Optical Disc Quality – Recordable DVD’s and CD’s.

September 11, 2009 at 2:23 am | Posted in Backup, Media, Software, Technology | 3 Comments

For awhile I’ve wanted to write a decent article on buying good CD and DVD discs but straightforward info I could refer you to was hard to find. Rare studies were very technical and often out of date. Amazon had one they pulled.

I did a detailed study of this a few years back as we needed archival quality discs and the major supplier, Kodak, had stopped making them. The best were MAM-A Gold Archive with an expected lifetime of over 300 years. In fact, they were the only ones that met the government spec. I got them through a small importer in the US.

But these are pricey for more modest uses. Most of us need something that will last more than a couple of years but we shouldn’t need over 50. Taiyo Yuden is one of the most recommended (and oldest) disc makers and has ones said to last about 70 years, but they’re usually sold rebranded by others.

And therein lies the rub. The store-bought disc brands don’t typically make their own discs. Any given brand with the same packaging can be a top quality disc or junk. Brands are thus a poor gauge. Tricks like gold foil and “made in” may or may not be good clues. Some brands have gold tops but the substrate is actually silver. The only way you can really tell is to read the Media ID of the disc. That tells you who actually made it and it’s type. And that requires opening the package, putting a disc in the computer and checking it with a utility*.

First thing to do is to skip the discount brands. While cheap discs may work, they tend to have a much shorter lifespan before they start to deteriorate. I’ve also had trouble with certain brands in cheap DVD players.

Many of the recommendations you see out there are opinions based on past experience with burning certain specific discs. But is that useful if the discs become coasters in 6 months? Or the brand varies what they put in the case? Verbatim got in trouble for this but has cleaned up it’s act.

Recently I ran into this review of the Top Ranked Blank DVD Media. It explains quality levels, reviews brands, and where to buy. Also what the Media ID means. The data is not entirely consistent across sections but does offer some good information.

VideoHelp’s DVD Media table illustrates further how variable DVD’s are. For example, search the list for TDK and get 70 variations. Verbatim 57, including 5 DataLifePlus branded -R 4.7GB discs. 4 are good, 1 bad. It also illustrates how even the good discs are not supported by everything that’s supposed to support them. You may find it useful to review your Media ID’s here.

Generally speaking, these brands are quite good: Taiyo Yuden, Sony, Mitsui/MAM, most Maxell
These brands vary: Verbatim, HP, Imation and especially Memorex.
The worst brands won’t even burn reliably, making them useless.

I’ve had little issue with Verbatim and Maxell from brand stores like Staples. The Verbatim’s I’m using now are quality MCC from Mitsubishi. The Maxell’s are ProDisc that are almost as good. I’ve had poor experiences with Memorex and TDK. Horrible with a few minor brands.

Looking at the suggested suppliers of the Top Ranked article, we can see it comes down to the quality mindedness of the retailer because the customer has no real way to tell in the store. No “ingredients list”. Especially with DVD’s.

*Tools for checking the Media ID:
In the Nero suite, DiscInfo is good.
An earlier version is available free.

DVD Identifier
They also offer a downloadable ID database

Version 6 is advertised as “free” in some places but it’s actually a 14 day trial. If you install this first, then install an earlier free version like 4, 4 will also come up as Trial. Thus look for version 4.

See the Media ID Quality Guide section or the database above for ID reference .

Search VideoHelp for more

-R vs +R DVD’s
Recordable DVD’s introduced 2 competing standards, DVD-R and DVD+R. Basically, they are 2 ways of storing data on the disc.

+R is a few years newer and technically superior. If you are using the discs only on a computer such as for data backup, +R is slightly superior. More so for archival purposes.

This article goes into great detail on why he thinks Taiyo Yuden DVD+R discs are best for long term archive. (they don’t meet all gov’t archival specs though)

If you plan to use the discs for videos playable in DVD players, you want to use DVD-R. While newer DVD players often support both, older ones only support -R and some of the newer ones don’t support +R consistently. It may work on your player but not on the friends you send it to for example. Good branded DVD-R are thus best for Video DVD’s. They are also often slightly cheaper.

Note that for DVD player playback, you also have to encode the video in MPEG2 or DivX (if the player supports it). Burning software that records to DVD or Blu-Ray doesn’t mean it will play in a DVD Player, just that it will burn.  Most players won’t play data discs with various video files on them. They require a specific file format and structure. Thus, you want to create a Video DVD, not just burn to DVD.

Suggested free software for burning Video DVD’s.

Nero 9 Free for burning and copying. This does not include Video DVD creation but may be useful for copying, etc. Some people love Nero, others consider it bloated. The full suite has quite a wide range of tools including Video DVD, menu creation, etc. I usually use Pinnacle for DVD building. Note that DiscInfo is available in the free version as an optional update from the Control Center.

CD Media
CD media quality is very similar to the DVD suggestions above. Here is a good review of CD-R quality and makers.

Further discussion on recordable CD’s, though more subjective. The article includes links to CD Identifier utilities, though the above should handle both. (DVDIdentifier does not mention support for CD’s. The others do.)

BTW, if you use stick-on disc labels, these are known to dramatically reduce the lifespan of discs. (the glue) I’d recommend you copy any such discs you want to retain to newer media.

UPDATE: some of the latest BluRay recorders will handle burning the new M-Disc format. This is quite different from the usual marking of dye on other recordable CD’s & DVD’s. It’s more akin to a pressed disc, like a mass-produced DVD movie, and should last substantially longer. Notably, the discs are also semi-transparent.


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  1. If you like the effect of labeled discs, buy the white printable ones. These don’t have the several issues with stick-on labels. You can choose from a range of printers that will print on a CD. We used an Epson, exporting a template we could fancy up in PhotoShop.


  2. Still using Nero’s free Infotool 5 in Win7.
    I notice Verbatim is now advertising they use Azo dye in their packaging. This isn’t new but it helps a little to ensure it’s the better type.


  3. The Verbatim Azo’s I mentioned above are the MCC’s I’ve mentioned in the article.


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