Rhodri Marsden: Why have the DVDs I recorded become totally unwatchable?


Like me, it's possible that you had a moment a few years back when your shelves of VHS tapes suddenly seemed like a grotesque waste of space better used for pot plants or commemorative porcelain. Like me, you may have transferred them to recordable DVD in a time-consuming orgy of duplication before chucking them in a skip. And like me, you undoubtedly had a nostalgic moment last week when you reached for one of those DVDs containing footage of you prancing about onstage in Zürich 15 years ago with your once-plentiful hair in pigtails and pummelling a battered guitar, only to discover that it refuses to play.

Quite why I made that schoolboy error of imagining that recordable CDs or DVDs would provide me with an archive for posterity is unclear, although some of the blame could be laid at the door of a 'Tomorrow's World' segment from the mid 1980s which sowed the dubious seed of information that shiny 120mm discs are "indestructible".

While those manufactured by the entertainment industry are pretty hardy, the recordable ones (and particularly the ones you bought ages ago in batches of 200 for next to nothing on eBay) have the longevity of a sickly guinea pig. You don't even need to mistreat them; leaving them quietly sitting in a box in a cupboard seems to finish them off. The chances of them yielding up their contents after five years depends mainly on the resilience of the organic dye they contain; that's where the data is etched and, sadly, dye can and will degrade.

In recent years Verbatim and Memorex have produced "archival grade" media which is supposed to last decades, but that doesn't help us poor saps who didn't bother to archive our archives each year on to new, more reliable discs. I mean, seriously, who has the time?

Last week a US company announced that they'd soon be producing rewritable DVDs with a lifespan of 1,000 years. Millenniata (you see what they did there) will be selling their disks for $12 (£7) each and their DVD writers for an eye-watering $2,500 – but hey, good to know that our home videos will still be watchable in the year 2525, if man is still alive, and indeed can get his hands on an antique DVD player.

But all this has come too late for me; my Zürich memories are destined to degrade slowly within my brain rather than be uploaded forever on YouTube. Although maybe that's for the best.

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