unreadable, has dark
In Sept. 2006 I found one of my Maxell DVD-R discs (MXL RG01 media
code, burned Sept. 2003), was unreadable. I have heard stories about
DVD-Rs quickly going bad, but I always
assumed it was marginal equipment, sub-standard media, or user
error. This time, I believe the media, the burner and the
storage conditions were all perfectly good, but after three years the
disc is bad. I expect even the cheapest VHS tape to last longer than 3
years. So far this is an isolated case, but I'm worrying more about it
There was a rash of counterfeit
Maxell discs in 2003, but those did not have
label printed on top. In this case, the DVD has
letters printed on the clear hub of the disc reading "maxell DVD-R
4.7GB". It is a white inkjet-printable type. It was burned with a
Pioneer DVR-A06, which was a good model in its day. The data side of
the disc looks normal, it is purple and the burned area is visually
distinct from the unwritten edge area. Click on the scans
close-ups below for a larger image.
MXL RG01 hub area
bottom side scan
close-up: dark spots
different light angle
The two close-up photos above were taken with a 2x macro lens (SLR with
100mm plus 50mm lens back-to-front) show the same area with different
light angles. The DVD tracks act like a diffraction grating giving many
colors. The largest spots are located on either side of the
ring (pre-recorded data / lead in area) visible on blank DVD-R media
near the hub (example here).
The spots are apparently at or near the dye layer (0.6mm in
the center of the disc), as dust on the outer surface of the disc is
far out of focus in the macro shots.
In 2003, this DVD-R read with no problems in two different DV-343
players and in an iMac drive. In 2006 it is unreadable in each
of those drives, and in all but one of my current players. Out of nine
players total, eight cannot play any video from the disc. After
several minutes of head seeks, my BenQ 1640 did manage read the media
ID, which is copied below, and interestingly, my Yamakawa
DVD-218 can play the disc normally. However my Pioneer
DVR-A06, Plextor PX-712A, and NEC ND-6500A drives all seeked
for several minutes on this DVD without getting any data. My
DV-363 and DV-343 standalones rejected it without comment. The Benq
had the following output:
Nero CD-DVD Speed: Disc Info
Disc Type: : DVD-R
Book Type : DVD-R
Manufacturer: : Maxell
MID : MXL RG01
Write speeds: : 2.4 X
Blank Capacity : 4.38 GB
: 4489 MB
: 4707319808 bytes
Layers : 1
Usage : General
Copyright protection : n/a
Disc Status : Closed
Pre-recorded Information in Lead-in (0Eh)
0000 - 01 40 C1 FD 9E D8 50 00 02 58 0E 11 98 99 80 00 - .@....P..X......
0010 - 03 4D 58 4C 20 52 47 00 04 30 31 00 00 00 00 00 - .MXL.RG..01.....
0020 - 05 88 80 00 00 00 01 00 E0 D4 05 00 18 EE 90 7C - ...............|
0030 - 78 FB 90 7C FF FF FF FF 71 FB 90 7C 18 6A DD 77 - x..|....q..|.j.w
0040 - 51 6A DD 77 00 00 15 00 02 00 00 80 30 00 00 00 - Qj.w........0...
0050 - 18 00 00 00 30 00 00 00 18 D5 05 00 40 00 01 00 - ....0.......@...
0060 - 0B 00 00 00 20 D4 05 00 4E 00 4E 00 98 D5 05 00 - ........N.N.....
Disc Quality: Error! NO ADDITIONAL SENSE INFORMATION (000000)
(no further data could be read)
The DVD was stored indoors in a
protective plastic case on a bookshelf, and not exposed to sunlight.
It was handled infrequently and
with due care, and played only a few times. There are no major
scratches visible, although there are
a few hard to see, very fine scratches. It appears clean of dust.
Cleaning with compressed air and radial wipes of a soft rag had no
effect. The house does have a relative
humidity meter, it is normally in the 55-65% range and the peak
humidity recorded was 82% RH. The temperature is usually between 70 and
75 F. The Maxell representative I contacted said the media
last longer than 50 years with proper storage.
I am no expert in DVD degradation mechanisms but I suspect the tiny
spots visible in the macro photos
have something to do with my playback problem. The spots remind me of
the "DVD rot" photos posted by Rohan Byrnes here: http://www.andraste.org/discfault/discfault.htm
although his DVDs were pressed discs (aluminum reflective layer).
Supposedly that was a very rare problem with a few pressing plants, and
long since fixed.
I don't know what these dots
are, or their relevance. I did look at a few other of my DVD-R discs
and they do not show any such dots. If the root problem on my DVD-R is
pinholes forming in the DVD-R
silver-alloy reflective layer, that would suggest the gold
reflector type DVDs, for example MAM-A / Delkin "archival
the Verbatim Ultralife silver+gold DVD-R may be a
UPDATE Oct.2 2006:
America has agreed to examine the disc, so it has
been shipped to them for analysis.
UPDATE Dec. 21 2006: Maxell
America sent the disc to Japan and got back a report, which they have
translated as follows:
The folks in Japan were able to confirm
that the disc was unreadable (unrecognizable) in several of their
Pioneer drives. Upon inspection, they discovered "spots" on the
recording surface. Closer inspection revealed that the "spots" on the
inner area of the disc were larger than the spots on the outer area of
the disc. They were also able to determine that the laser power of the
customer's drive during recording was slightly higher than normal,
especially at the inner area of the disc. This leads them to believe
the laser power of the recording device played a role in these "spots'
developing in the recording layer. Another point is that there were
absolutely no spots found in the "Pre-Write Area", which is an area
where specific data is written at the factory during the manufacturing
process. If the recording layer itself was at fault, they believe that
the spots would be found in this Pre Write area as well, but they
weren't. They also believe that humidity was involved. I'm told that
the polycarbonate shell of the disc is somewhat absorbent, and that
this disc may have been stored in a higher than normal humidity
condition. The reason they believe this is that after they stored the
disc in a temperature chamber at 140 degrees F for 24 hours
(essentially "drying it out"), the error rate went down and the Pioneer
drives were then able to recognize and play the disc.
Because there is no way to confirm the assumptions they are making
about storage conditions, etc., this is by no means a definitive report
that can be taken as gospel, but it does have some validity based on
the physical facts.
received Dec. 21 2006 via email from
Susan S. at Maxell Support
I was quite surprised to learn the disc was readable after a 24-hour
bake. This raises more questions: Were the spots causing the
problem? Did they go away after the oven bake? If so, that suggests the
spots were not pinholes in the reflector or dye layer as I had guessed.
Perhaps they were bubbles of gas or condensed water, which diffused
back into the polycarbonate after baking. Was something about the
dye-layer pits burned by my DVD recorder preferentially
causing nucleation sites for water condensation? I will be on the
lookout for another such disc, to see what I can discover. -jpb
FAQ: Isn't "archival
quality DVD" just
meaningless marketing term?
I'm convinced that the DVD media with a gold reflective layer is at the
very least different from the cheaper media that uses a silver alloy,
because it looks quite different to the eye. I'm also
convinced that silver can corrode and pure gold does not, but
real-world media lifetime is dependent on many factors, and there's
frustratingly little hard data on the subject. When NIST
published their 2004 report on CD-R and DVD-R media stability 
their results showed a dramatic difference among three individual DVD-R
samples, in errors accumulating after exposure to both harsh light and
high temperature and humidity . However, NIST did not know the
materials used in the DVD samples, and they did not report the media
brand or manufacturer. In 2004 a NIST/LoC study on optical
longevity started ,
and it is due to complete in 2006. I hope the results are published but
the initial description of the test online does not divulge any
specific media brand, so it is unclear whether results will
any use to consumers. There is also an individual in Canada
his own personal study. 
If and when any studies determine some media is archival, it may still
be difficult to obtain the specific type tested. Not only do many DVD-R
outsource manufacturing and change suppliers without notice, but even
ID" encoded on the disc may not be genuine. 
 J. Res. Natl. Inst. Stand.
 NIST Special Publication 500-263
 Dolphin Longevity Test 3.0
 Counterfeit DVD-R discs
sold using Maxell's unique media ID (2003)
 DVD-R market plagued by fake
inconsistent quality (2005)
"But you've already got a
DVD. It lasts forever. It never wears out.
In the digital world, we don't need back-ups, because a digital copy
never wears out. It is timeless."
Jack Valenti, interview in Harvard Political Review, 2002
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