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The truth about DVD recordables

I read Jim Louderback’s column from this week on DVD recordables with interest, but it was disappointing.

The most useful information in this column: Generic recordable DVDs don’t necessarily cost less than the brand names.

The rest of the column is just about hazing and an incomplete description of how he did various things you’re not supposed to do to DVD discs and then tried to see if they still worked.Since he did lots of things that you’re not supposed to do and many of the discs still worked immediately afterward, he came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what discs you buy.

Well, I used to do lots of things you’re not supposed to do to floppy disks. Sometimes I got away with it, and sometimes I didn’t, but since they weren’t repeatable experiments, that experience means nothing. And I didn’t try to present any of that experience as useful information either.

There is some advice that pertains to pretty much all recorded media and I’ll go ahead and repeat it here.

Buy the brand/type of media the drive manufacturer recommends. It’s not fair to say that, for instance, Verbatim discs are junk based on one bad experience with a Verbatim disc in one particular drive. Some combinations of disc and drive work better than others. That’s not to say that untested media won’t work, but it does mean you don’t know what you’re getting into. It’s better to know what you’re getting into.

This is why some people swear TDK is the best media and Verbatim is the worst, while someone else may say (with just as much passion) that Verbatim is the best media and TDK is the worst. I guarantee that the two people doing the arguing don’t have identical DVD burners.

Make at least two copies of everything. If the data is worth something to you, it’s worth the dollar or less it costs you to burn a second copy. Store it in a jewel case in a cool, dry, dark place. Why? Heat, light, and moisture are the three things aside from physical abuse that cause discs to break down most quickly. The jewels will protect the disc from physical abuse. Ironically, polystyrene jewel cases intended for CDs are more fragile than the media they protect, but in a way that’s a good thing. It gives you fair warning that you’re handling it too roughly.

If possible, store the second (or a third) copy offsite. A locked desk drawer at the office is a good candidate, but be careful if the owners of your office turn off the air conditioning during the weekends. Or store it at a friend’s house, and return the favor by storing a cache of discs for that friend.

And if it’s super-duper important… If the data absolutely has to be right, burn it at the slowest speed your software allows, and walk away from your computer until it’s finished. Discs written at the slowest speed are slightly more reliable than discs burned at high speeds, as are discs that didn’t require buffer-underrun protection to write.

It’s extremely rare for either of these things to make a difference, but if you’re paranoid, keep it in mind.

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3 thoughts on “The truth about DVD recordables”

  1. One other thing about cd’s/dvd’s is the type of dye used in the recording layer. There are three main ones today.


    Metal Azo


    Phthalocyanine is supposedly the most stable. Its used in a lot of cd’s (and just recently in some dvd’s), that promote 300 year life spans for digital imaging and long term data storage.

    1. Do you have some add’l info on how one could identify Phthalocyanine DVDRs ? Maybe some brand name suggestions or some such ?

      1. I use dvd’s now by a company called Mam-A for my digital imaging. You can check them out here. They apparently hold the patent on Phthalocyanine dye. The Delkin Archival CD-R’s we use at work for our digital work also use the dye.

        Here’s a page that tells how to spot the difference by looking at the discs.

        Here’s a page with a basic overview of the dye.

        Data Media Store sells the Mam-A disks. The Delkin ones can be bought at B&H Photo Video and other places I’m sure, though I’ve bought from both of these and had good service.

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