and Imation all outsource to media vendors. When buying media online always be aware of fake media too (see the fakes information farther down the page).

It is the media ID that is important, as it reveals the disc manufacturer. Unfortunately, this is not written on packaging or anywhere else. Companies want consumers to be oblivious to this sort of behind-the-scenes information. To learn the media ID code, a blank disc must be put into a computer DVD burner drive and the ID read by a special utility. Some burning software reads the code by default (DVD Decrypter, for example, in ISO write mode). There are also a handful of freeware or trialware tools available: 

For Windows: DVD Identifier (free), DVDInfo (free), DVDInfoPro (trial) 
For Macintosh OS X: DVD Media Inspector (free)
For Linux: dvd+rw-mediainfo (free)


Media ID Quality Guide 

(1) The following list is in preference order, arranged in three groupings. The best discs are near the top of the list in the first class box. The discs at the bottom of the list are suitable only for a landfill. PVC is the best of all, WFKA is the worst of all.
(2) Some companies may have listings in different classes because quality is better/worse in other disc formats. 
(3) Some long media IDs have been abbreviated, and some RW/RAM codes have been left off the list (too many to list). The "media ID" column is mostly intended for showing the DVD-R and DVD+R codes.
(4) Feel free to use the CONTACT US link at the top of the page, to submit new media IDs or ID corrections.


1ST CLASS MEDIA - EXCELLENT DISCS:
Almost flawless burns with 95-100% reliable results. These discs are suited for pretty much anything. They will usually serve as excellent archival quality media, as well as video masters. These discs are often the most expensive DVD media, so be sure to take advantage of sales, when available. (Trivia: The 5 best discs ever created are probably PVC001001, PVC001002, MXLRG02, MCC00RG20 and YUDEN000T02, with exceptional quality burns.)

MEDIA ID  MANUFACTURER COUNTRY FORMAT NOTES
PVC001001, PVC001002, PVCW00 Pioneer  Japan DVD-R, DVD-RW PVC stopped making media in 2003
MCC00RG20, MCC01RG20, MCC02RG20, MCC03RG20, MCC002, MCC003, MCC004, MCC00RW, MCC01RW, MCCA01, MKMA02, MKM001, MKM003 Mitsubishi Chemicals, Mitsubishi-Kagaku Media, Verbatim Singapore, Taiwan, India DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD+R DL, DVD-R DL some  outsourcing 
TYG01, TYG02, TYG03, YUDEN000T02, YUDEN000T03 Taiyo Yuden  Japan    
MXLRG01, MXLRG02, MXLRG03, MXLRG04, MAXELL001, MAXELL002, MAXELL003 Hitachi Maxell Japan DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-RAM  
SONY04D1, SONY08D1, SONY16D1, SONYD21, SONYD11, SONYS11,  Sony Taiwan, Japan DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW some outsourcing
TDKG02, TTG01, TTG02, TTH01, TTH02, TDK501, TDK502, TDK001, TDK002, TDK003 TDK  Taiwan DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R  

2ND CLASS MEDIA - OKAY DISCS: 
Mixed quality media, average 75-90% of discs tend to be good. These discs are not suggested for archival data or video masters. These are best suited for data that can be replaced easily, such as secondary backups or data/video distribution. In bulk, these tend to be less expensive than 1ST CLASS media.

MEDIA ID  MANUFACTURER COUNTRY FORMAT NOTES
RICOHJPND00, RICOHJPNR00, RICOHJPNR01, RICOHJPNR02, RICOHJPNR03, RICOHJPNW01, RICOHJPNW11, RICOHJPNW21 and others Ricoh, Ritek Taiwan, Japan DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD+R DL some outsourcing
PRODISCS03, PRODISCS04, PRODISCF01, PRODISCF02, PRODISCR01, PRODISCR02, PRODISCR03, PRODISCR04. PRODISCG02,  PRODISCW02 and others Prodisc Media Taiwan DVD-R, DVD+R  
DAXON008S, DAXON016S, DAXONAZ1, DAXONAZ2, DAXONAZ3, DAXOND42 Daxon (Acer+BenQ)  Taiwan DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW similar to  Sony media
RITEKG01, RITEKG03, RITEKG04, RITEKG05, RITEKW01, RITEKW04, RITEK000, RITEKR01, RITEKR02, RITEKR03, RITEKR04, RITEKF1, RITEKD01 and others Ritek Taiwan DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD+R DL reflectivity and degradation concerns, DL has layer break issues
FUJIFILM02, FUJIFILM03 Prodisc, Ritek, CMC, others Taiwan DVD-R, DVD+R outsourced media ID
CMCMAGD01, CMCMAGE01, CMCMAGF01, CMCMAGM01, CMCMAGR01, CMCMAGAE1, CMCMAGAF1, CMCMAGAM3, CMC00RG20, CMC00RG30, CMCMAG, CMCW02, CMCW03, CMCMAGW01 and others CMC Magnetics Taiwan DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD+R DL wide quality variance 
OPTODISCK001, OPTODISCR004, OPTODISCR008, OPTODISCR016, OPTODISCW002, OPTODISCW004 Optodisc Taiwan DVD-R, DVD-RW  
PHILIPSCD2, PHILIPS010, PHILIPS041, PHILIPSC08, PHILIPSC16, PHILIPSRW CMC Magnetics Taiwan DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD+R DL outsourced media ID
LEADDATA01, LEADDATA, LD01, LD, LDS03, LDA02 LeadData Taiwan DVD-R, DVD+R  
MBI, MBIPG101R03, MBIPG101R04, MBIPG101W03, MBIPG101W04, MBI01RG20, MBI03RG40 Moser Baer India DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW poor firmware support, some of the discs are similar to MCC
GSC001, GSC002, GSC003, GSC502 Gigastorage Taiwan DVD-R, DVD+R  
INFODISCA01, INFODISCA10, INFODISCR20, INFODISCR01 Infodisc Media Taiwan DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW  

3RD CLASS MEDIA - CRAP DISCS:
Quality can be very questionable, sometimes less than 50% of a spindle is usable. Some of these discs serve no other purpose aside from filling our landfills. These are discs best suited for small burns (under 2GB of data). Be prepared for failed burns. Also be prepared for various DVD-ROMs and players to not see the disc or freeze up because the player cannot read it very well (not the same as a bad burn). Many of these are known for sham marketing ("archival grade" and whatnot) and can actually cost more than 1ST or 2ND CLASS media. A lot of these discs are not even made anymore.

MEDIA ID  MANUFACTURER COUNTRY FORMAT NOTES
MUST001, MUST003 Unknown Taiwan DVD-R   
BEALLG00001, BEALLG40001, BEALL000P40, BEALL000PG0 Samsung/BeAll Taiwan DVD-R, DVD+R degradation concerns  
MAM4XG02, MAM8XG01 MAM-America, MAM-Europe  USA, Europe DVD-R remnants of Mitsui Media
ONIDTECH Ul Tran Technology Taiwan DVD-R no longer made 
PRINCO Princo Taiwan DVD-R, DVD-RW  
INFOMER20, INFOMER30, INFOMEDIAT01 InfoMedia Taiwan DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD+R DL  
OPTODISCP01, OPTODISCP02, OPTODISCP04, OPTODISCR04, OPTODISCR08 Optodisc Media Taiwan DVD+R, DVD-RW  
DAXONAZ1, DAXONAZ2 Daxon (Acer+BenQ)  Malaysia DVD+R inferior to  Taiwan
POMS3A, 3AM0 3A Media Austria DVD-R poor firmware support
NANYACLX, NANYAA01 Nanya Tech Taiwan DVD-R, DVD+R  
PLASMON1C01 Plasmon Tech Europe DVD-R  
AML, AML001, AML002 Advanced Media Ltd Taiwan DVD-R  
LONGTEN001, LONGTEN002 Jilin Qingda (??) China DVD-R  
YIJHAN001 Yi Jhan Tech Taiwan DVD-R  
AN31, AN32, AN33, AN35, ANWELL Anwell China DVD-R see note **
INFOSMART01, ISO001, ISO002 Infosmart China, Hong Kong DVD-R, DVD+R the #1 supplier of fake media
SKCCOLTD SKC Korea DVD-R  
VANGUARD, VDSPMSAB01, VDSPSAB Interaxia AG Taiwan DVD-R  
UME001 Ume Disc Tech Hong Kong DVD-R  
WFKA11 WealthFair Investments China DVD-R  

GRADING NOTES:

- Grading criteria.
The review list presented here is a delicate balance between the adjacent concepts of usability and potential burn quality. The ability of the disc to burn in a wide range of burners and DVD recorders determines a coaster count. However, because of disc/drive incompatibility issues that exist (read the advanced concepts guide), potential quality on a perfect disc/drive combination is also considered. Finally, longevity and playability/reflectivity is taken into consideration. This results in the overall grade. This guide is admittedly harsh when it comes to the usability factor, but it need be remembered that this was written to assist the masses, so a disc with generally poorer disc/drive compatibility will rate lower. Feel free to contact us if you want specific suggestions for your make/model of drive.

- What do the % numbers mean?
This list is constructed from many tests on many burners from a handful of experienced people that use a lot of media. These numbers reflect the number of discs in a spindle that will give good results. For example, out of a 100 spindle of media, 1st class discs may kick out a few bad discs (0% to 5% of the media may have playback imperfections or be outright bad burns). The 2nd class media may have a dozen or so bad discs. The 3rd class discs could give you a half-spindle of duds. And the 4th class stuff can be pure trash. These are mean averages too, simple statistics math, meaning best tests and worst tests are discarded, and the middle range of tests is the basis for these numbers. You may sometimes find the rare instance where a CMC spindle will be perfect and a Taiyo Yuden spindle will be completely flawed, but those times are the exception rather than the rule (and are not part of a mean average).

- Can media ever change class?
Sure. But it rarely happens. It is not a quick move either, these things take much time and many tests. SONY, RITEK, CMC, DAXON and LEADDATA have changed grades in the past. Media cannot change quality overnight or even in a few weeks/months.

- Testing procedures:
Burns are subject to playability/reflectivity tests (usage tests), as well as software verification. Test equipment is under controlled hardware/software environments, and performed by knowledgeable individuals, to eliminate user variables. Burns are at least 4GB or more to test the entire length of the media. 

- Anwell Notes: Anwell Technologies does not make media. Anwell is a production equipment supplier that sells blank DVD media creation technology to media manufacturers. By default, an ANWELL "test code" or "test ID" is on the stamper. Anwell is often blamed for making shoddy media, but in reality, it's the work of a lazy media manufacturer who bought Anwell production supplies. As with all other low-quality media of dubious origins, the likely offender is Infosmart, or some other small Chinese or Hong Kong company. 



Fake DVD Media ID Guide

Luckily, it does not happen often, but it does happen often enough to be a major annoyance to media buyers everywhere. Most fake media comes from Hong Kong, as a general rule. Fake media tends to float around Europe and Asia more than it does the USA. Fake media is normally sold in flea markets, on eBay and online. Major brand name media sold in stores is probably never going to be fake.

MEDIA ID  FAKER DATE NOTES
TYG02 Infosmart,
Optodisc,
MAM-America,
MAM-Europe
2005-
2007
The fakes are rumored to be for "improved 8x media detection" but low quality media is low quality, regardless of the media ID. These were found worldwide.
MCC02RG20, MCC003 Infosmart 2005-
2007
Mostly seen in Europe, not so much in USA.
TTG02, TTH01, TTH02 MAM-America, MAM-Europe 2005 These are apparently "legal" fakes made by Mitsui, with permission by TDK to use the code. However the media is quite poor, not true TDK media. 
MXLRG01 Infosmart 2002-
2003
One of the first "anonymous" fake discs.
Pioneer brand DVD-R LeadData, Ritek 2003 Pioneer's PVC quit manufacturing blanks in 2003 (PVC media codes). LeadData and Ritek tried to sell their PIODATA and PIO branded blanks under the "Pioneer" brand name, but that was misleading.
TDKG02 Princo 2001-
2002
They wanted to "improve 2x writing" on the 1x write strategy media, as well as insure drives would see the media (not all firmware at the time had PRINCO as a valid media code). Princo admitted to this faking, never tried to hide it, though some resellers tried to pawn off the media as legitimate TDK.
SONY Unknown 2003 "SONY" is not a valid media ID used by Sony discs.
RITEKG03, RITEKG04 Ritek 2004 This was supposedly faked in 2004. However, it is the opinion of this author that it was just a lame cover story by RITEK for providing subpar quality media, as even the "legit" media performed poorly at the time. 



Branding Guide

Although this will change on a regular basis, the following brands are known to use the following media makers for their outsourced discs. Some companies prefer dollars over quality, so be careful. Also be especially careful of "house brands" or no-names. Stores like Fry's and CompUSA have horrible return policies too, so if you end up with an unfavorable media ID, do not burn a test, just take it back for a refund and take your business elsewhere. 

BRAND MANUFACTURERS KNOWN TO BE AVAILABLE IN THIS BRAND (at one time or another)
Accu LeadData
Americal Ritek, Princo, LeadData 
Apple Mitsubishi , Maxell
Arita Ritek, Ricoh(Ritek) 
BenQ Daxon, Fujifilm 
Bulkpaq FAKES/Infosmart, Infosmart, CMC, Princo
CompUSA Princo, UME Disc, AML, Optodisc
Datawrite MCC, Ritek, CMC, Princo, Prodisc, Anwell
DupEZ LeadData
Dynex Ricoh
Emtec Ricoh, FAKES, Interaxia AG
ESA CMC
Esbuy Ritek, LeadData, FAKES
Fuji Prodisc, Fujifilm, Mitsubishi(-RW), Daxon, Ritek(DL), Ricoh(DL), CMC(DL), Taiyo Yuden, Ricoh, Ritek
GQ, Great Quality Sony, Princo, Ritek, LeadData, Ume Disc, Infodisc
HP CMC, Ricoh, Mitsubishi, Fujifilm
Hyundai FAKES, Infosmart
Imation Optodisc, CMC, Mitsubishi, Ritek, Ritek, Fujifilm, Ricoh, Moser Baer
Intenso Mitsubishi
Iomega Prodisc
JVC Wealthfair Investments
KHypermedia CMC, MCC, TDK
Kodak MAM-America
LiquidVideo Optodisc
Magnavox CMC
Matrix Longten, Yi Jhan Tech, Must
Maxell Maxell, Ritek, CMC, Prodisc, Ricoh, Taiyo Yuden
ME Gigastorage
Memorex CMC, Ritek, Moser Baer, Mitsubishi, Prodisc, Ricoh, Infodisc, Moser Baer
Meritline various 4th class discs
Mirror Anwell, Onidtech, Princo
MMore Moser Baer
MultiLaser FAKES
Nexxtech UME Disc, Adv Media Ltd, Mitsubishi, CMC
Nipponic Interaxia AG
Octron Ritek
Office Depot Ritek
OfficeMax Princo
Optodisc Optodisc
Panasonic Taiyo Yuden
Philips CMC, Philips, Mitsubishi 
Phoenix Infosmart
Pioneer Pioneer
Playo Ume Disc, Advanced Media Ltd
Powerdisc Optodisc
Princo Princo, FAKES(TDK ID)
Prodisc Prodisc, Mitsubishi (outsource ID)
Radius Optodisc
Ridata, Ritek Ritek, Ricoh
Rivision MCC, Ritek, Ricoh, Optodisc, CMC, TDK, Prodisc
Samsung Optodisc, BeAll
SKC SKC
Smartbuy Prodisc
Sonic, Shop4tech various 4th class discs
Sony Taiyo Yuden, Sony, Ricoh, Mitsubishi
Staples CMC
Supermedia, Linkyo various 4th class discs
TDK TDK, CMC, Moser Baer, Philips, Taiyo Yuden, Ritek, Ricoh, Maxell
Teon CMC, Mitsubishi
Tesco UME Disc, Advanced Media Ltd
Traxdata Ritek
Verbatim Mitsubishi, Taiyo Yuden (Europe), CMC, Ricoh, Ritek
WinData FAKES, Ume Disc


If you can add to this branding list, use the CONTACT US feature and give us the info. 

For unusual brands and media IDs, check out the videohelp.com DVD media list or cdfreaks.com media forum. In most cases, unknown media IDs are of dubious quality. Some unknown brands are overstock from other media manufacturers. This is often the mark of very cheap media. Buyer beware.


>>>>> Advanced concepts of blank DVD media quality

Once upon a time, Pioneer was the only DVD burner drive, and about a dozen manufacturers made blank discs to choose from. As time has gone on, the once-simple task of buying and burning high quality media has become an overly-complicated voodoo art. There are several mitigating factors that can affect your burning experience, most of them negative. 


Burner hardware and drive firmware

When it comes to achieving quality burns, the burning hardware and the drive firmware are equally as important as good media. The burning hardware refers to the DVD or CD burner drive. Drive firmware is software written onto EEPROM chips inside the drive, to help control how the device behaves. 

Now, do not misunderstand. You cannot take inferior 3rd-4th class media and a good burner and get good results on a consistent basis. Good media will always be required. Nor can you use a super-cheapo discount bin burner drive and consistently get excellent burns, even with the very best media available.

The best drives, as far as burning quality is concerned, are manufactured by Pioneer, LiteOn, NEC and LG Electronics. They are often sold under their own flagship name brands, as well as re-branded by other companies. For example, Asus current uses Pioneer drive and Sony currently uses LiteOn drives. This is not to say other drives are bad, but many of them have imperfections or obnoxious quirks (see the BTC case study for an example of this phenomenon). 

Concerning firmware, you merely need something that works. There is no need to be an upgrade junkie, one of those individuals that will upgrade simply because it is new and available. Drive manufacturers usually support their drives until the next model comes out (about one year), sometimes a bit after that, releasing official firmware downloads on their Web sites. There are also hacked firmware created by drive owners, which will add or improve support for certain media, as well as remove speed and region restrictions. While uncommon, it is true that a firmware upgrade could kill the drive, but do not let that scare you from making needed changes. Visit rpc1.org for a list and download locations of drive firmware, and visit the cdfreaks.com forum for hardware discussions by other drive owners.

NEC case study: CMC Magnetics is one of the largest worldwide suppliers of cheap DVD media. Quite a few companies re-brand CMC media under their own label. It often rates poorly on media tests, and has a 3rd and 4th class ranking on this site. CMC is also not consistent in quality control. For example, two 100-count spindles of CMC DVD+R bought from the same store at the same time could give a result where one spindle yielded 99 good burns, and the other one had only 43 good burns. For whatever reason, NEC burners can often yield good burns on CMC discs, especially the CMC DVD+R media (although it is still not consistently good). Most all other burners, the success rate is exponentially lower.

BTC case study: Behavior Tech Computers (BTC), is a computer accessory company that, among other items, makes DVD burners. Their optical drives are well-respected for their ability to read even the most stubborn of discs. However, their DVD burners tend to be very finicky with burning, regardless of firmware or drive model. It is not uncommon for Taiyo Yuden media to give a 100% failure rate, where all discs on a spindle fail to burn. Yet Taiyo Yuden is excellent 1st class DVD media.


Burn speeds

The speed at which a disc is burned, often referred with terms like 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x, etc., is a decision that must be made after assessing a few criteria. These include the official "rating" of the disc, the write strategy of the media, the firmware of the burner, and the overall quality of the media. Do not be fooled by myths of "lower is better".

Write strategy. All discs should come with a certified write strategy. In theory, it means that the disc has been tested by either the DVD Forum or the RW Alliance and certified to burn up to the speed printed on the discs and package. Much like the media ID, this information is stored on the disc, and can be read by media ID software. For example, the image below shows an Apple-branded MXLRG02 4x DVD-R viewed in DVDInfo. Write strategy (media ID speed) is determined by the data written on the disc.



When DVD burning was first made possible, the idea was to never burn faster than the official disc rating. These days, this activity is still suggested, though not as clear cut as it once was. For example, Pioneer 109 drives can burn YUDEN000T02 DVD+R media, a disc officially rated at 8x, up to 12x speed and achieve 99% or better success rates. Taiyo Yuden made a disc that was far better than 8x and a 12x official rating does not exist. Luckily, there are not many situations like this, but they do exist. Again, it is suggested to never burn higher than the official rating. 

The "x" speeds. The "x" in a burning speed means almost nothing. It is not a multiplication of anything, especially when Z-CLV and P-CAV burning is involved. As you surpassed 4x speeds, time savings diminishes quickly, especially between 8x-16x speeds. Speeds range on several factors, including disc type, burning method, and the drive itself.

1x DVD burn takes approximately 55-60 minutes
2x DVD burn takes approximately 25-30 minutes
2.4x DVD burn takes approximately 20-25 minutes
4x DVD burn takes approximately 14-16 minutes
6x DVD burn takes approximately 9-12 minutes
8x DVD burn takes approximately 8-9 minutes
12x DVD burn takes approximately 7-8 minutes
16x DVD burn takes approximately 6-7 minutes

Zonal burning. It's pretty much impossible, at least with current hardware, to spin a disc at 16x from start to finish. Blame physics. With 4x and slower media, the drive spun up to the burn speed, and burned 4x from beginning to end, using the CLV (constant linear velocity) burning method. The disc also had a uniform look on the burned dye. 

With the advent of 8x media, Z-CLV (zonal constant linear velocity) and P-CAV (partial constant angular velocity) were introduced. Z-CLV starts at a speed like 4x, then at a certain point in the media, jumps to 6x, then 8x, etc., until it reaches the maximum speed. Sometimes a 16x Z-CLV burn will only burn a few hundred MB at 16x, which is why "x" speeds mean almost nothing anymore. P-CAV is similar, but does not jump speed. It increases velocity from 4x to 4.5x to 5x, etc., until it reaches it's top speed. Much like Z-CLV, it may not hit max speed until the last 30 seconds worth of burning. This is why a 12x burn is almost an identical wait time to the speed of a 16x burn.

Z-CLV burning methods leave a mark on the dye, as the burn speed alters color slightly. These zones are perfect circles with a hard edge lines. Not to be confused with imperfect-shaped dye rings caused from inferior media. P-CAV may gradually change colors.  This CLV burn is the same color from beginning to end.

NOTE: Both of these images are simulated in Photoshop. 

Myth of burning slower. Discs are made to perform at an ideal rotational speed, which is where write strategy originates. The disc will perform best up to a certain speed, and the drive will not permit any faster. The inverse is the same, but until recently, drives would not prevent unreasonably low speeds. Modern human nature tends to want more speed and more power, so this was not really a concern.

But believe it or not, there are still people who insist on waiting 55-60 minutes to burn a CD or DVD at 1x speed, because they are convinced anything faster will yield a bad or "lower" quality burn. However, burning too slow is often just as bad as burning too fast. Because of this unreasonable impulse to go too slow, some discs and drives now block out the lower range too (and causes problems, see the 16x section for more).

There was some truth to that statement in the beginning, (circa 1995 for CD-R, 2001 for DVD-R), but those days are long gone. The only reason that myth ever held truth was because 2x was the fastest speed, and burning a single full or half speed under the maximum rating is helpful on lower quality blank CD/DVD media. If you are worried about quality, or if the media tends to be dodgy quality at the maximum rated speed, then burn a full or half step slower. No more. With a 8x disc, for example, a burn speed of 4x or 6x would be optimal. 
 
Age of 16x DVD media. When DVD burning technology was developed, CD burning had just hit its prime with 16x speeds and BurnProof technology with decent buffers. For years, consumers whined that DVD burning was too slow, as compared to CD (regardless of the storage size differences), so 16x has long been a goal of drive manufacturers. And this is probably where speeds will stop. 

The main drawback to this now-achieved goal, is that it seems rushed, given the experiences of those who routinely attempt 16x burning. It's become a common practice to burn at 8x or 12x on 16x media, because it simply performs poorer, with a higher coaster count, at the 16x speed. Advanced PI/PIE/PO and speed read tests also show a degraded level of performance. Even 1st class media like Taiyo Yuden and Maxell is not immune to this problem. And it's not like the wait is any longer between 8x-16x anyway, just 1-2 minutes in most cases.

DVD recorders are most affected, with their 1x real-time recording method. Most 16x media is not true multi-speed media, so burning at 1x yields a high coaster count, assuming the machine will even acknowledge the blank disc. Quite a few DVD recorders, even ones purchased as recently as 2005-2006, are known to reject 16x discs, refusing to even see the blank. Luckily, Mitsubishi (Verbatim branded) 1x-16x MCC DVD-R tends to work well in this situation.


Dye types and disc reflectivity

When it comes to how well a DVD-ROM or DVD player reads a disc, the most important aspect is the disc reflectivity quality. This is largely determined by the dye types used in a disc. DVD players and DVD-ROMs are still optimized for quality on pressed metal discs. Silver or light-colored gold metal reflect light with no problem, so the laser reflects back off the disc and reads the data. Burned dye is not anywhere near as reflective, and can be troublesome. 

Although this section needs more research and verification, it has some decent information so far...

Metal AZO dye, developed by Mitsubishi and used in all of their media, is a synthetic organic-metallic compound that results in a high reflectivity and decent lifespan due to the metallic content. It performs almost as well as a pressed metal platter. Any time a DVD or CD player acts stubborn with burned media, a Verbatim MCC DVD-R or CD-R will usually read just fine. The dye is very stable, found almost exclusively in excellent quality media, and appears blue or pale blue/silver (CD-R) or dark purple (DVD-R/DVD+R). Although Metal AZO longevity was once rumored to be unreliable, empirical data never really agreed, just another media myth. 

Cyanine dye is a weaker organic dye typically found in cheaper media. It is not a very stable dye, and can be hyper-photosensitive, thus diminishing it's longevity (10-20 years, as opposed to 50 or more found with other dyes). It has a pretty poor reflectivity, and often causes players to skip or lock up. Ritek DVD media is believed to be based off this sort of dye. It generally appears dark purple for DVD media, and green or pale blue/green for CD media. These days almost all cyanine dyes are heavily injected with metal additives and other additives, to increase quality and longevity. Taiyo Yuden, easily the best CD-R available, uses cyanine and owns the patent to it, so it's not all bad.

Phthalocyanine dye, developed by the now-defunct Mitsui, is an organic dye similar to cyanine, but with better adhesive properties, mostly use for CD-R. For many years Mitsui marketed it with hype and puff marketing, about being one of the most stable and long-lasting dyes for archival grade, but empirical data has not shown it to be much better than AZO discs. Phthalocyanine appears pale yellow/silver or green/silver for CD-R, and has a pretty pathetic reflectivity. It is believed that Princo and Infosmart use DVD dyes based off this technology, or a similar organic dye, the pale purple dyes.

Oxonol non-metallic organic (Fuji) and Metallic Dipyrromethene (Mitsui) are two dyes specifically used by DVD media. FUJIFILM, RITEK and PHILIPS DVD+R 16x media currently uses the newer Oxonol dye.

Besides the dyes, there are many types of additives and exact formula modifications made by manufacturers to achieve better results. While a lot of information regarding dyes is available for CD-R, the DVD media information is more guarded. Most DVD manufacturers say something simple like "AZO" or "organic" as the dye base, so some of this is left to educated speculation (even the researchers at NIST have to do this). Quite a few DVD dyes are likely amalgamations of two or more dyes, similar to Kodak Formazan CD-R dye. For a long-winded article on DVD dyes and disc creation, check out this opticaldisc-systems.com article and the sequel article.

Dye types can affect reflectivity and overall performance, but it does not determine it. When in doubt, use AZO and skip the others.


Manufacturer outsourcing

Mitsubishi Chemicals Corp (Mitsubishi-Kagei Media) manufactures their own media using their own MCC and MKM media codes. Their discs are formulated with a special metal AZO dye, using and their own stringent quality control, materials and processes. Mitsubishi is well-known and well-respected optical disc maker, and supplies its media to brands worldwide (including its own flagship brand, Verbatim). Now Mitsubishi only owns one plant in the entire world, located in Singapore. So how do they keep up with demand? They outsource.

Think of media manufacturing outsourcing in terms of renting real estate and some grunt-work employees. The actual manufacturing equipment, disc creation process, disc materials, quality control and oversight are still very much provided by the company receiving the outsourced products. In the case of Mitsubishi, they use facilities owned by Moser Baur (India), Prodisc Technologies (Taiwain), and CMC Magnetic (Taiwan). However, all MCC media should behave the same, and it almost always does. 

In other words, regardless of where a disc is made, regardless of who owns the plant and employees, outsourced media should be the same, and should not be a concern to buyers. There are some exceptions, no doubt, but not as common as some forum users online want to harp on.

On a side note, when Mitsubishi first formed these partnership, they went so far as to get these other fledgling/struggling companies "up to speed" on how to make good media. Prodisc's PRODISCS03 was widely recognized as some of the best media available at the time, and at one point they were even using MCC01RG20 on this same media. Moser Baur performed quite well with it's MBI01RG20 of the same timeframe, using MCC technology. Early on, even CMCMAGAE1 performed okay, although that did not last. 

TDK has similar setups with CMC Magnetics and Moser Baur. Ritek has done FUJIFILM and RICOH media in the past. The FUJIFILM ID exists solely for outsourcing, used by FujiFilm branded media. Unfortunately, this results in little more than a disc of unknown or harder-to-identify manufacture. 


Manufacturer media grades 

When it comes to "grades" of media, most of this is just myth perpetuated in online user forums by people who love conspiracies. There is some truth to manufacturer-imposed grading, but it's not a complex secret. 

All products in all industries in the world, especially high-speed assembly-line work, has it's share of duds and flubs. Almost all defective products are recycled or destroyed, contrary to popular myth that they are secretly sold to shady bulk resellers in Western Europe or small Asian countries. That just does not happen. And some folks go so far as to suggest companies purposely make multiple grades of product. Seriously, what company would purposely make an inferior product and a superior product? The production and employee cost, good disc or bad, remains the same. 

By no surprise, it's almost always inferior media that gets attached to grading myths. Ritek and CMC media are by far two of the most common manufacturers brought up in these conversations. The sad yet simple truth is the media in question is unreliable. Some folks like to mix in outsourcing with grading myths and create a more complex myth about how one plant is for the best media, while the other is not. It's just silly.

So what is the truth? It's uninteresting and boring, that's why it's so hard to believe. No adventure, no conspiracy. The materials have finite life spans and the equipment gets worn. Older but still usable materials? Equipment that was not acting 100% perfect while it made discs? Part of the batch may have been damaged? That's where lower grade media comes from. For whatever reason, something was not perfect to ideal specifications, so it's put on the "not perfect but still useable" pile and sold off for a lower price. The products are not so damaged as to need recycle/destruction, but the manufacturer can hopefully at least reclaim costs (maybe even a modest little profit, so not all is lost).

All the myth aside, there are some unexplained issues. One in particular is TDK media sold at Circuit City stores. Generally, TDK media is excellent 1st class DVD-R, with a low coaster rate and excellent reflectivity. But for whatever unknown reason, TDK DVD-R sold at Circuit City often gives people problems. We can only guess at the reasons. 

Companies known to separate media into grades include Taiyo Yuden and Ritek. The secondary graded media is often sold at steep discounts to bulk resellers, and is almost always marketed as "value" or "budget" media. Sometimes it is overprinted (more on that in the next section). It is not sold as normal media, at least not by reputable sellers. It is unlikely that imperfect grade media would ever be used by major name brand, such as Imation or Memorex.

Store descriptions like "Grade A" mean absolutely nothing. That's a marketing term, nothing more. Nobody ever markets something as "Grade B" or any other term that might suggest inferiority. Even something like the Pioneer Class A Lab does not necessarily mean anything, not anymore, although that test does generally get references by better discs.


Overprinting 

Overprints are an easy concept. For whatever reason, discs were manufactured, complete with branding marks, and then sold to other re-branders who were required to cover up the previous logo. The reasons can range from lightly scratched media to misspelled words to accidental overproduction. Many overprints are weighed down by the massive amount of sticky goo poured on top of the disc, causing wobble to increase, yielding more bad burns. Companies usually try to market this as a protective coating, but all DVD media are already protected on the top layer. Ritek's Arita brand and the UK brand Tuff Disc have sold overprints in the past.

This TUFFDISC is a Fujifilm disc. If you hold the disc sideways while looking at the top of the disc, you can actually see the previous Fujifilm branding. This disc had fine scratches in the writing side, and quite a few of them burned badly. Image darkened in Photoshop to better illustrate the overprint and covered brand markings.


Bad batches

The term "bad batch" is about on par with "my dog ate my homework" in the world of blank media. Any time somebody has a negative experience, and refuses to acknowledge the media or burner is not very good, the handy excuse "must be a bad batch" is uttered. Somebody buys two 50-count spindles, but only one is good, and this cause is immediately given for the failure of the other. For the most part, a bad batch is another myth perpetuated in online user forums. 

There is, however, some truth to bad batches. First, it needs to be understood that a batch is not 50 or 100 or even 1,000 discs. This is not a hand-painted figurine in a gift shop, where only 25 can be made in one day. Blank optical media is mass produced, countless thousands of discs shoot off the assembly lines. If a bad batch happens, that means thousands of discs must be destroyed or recycled. And it does happen. On some rare occasions, the media actually makes it to the public. In the past few years, at least two major companies (one was a manufacturer, the other was a re-brander) have had to publicly apologize for media quality problems, although it happened in press releases that had almost zero visibility. And while specifics were never given, just a bland apology, bad batches are highly suspected.

The term "bad batch" is something that has only recently surfaced, in about 2004 when more and more people started to buy DVD burners from falling media/burner prices. 


Manufacturer shills and misinformation

The psuedo-anonymity of the Internet, mixed with the underhandedness of some stores and companies, in a dog-eat-dog barely-profitable blank media market, leads to ugly situations. Ritek was libeled several years ago in user forums online, most likely by a competitor or disgruntled online reseller, forcing them to issue a press release to counter the false claims being made against them. Several online stores have been banned from user forums due to their shill advertising and libel against competitors. These people are easy to spot, and when in doubt, contact the site owner or moderator.


>>>>> How to test the burn quality of CD or DVD Media

Inevitably, everybody will either come across potentially bad media, or will have a desire to insure archival stability of a blank disc. To determine how well a media perform, a battery of tests must be performed. Burn quality problems are almost always the fault of the media itself or the burner/firmware being used. As delicate as optical media can be, scratches and abuse are not the most common reason for bad media.


Why do discs go bad?

Discs are created in an interesting manner (note that this is a basic description). Plastic is laid down, then metal reflective foil, then dyes are poured onto the foil. Another plastic is laid on top, then the disc is spun at high speed to spread out the dye, hopefully evenly. It even sounds like an unstable method!

Dye imperfections.
Bad foils and dyes, as well as bad dye spread are the most common issue that causes bad media. If the dye is uneven or does not reach perfectly to the edge of the disc, it is often bad. 

User error.
A common "error" with "bad media" is actually user error. Even I'm guilty of this. Do not try to use your computer extensively while burning, especially at 4x or faster speeds. Also test your discs before dumping the source. Run several tests, as the "verification" features found in programs like Nero Burning ROM have been known to not properly catch errors.

Problems past the 4GB mark. Balancing
is also a side effect caused by faulty plastic, foils or dye spread. Round objects tend to be most unstable at the outer edges. While DVD media allows for some degree of error (data is written in a "wobble groove"), exaggerated wobble will caused the laser to spew data in areas not meant for writing. It thus disappears, and the data comes up as missing on the disc, resulting in freezing, blockiness and other odd visual errors, which are caused from the decoder attempting to compensate for material that is missing. 

Fake media. Fake media is often bad. If you ever acquire good media like TDK, Taiyo Yuden or Maxell, and the results are bad, check to see if the media is legitimate. Many of these top-tier media companies only have branded discs, not plain white-top or silver-top ones. These discs often are cheaply-made unbranded media with a faked write strategy and media ID code. Fake media is often sold on eBay and by unauthorized online merchants. If you want to have guaranteed legitimate media, only buy that media from authorized media resellers. Visit the disc manufacturer Web site to get a listing of authorized distributors.

Gradual data loss (dye media).
Also known as "disc fade" and "laser rot", this is actually not very possible due to the mechanics of dye-based DVD recordable media (DVD-R, DVD+R). See the longevity page for more on this topic. 

Gradual data loss (phase change media).
Unlike the dyes found in write-once media, phase change crystals are subject to deterioration, sometimes at a disturbingly fast rate. Whether the discs are used or not, phase change crystal can begin to break down in as little a six months! Phase change media includes DVD+RW, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM. See the longevity page for more on this topic. 

Dye melting from excess burn speed.
Some discs simply cave in under high speed burns. In the past, for example, both OPTODISC 4x DVD-R and RITEKG04 4x DVD-R media were reported as doing this when burned at 4x or 8x speeds. The dye simply cannot handle the write speed. Poor production is to blame. Hacked firmwares that allow overspeed burning has also at fault. The dye appears discolored or otherwise unusual.

Not a media error.
This is another very frequent "problem" with discs. The simple fact is not every player or DVD-ROM will read a burned DVD media. Some players were not made to play anything other than official to-spec pressed metal discs. Non-media errors may also include players that have a weak laser or a dirty laser. A non-playing disc is not a sign of a "bad" disc, but rather just means that particular player/ROM cannot play it. Run real tests to see if the disc is truly a coaster. Also be aware that some formats are more compatible than others (with DVD-R being most compatible of them all for DVD-Video content). This is often call a reflectivity error. This is not necessarily the media's fault.


TEST#1 - Visual test

Although it is not a scientific means of finding flaws in media, simply viewing the burned side of a disc can reveal potentially flawed media. Bad spots and thin areas of dye can easily be seen by the naked eye. Be sure to test these discs in software and view them in a player to confirm the error. 

If a visual flaw is found, acquiring better media and re-burning the contents to a new disc is suggested. 

Recording drives from the past few years have also introduced variable-speed writing (P-CAV,Z-CLV), which may result in slight color variations in the dye. The drives starts at a certain write speed, and the increase at certain points until it hits the maximum write speed of the disc/drive. Such variations are usually harmless to the burn quality. 

This is a typical disc, a good burn with zero visible flaws in the dye. This disc shows signs of a bad dye spread or dye melting. In most cases, this is a guaranteed bad burn, and will be entirely unreadable near the middle of the disc. This disc show blemishes on the dye. It was either a faulty disc or it had dirt/lint on it while being burned. These areas are normally damaged. This is a good burn made on a  variable-write drive. Note the slight tint changes in the dye where the write speed changed.


TEST#2 - Data reading and content playing


Computers read data off a disc bit by bit, and can be used as one type of test. Can all of the contents of the disc be copied, without hesitation or retry by the drive, to the hard drive of a computer? 
- If so, then the disc contents are probably fine. 
- If not, then either the disc is bad, or the disc is inferior (reflectivity issue), or the drive is inferior (laser issue), or the drive is bad. Be sure a good drive is being used for this test to eliminate variables, and to determine whether it is the drive or the disc causing the degraded performance. 

Playing content is not a valid test!
DVD players and CD players have built-in correction measures that allow them to gloss over minor errors. Most people have heard a CD "skip" in a player, or witnessed audio "pop" and the video "turn green" or "go blocky" on a DVD. While this could be caused from any number of reasons, a small bad spot on a disc is highly likely. Because error correction is often so good, the disc may very well "play fine" with no visual/audible artifacts, but still have a small flaw that would cause a computer drive to halt. 

If a player has a difficult time reading a disc, and assuming the player is fine and the laser is not dying, then the disc may not have good enough reflectivity for use in this player. This does not necessarily mean the disc is bad, but it would suggest inferior quality. For example, Ritek and Princo are discs that often have this problem. This topic is discussed in several places throughout the media guides.


TEST#3 - Surface scan test 

This tool requires Microsoft Windows and a good DVD-ROM or DVD burner drive. It requires a quick install of the free diagnostic utility Nero CD-DVD Speed or DVDInfoPro



In Nero CD-DVD Speed, enable READ TEST and then click START. Do not try to use the computer while the test is running. When it is done, red spots means the disc is bad, yellow spots means it may or may be bad at that spot (consider testing it again, maybe on another drive), and green means good. Please note that these are read tests, and the results may depend on the quality of the reading laser/drive. This is why good drives are important, do not use cheap drive. Good DVD-ROMs include Pioneer, Sony, LiteOn, LG, NEC and BTC. Bad ones include Hitachi, Mitsumi, Mad Dog brand, and Panasonic. 



TEST#4 - Speed read test

This test attempts to read a disc at maximum available drive read speed, without experiencing any halts or stutters. It appears as a graph. A perfect read test will show as two straight lines, one flat across, and the other steadily rising at an angle as speed increases. A bad or potentially problematic disc will have dips.

Much like the surface scan test, the results largely depends on the quality of the drive. Although a good drive will not mistake a bad disc for a good one, a bad drive can easily mistake all discs (including the good ones!) as bad or problematic discs. And again, do not try to use the computer while the test is being run, as it can skew results.

... sample of a good speed read:



... and a sample of a failed speed read:





TEST#5 - Advanced software scanning tests

Advanced software scanning is commonly done using software like Nero CD-DVD Speed, Kprobe, Plextools or DVDInfoPro. Most of this software was developed by drive makers for internal testing. These tools analyze the PI/PIE/PIF/PO values of a disc and output varying values and other technical jibber-jabber. 

All in all, while surely of great use to drive/media engineers, they are of little value to most people, often serving as nothing more than "facts" for arguments in online user forums. Feel free to perform the tests, but realize they are highly dependent on the drive in use, the settings, and the phase of the moon. It is not uncommon for test results to vary wildly from one drive to the next, and one day to the next, for no apparent reason. Not all drives support support these tests. LiteOn, BenQ and NEC are the preferred testing drives.



To be honest, most of these advanced tests are for entertainment value only, when performed by consumers and hobbyists, rather than drive/media manufacturer engineers or those that have special training. 

For more information on these tests, visit the cdfreaks.com media testing forum.


>>>>> How long do discs and tapes last?

Contrary to popular belief, optical media is not new. Optical media was developed and patented in the 1960s, not long after magnetic video tape. As time went on, and with much research and development from companies like Pioneer, Philips and Sony, optical storage became a viable media format in the early 1980s with the release of the CD-ROM. 

In the past year or so, several fluff articles about "dying media" have been published online and sometimes even repeated in print. These articles are usually little more than opinion pieces and lack perspective on the overall technology of optical media, as well as ignore decades of empirical evidence. None of them (as seen by this author) are backed by formal studies from neutral sources. A lot of them read like scare-tactic Fox News broadcasts, or bedtime stories about the boogeyman. 

Quite a few fly-by-night dot-com stores have popped up on the Internet too, in the last two years. Individuals run down to the local Best Buy or Walmart and grab a DVD recorder, thinking they can suddenly open a video conversion business and get rich. And it never fails, one of their primary marketing tactics is to scare potential customers with doomsday messages about how their VHS tapes are dying (or otherwise only have a lifespan of a few years) and must be transferred immediately. 

There is no need to be scared. Your CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes are not disintegrating on the shelves.


Optical media is progressive generational technology

As the the decades progressed, formats like CED, Laserdisc, CD-R, CD-RW, Magneto-Optical Disc, minidisc, mini-CD, DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD+R, mini DVD-R, PSP disc, DVD+R DL, and DVD-R DL filled the shelves of stores. Future ones include BD-ROM, BD-R, and HD-DVD. And that only includes the ones easily available to consumers for audio, video and computer data. 

All optical share various properties which are improved upon with succeeding generation of disc: 
- All pressed media involve 3 basic ingredients: metal, plastic (polycarbonate) and glues. 
- All recordable media involve 4 basic ingredients: stabilized dyes, metal, plastic (polycarbonate) and glues.

In other words, DVD technology is not new. It builds upon the earlier generation formats, including Laserdisc, CD-ROM, CD-R and CD-RW. The most important advancements made with DVD were the obvious data size increased (narrower writing tracks), as well as the inclusion of an upper-layer protective polycarbonate and the accompanying glues (also improved). 

So when it comes to longevity studies, there is plenty of valid data that goes back more than 25 years upon which to extrapolate results.

 
The "disappearing data" myth


The most common complaint online by end-users is they are "suddenly" unable to access data on an optical disc. But instead of calmly trying to understand the situation, they run to online user forums, insist that their "data has disappeared" and that the media in question is an unreliable brand, manufacture or technology. There is no patience, no careful consideration. It's bad, they know it, and the case is closed in their mind.

It's the easy answer. And it's incorrect. In almost all cases of "disappearing data" a little more research and patience will reveal the true reason for the inability to access data. 

Disc reflectivity. As discussed elsewhere in the blank media guides, disc reflectivity is one of the leading causes of a known-good disc refusing to play or freeze in the DVD-ROM or DVD-Video player. Quite often, the data access problem is discovered on a drive or player that the disc has never been used in. The combination of disc materials and player laser is just not agreeable. Use another player or DVD-ROM. But not just any player or DVD-ROM, use a good one that is well-known for working with more-stubborn discs. BTC DVD burners and Toshiba DVD players are suggested for this task.

Drive or player lasers. Optical media lasers have a very finite lifespan. In fact, optical media will far outlive players. In 50 years, assuming we have not nuked ourselves from existence, society potentially faces a situation where discs will exist with no way to retrieve or play the information stored on them, unless backwards-compatible technology exists at that time. Lasers weaken as time goes on, and eventually they shut down altogether. Its not uncommon to find a DVD player that can only read CDs because the DVD laser died and the CD laser is still going strong. Cheap DVD players typically only last 6-24 months, while the better-made units can go on for 5 or more years. The solution here is to try a better or newer player or drive.

The disc was always bad. Most people never check any of their discs when they are burned. It's difficult for data to disappear or be inaccessible if it was never correctly burned on a disc in the first place. Proper testing methods for optical media is discussed elsewhere in the blank media guides. If data is important, test it thoroughly at the time the disc is burned.

User error. Sometimes even the most simple explanations are overlooked. For example, be sure the DVD or CD is not in the player upside down. As silly as that may sound, it's been seen before. Other user errors include improper authoring (whereas a DVD "plays fine" on a computer, but not the DVD-Video player), the burn was incomplete (files missing), or handling mistakes. All of these things would usually be found when testing the disc.

Storage and handling considerations. Optical discs are a frail format, physically speaking. It does not take much effort to destroyed a 1mm x 4.75-inch plastic CD/DVD platter. Is a disc durable to normal use? Yes, absolutely. Is it indestructible to brute force or improper storage? Absolutely not. Some plastic DVD cases and CD/DVD wallets on the market are poorly made, and will warp the disc. A warped disc will not play or read correctly, if it can be read at all. Scratches, fingerprints, dust, dirt, smudges, and scuff marks – or any similar damage done to the read side of a disc – will cause the laser to refract improperly and thus be unable to read the information stored on the disc. If a disc has been ruined in this manner, the only option available in most cases is to take it to a professional disc restoration service, one that will buff out or re-surface the disc, maybe attempt to undo the warping, and then copy it onto a new disc.

Sticky labels. DVD media was not made to be used with sticky labels. In fact, neither was CD media, but the wider grooves left a wider margin for error in reading the data. Sticky labels, regardless of how carefully one tries to center the label when applying it to the disc surface, will cause serious disc imbalance, as well as often weigh the disc down (which, in turn, forces the player to exert more effort to spin the disc at the required rotational velocity). DVD media has data grooves that are less than 1/7th the width of ones found on CD media, and are far more likely to show problems when compared to a labeled CD. And whether or not they are sold in stores by respected companies, remember that lots of stupid products are on the market. For DVD media, soapy water and a soft towel will often remove the offending label. For CD media, there is no real solution, as removing the label will undoubtedly remove the disc metals. If you really need images on a disc, consider buying inkjet media and a CD/DVD printer.

Pressure. Because some optical formats do not have protective upper layers of plastic to protect the metals and dyes, exerting downward force could damage the disc. Silver-top or cheaply-printed CD is most affected, while a protective-covered DVD is immune. Wallets, stacking items on top of discs, and individuals with a Superman grip are common causes for pressure-related problems. The solution here is to be more careful in the future, and hope software like ISO Buster can retrieve the undamaged portion of the disc.

Extreme temperatures and other mishandling. Discs are intended for indoor use with normal living conditions, stored carefully in cases in a safe environment. Discs left in the sun, in a hot car, in a freezer, chewed on by a dog, or anything else unusual or irresponsible will kill a disc. This is more advanced than user error, this is outright neglect. 


Optical phase change media

Unlike dye-based or pressed media, phase-change crystalline surfaces can degrade rapidly, whether the disc has been used or not. In time, these particles begin to break down, sometimes in as little as 6 months. The most common tell-tale sign is small craters form in the disc surface, causing unreadable areas. These craters can range from the size of a penny to the size of a pinhead, so they can be difficult to see with the naked eye. But because data is written into tiny grooves, especially DVD data, the smaller crater can cause catastrophic loss of information. 

Phase change media was created for temporary re-usable situations. It is not archival and should never be used for something that needs to be kept longer than a few weeks. Some empirical data suggests that DVD-RW lasts longer than DVD+RW, and that DVD-RAM is not as affected by this (although not entirely immune). The simple solution is to not use phase change media except when absolutely needed for temporary storage.


Longevity advantages of optical media

What optical media detractors like to forget is that optical media was developed to overcome the shortcomings of magnetic tape formats, and it has very much succeeded: 

- Normal tape playing.
Tape formats were degraded every single time the tape passed across the mechanical parts of recorders and players. 
- Worn and improperly maintained tape players. Poorly maintained tape equipment could seriously damage a tape. Tape could get wrapped around the heads and other various gizmos inside a tape player or recorder. Dirty heads would especially scratch and harm the data portion of the tape, more than normal playing would do.
- Tape player malfunctions. Every time the tape was inserted into the player, there was serious concern that the tape could be "eaten" by equipment malfunction, with the various rollers and transport mechanisms, thereby losing the content of the tape forever. 
- Tapes open to the elements. Magnetic tapes are open to the elements, and the primary reason the format has an average lifespan of 10-30 years is because oxygen and humidity eat away at the chemicals and metals as they naturally age.
- Clumsy tape mistakes. Most tapes would break apart and the contents disemboweled on the floor if dropped even from waist-height distances. Early tapes had no cartridge at all and would roll along the floor, while the tape casually stuck to any piece of lint or foreign matter in its path.

Optical media addressed these issues in several ways:

- Normal disc playing.
At no time does an optical disc come into contact with mechanical reader parts, on the data surface of the disc. While it is true that an arm can grab a disc on a slot-loader, or that a centerpiece grabs the disc to spin it, those only touch non-data surfaces of the media. Some slot loaders are manufactured defectively, leaving tiny scratches on the data surface of the disc, so replace problematic drives when identified. Removing the brush from the front of the slot usually corrects this.
- Worn and improperly maintained disc players. For the most part, a malfunctioning optical media drive will simply not read the disc, and eject it. There are some uncommon incidents where a malfunctioning optical drive can shatter a disc from spinning it too long or with too much force, or where a drive will "spit out" a disc and it shoots across the room, but these are unlikely incidents that many people will never experience or even witness first-hand. 
- Disc player malfunctions. As mentioned already, at no time does the data portion of the disc come into contact with the reader equipment. 
- Discs not open to the elements. CD media, unfortunately, left the upper layer of data potentially exposed to the elements, and it was not hard to entirely destroy a CD by scratching off the silver lacquer surface, and thereby exposing the dye to oxygen. Better made CDs have a durable branding silkscreen that seals and protects the foil layer from easy damage. Laserdisc had issues with metal too, as the initial choice in aluminum foils led to the widespread problem of "laser rot" or "disc rot" – a term reserved for Laserdisc problems. DVDs have an upper layer of polycarbonate to protect the foil. The contents of the disc are glued shut and inaccessible by humidity and oxygen, to a point. Eventually the elements will attack and permeate the glue, but not for several decades.
- Clumsy disc mistakes. Discs are lighter, and they should not smash apart during a clumsy moment. There are cases where a disc taps against a hard floor at an inopportune location along the edge of the media, and the glues come apart, thus destroying the data. The data surface can also be scratched or scuffed, as well as become dirty. This issue has been addressed with products like Verbatim Video Guard discs, and will likely be corrected in the next generation of optical media. 

   
The lifespan of optical media

Tests performed by manufacturers often range from 30-100 years before disc contents are naturally destroyed and the data cannot be accessed. Independent research has shown these numbers to be more realistic in the 25-50 years category, which is plenty of time to enjoy the contents of the media, and then move the contents to the next viable storage format in a couple decades.

Of course, these calculations depend on discs being stored and used under normal circumstances, in typical household or office environments. Locations with unusually extreme conditions maybe lessen that by several factors, although the life will still be one of many years. An outdoor storage shed in Antarctica, for example, is probably not too hospitable. Neither would be a hut in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest. Those situations are naturally-occurring accelerants that induce increased lifespan reduction. 

CD media can break down a bit faster than DVD due to the way the discs are constructed, especially the cheap CD-R and CD-ROMs that leave all or part of the metal foils exposed. Microscopic holes will form in the exposed metals, and craters will form in the dye (very similar appearance to phase change media craters) due to oxidizing. Some CD label glues are also known to be corrosive to the metals. 

Other rare optical media ailments include metal- and plastic-eating bacteria, although it is only possible in a few tropical places in the world, and this microorganism behavior is atypical. It looks like tapeworms are sandwiched in the disc, quite disgusting. The cause for this is largely unknown, as the rarity makes it hard to research.

Ironically, there have even been some studies that shown recordable media could outlast pressed media, because of the extra care that has been put into the various recordable materials. 

These are, of course, mean averages. There will always be the unusual disc that dies in two years and the one that lasts 100 years, but such occurrences will not be widespread. Most people who feel they belong in this minority will still likely be incorrect, and should refer to the myth section above.


The lifespan of magnetic tape media

While clearly inferior to optical media, magnetic tape is not too far behind its laser-written brother. Tape media varies greatly from format to format. The larger and thicker broadcast/studio/archival tapes that have been reinforced chemically to repel the elements can last several decades, and there are tapes that can still be read after 30-40 years. 

At the other end of the spectrum are consumer formats like VHS, which start to degrade within 10-25 years. Most of the video tapes manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s tend to be more durable than the thinner and cheaper tapes that flooded the market in the 1990s and are still sold new today. There are also various grades of VHS tape, from standard consumer, to advanced consumer, to professional and broadcast grades; the particle density and tape perfection being the primary discrimination between the grades. 

The older a tape gets, the more likely it will face problems like oxide shedding and tape-eating bacteria. The replay count will also affect the level of degradation.

VHS tapes owned by consumers and recorded in the 1980s-1990s should last another 10 years on average. There is no need to rush them into transfer. But now is the time to start. They are approaching the end of the life cycle. Take your time and do a good job. There is no need to worry about doing it fast, as they are not rotting apart on the shelf while you "waste time" reading this page.

When it comes to commercially-available movies and shows, just go buy yourself the official DVD release, if one exists. It's wasteful to try and convert these items. Save self-done transfers and transfer service work for the more precious home movies and other rarities that may have been bought or recorded through the years.


>>>>> Blank DVD formats and sizes FAQ

Every time I go to a computer or electronics store to buy blank discs, I see confused faces staring at the media racks, as if the media were doing some sort of odd dance. The people just stare, shaking their head in confusion at the pretty round things on the shelves in front of them. More fun can be had browsing by the aisle where the drives are kept. It's always the same questions: Which is better? Is "plus" better than "minus" format? What's a RAM, isn't that memory? Here's the lowdown...


DVD-R / DVD-RW format 

The DVD-R format was developed by Pioneer and first surfaced as the Pioneer S-101 DVD-R Authoring drive in 1997. The drive was specifically written as a write-once media for video applications, and writing data with the drive was not a priority. Yes, there are two DVD-R formats: the DVD-R Authoring and the DVD-R General format. 

The DVD-R Authoring format is a professional drive writing at either 1x or 2x (max) speeds. It is extremely expensive, costing several thousand dollars, and is geared towards professional use only, incorporating the allowance for CMF to replace DLT for replication. Pioneer S-101 and Panasonic makes some of the only DVD-R(A) drives, some for 3.95GB discs, others for the more modern 4.7GB discs. The DVD-Authoring drives use different media and the laser uses a different writing frequency than DVD-R(G).

The DVD-R General format, normally referred to as just DVD-R, was created for the consumer in early 2001. This also added the DVD-RW format and it is official known as a re-recordable disc, not a re-writable disc. Many Compaq, Packard Bell, Apple and Sony computers shipped DVD-R General drives in 2001 and early 2002, as the DVD+R format was not yet available and the DVD-R format thrived without any kind of competition.

The dash in DVD-R is a DASH MARK or HYPHEN! It is absolutely not a MINUS sign! It is no more a "DVD minus R" than a CD-R is a "CD minus R". The entire "minus" mentality is a result of deceptive marketing by the DVD+RW Alliance.

DVD-Video information recorded onto a DVD-R General tends to have a playback compatibility of about 90 to 95 percent with all players that exist. This is the highest compatibility among all burned DVD formats.

The DVD-R format is the official format of the DVD Forum, the group that controls the specifications and licensing for the DVD logo. This quote was taken from their page on September 13th 2003: "Please note that the '+RW' format, also known as DVD+RW was neither developed nor approved by the DVD Forum. The approved recordable formats are DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM." You have probably seen the DVD logo:


DVD+R / DVD+RW format

Although fans of the DVD+R format hate to hear this, the DVD+R format is a rogue format, invented by greedy companies that were unwilling to pay royalties to the DVD Forum in order to use and develop the DVD-R format and/or use the DVD logo. The DVD+R format does not carry the DVD logo because it is not an official DVD format. Does this make it a bad format? No.

The DVD-R General and DVD+R formats have almost no differences. 

The DVD+RW format was created with data usage in mind, as was claimed by the DVD+RW Alliance in 1997 while working on a 2.8GB disc that was scrapped in late 1999 in favor of producing true DVD-5 sizes. By the time the DVD+RW was released in late 2001, everybody that wanted a DVD writer already had one. Plus the DVD+RW were expensive like the DVD-RW discs, often costing $15 each, whereas the DVD-R discs went for as little as $5 each. 

The DVD+R format did not surface until summer 2002, a year behind the DVD-R format, and still at twice the price of many DVD-R discs. With the popularity of DVD-Video as the primary usage, the DVD+RW Alliance quickly dropped it's data-only attitude and went for the video market too, though initial media and drives had lousy compatibility ratings in the 50-60 percent range. To this day, the compatibility with DVD players is behind DVD-R.

DVD-Video information recorded onto a DVD+R tends to have a playback compatibility of about 85 to 90 percent with all players that exist. This is the second-highest compatibility among all burned DVD formats.

In order to assure higher compatibility with DVD-Video players, DVD+R format has bit-setting abilities, allowing the book type to be changed from DVD+R to DVD-ROM. While this does help the compatibility, it still does not allow the DVD+R format to exceed the DVD-R in video compatibility. This function is also not available on all DVD+R/RW drives.


DVD±R format

This is not a format! This is merely a drive that incorporates both DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW burning abilities into the same piece of hardware. These are often called dual-format burners.


DVD-RAM format

This drive is normally more expensive than other format burners, as are the media. It was developed as a data drive and remain so to this day, having a DVD-Video compatibility percentage that can be counted on fingers and toes. It was created by Panasonic is 1998 and is still mostly used for data and editing-only uses. 

RAM discs were originally written inside cartridges. The first generation was sealed and had to be broken apart to extract the disc (if needed). The second generation had an open/close switch on the cart. With the advent of standalone DVD recorders, RAM discs came without cartridges. The drive has advanced packet writing functions that allow if to be used much like an optical hard drive. Very efficient for data. But not recommended for normal video usage. Video on a DVD-RAM is written in the VR format (and it creates VRO files). VR format is not compatible with normal DVD players due to the data format and reflectivity, and it often uses odd-sized resolutions. DVD-RAM video is simply a poor choice. 


Dual Layer / Double Layer Formats

Dual layer means that much like commercially pressed DVD-ROMs, these recordable discs have two layer of dye, almost doubling the size of older DVD5 format. This is a recordable DVD9 format. 

DVD-R DL is mostly only available in Asian markets, and mostly sold in the USA or Europe at specialized online blank media stores.

DVD+R DL (called "Double Layer" by the RW Alliance) media is more compatible with DVD-Video players than DVD-R DL. The discs must be booktyped to DVD-ROM to work well with players, and most burners automatically booktype for you. As of 2008, only Verbatim branded discs (manufacturer by Mitsubishi) seems to be reliable. 

DVD+RW DL and DVD-RW DL media is scarce (mostly in Asia) and does not give very good results, either for data or video. Several media manufacturers have deemed it too expensive and complex, thus not making any RW DL discs. Demand for such media is also nearly non-existent.


DVD format myths

As time has gone on, the "format war" between DVD-R and DVD+R has pretty much died off, as both media have strong sales and almost all drives support both types of discs. This myth list used to be twice as long, and it was nice to be able to remove some of them, as they died with the format war. At any rate, there are still a few myths that people might hear or read:

Myth:
"Newer players can play all formats." 
Truth: While it is more common now for new player to support both DVD-R and DVD+R media than players of the past, the issue is present even on the newest of players.

Myth: "My (insert format here) disc didn't work in the player. I tried the other format and it worked. That compatibility percentage is wrong." 
Truth:
The issue was more likely to be a media issue, not a format issue. Too many users buy the cheapest media around, or otherwise do not know what they have. For example, a RITEK DVD-R (low reflective, 2nd class quality) compared to a YUDEN DVD+R (high reflective, 1st class quality) is no contest on which disc will perform better, the YUDEN would win in most all tests. 

Myth: "I saw that www.somesite.com did a 'scientific' test and came to the conclusion that (insert format here) is better than (other format here)." 
Truth: Remember that statistics can be corrupted to prove anything you want, even if common sense dictates otherwise. At the moment, common sense and common sense tests dictate that the DVD-R currently has the highest compatibility with several percentage points. The quality of the media is pretty much identical.

Myth: "A DVD burner is just a CD burner with different firmware."
Truth: The only thing DVD and CD have in common is the round shape. Beyond that, the media and hardware is entirely different. The CD and DVD burners use different hardware as well as different laser types and frequencies. 

Myth: "The DVD+R and DVD-R drives and discs are the same. Why not just develop firmware and media that makes them all the same?"
Truth: This would be similar to saying that a cat and a dog are the same. While they do both have four legs and a tail, as well as rub and lick to show affection, they are definitely NOT the same. The hardware and media materials are completely different.

Myth: "HD-DVD and Blu-Ray is coming and will kill off DVD."
Truth:
Uh-huh, sure, just like FMD was going to kill DVD. Leave the future to the future. At this point in time, the prospects of a format overturning DVD anytime in the next 5-10 years is unlikely. There is little advantage to consumer to make the switch. More than anything, it appears that the "winner" of the BD vs HD-DVD battle will be relegated to a niche similar to Laserdisc in the 1990s.


Disc sizes

Often DVDs are referred to in different size increments: DVD5, DVD9, DVD18, 4.7GB, 4.38GB, etc. This section should clear up the various dimensions and sizes of DVDs. Also includes information layers and sides.

Size name  Marketed sizes Sides Layers Data storage size
DVD5 4.7GB, 120min single single up to 4.38GB
DVD9 8.5GB, 240min single dual or double up to 7.95GB
DVD10 9.4GB, 240min double single up to 8.75GB total
DVD15 N/A double one single, one dual up to 12.33GB total
DVD18 N/A double dual  up to 15.9GB total

Dual vs. Double. These are two words that represent the same concept. The DVD Forum presses and creates recordable "dual layer" media. The RW Alliance creates recordable "double layer" media. Just synonyms for two layers of data surface.

The marketed sizes for blank DVDs are essentially meaningless: 
- Minutes. The amount of minutes of video stored on a DVD-Video disc has nothing to do with the media itself. The true limit of the amount of information that can fit on a disc is determined by the data storage size, up to so many gigabytes of data. The data storage size of a video is determined by the bit-rate. It is no problem to store 3 or 4 hours of high quality video on a "120min" disc. 
- GB size. Many people wonder why their 4.7GB discs are "defective" and "only" write 4.38 GB at maximum capacity. The marketed GB sizes are calculated by 1000 bytes increments alone, and not in the 1024 byte clusters used in computer terminology. This kind of inconsistency is found in many other areas of consumer life. For example, the 120GB hard drive will format to about 112GB, requiring 8GB for file system and other settings. A 6-hour video tape is about 6:05 in length. And let's not forget the most famous one: hot dogs come in packs of 10 while buns come in packs of 8. 







Read the original (and updated) article at www.nomorecoasters.com.

This page was last updated or content confirmed as up-to-date: March 19th 2008