Friday, December 12, 2008

DVDs Unreliable For Long-Term Backup?

Here is an interesting post from The New York Times about the longevity of "home-burned" DVDs. The author found that a bunch of the DVDs he had burned four years ago were unreadable now:

"holy cow—how many thousands of people are backing up onto DVD, thinking that they’ll be set for at least a decade or two? I know, of course, that home-burned DVD’s, which rely on organic dye that deteriorates with time, are nowhere near as long-lived as commercially pressed discs. But man. Four years? Scared the bejeezus out of me."

Scared the bewhatzits out of me too.

I've been noticing that a number of my backup music and image discs from several years ago have been crapping out on me lately...

Even more interesting -- many commenters on the blog insist that the VHS and 8mm they've saved for their home movies and recorded programming have lasted far longer -- decades.

This could have a huge impact on many of us five, ten years down the line when we dig up our CDs and DVDs and find out that they don't work.

And what will work better in 25 years -- your old vinyl or a DVD recording of it?


  1. USB jump drives are the way to go.

  2. That's the problem with information storage in the digital age. Either the media has an expiration or becomes unreadable as technology changes. Maybe if we move to an entirely connected world, we will eventually be able to back up everythng digitally through online storage as part of our internet service. Then professionals would migrate the data over to newer servers over time.

  3. Anonymous5:11 PM

    I'm slowly but surly copying my burned DVDs to my network drive. Many of the discs are almost useless, and I've still got older discs..

  4. I recently started cleaning out my clutter of burned CD-Rs and DVD-Rs, the former spanning ten years now. Imagine my surprise to see what I once dismissed as unplayable crap as being in good condition, some scratches, sure, but readable.

    It all really depends on how you manage your disks, burned or manufactured. Don't cross the disk format out unless you really don't know how to handle them.

  5. This is why you back up to an external hard drive.

  6. Ink on parchment.
    Still readable after over a thousand years, even after the data is “erased.” (Look up Archimedes Palimpsest) :-)


  7. Note to self: backup all cbrs to 1TB USB drive

  8. I'm with Kevin. USB jump drives or hell, just ghosts or backup drives are the way to go.

    Although it HAS been awhile, I wonder my old CDs containing copies of Celebrity Jeopardy and Anime Music Videos are still good...

  9. the technology needed for a lasting optical storage media is available and can cheaply be manufactured. Instead, companies opt to put expiration tags on their products to increase profits. :( damn corporations.

  10. I think it is intentional. Not to go all conspiracy theory on ya but I'm positive the industry has no interest in long term formats. I worked in TV in the 90's and came to the conclusion that the industry was intentionally lowering the quality of VHS tape to help sell the next format. My VHS tapes from the 80's looked good in the 80's, looked good in the 90's and look good right now. (Notice, I'm not saying they ever looked great, but good.) VHS stuff I did in the 90's even Super-VHS looked like crap in the 90's and looks like crap now.
    I'm just saying.

    We always mew a magnetic based format like VHS would have a short shelf life but there is no reason for CDs and DVDs to be so crappy unless it is to move people to the next format. Yes, we will live our ives, constantly re-copying stuff we already re-copied.

    And the sad thing is that CD and DVD have become the main format people use to store their family photos. People are going to find that little Cody's first Christmas is gone in a few years. Just plain freaking gone.

  11. Backing up to hard drives isn't that reliable either...


  12. You know I've noticed this with printed dvds. Like, 1 outta 20 that I buy will die after playing once. I remember buying Episode III at Circuit City and I remember that cashier guy asking me if I wanted an insurance thingy on it for another 5 bucks. They NEVER ask that, and, of course, I'm like, "No...", but in my head I'm like, "Why the hell would he ask that on this specific dvd?!" And of course, it fucks up like I knew it was gonna. It seemed to me that they knew the entire shipment was bunk, but sold them anyway. 20 bucks! Ya, Lucas, cuz they need to be as high as they were when dvds first came out. I hate buying shit that doesn't work.

    Anyways...ya, I'm glad I didn't burn much. But, I'm wondering if the dvds distributed aren't the crappy pieces of crap that they sell at full price. Gotta love the business here in America. "...."

  13. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Half of me wants to believe this is just Blu Ray Sony bullshit PE.

  14. I have records that date back older then 1960

  15. If I was looking for a digital backup solution (I'm not since I create nothing and care about little), I'd probably go with an external hard drive. USB isn't going anywhere soon, and even if it did the drive could be pulled out of the enclosure and plugged into a PC more conventionally -- heck, one could plug a hard drive from before the DVD was invented into many current PCs (all of them with a little extra spent on an IDE interface expansion card).

    While the initial investment in a hard drive is bigger than buying a stack of DVD-R's, it has greater utility for "live" backups with a constantly connected drive, and greater longevity for less frequent backups where you store the hard drive after saving the desired data.

  16. This one actually baffles me, not so much the unreadable disks but the desire on the part of many people to play at being some modern day Medici and have an impressive library of music and art that is...worthless. I mean, that's the great thing about Netflix, Bittorrent, or if you are really cheap and not as tech savvy, something like Limewire. You don't have to own a hard copy of anything anymore - use the internets as the storage device or outsource it to the aforementioned Netflix. It's a post-ownership society - use that cash for more useful things like health insurance or gas, or who knows - you might even be able to purchase some original artwork from your favorite comic book artist instead of a plastic figurine.

  17. Anonymous10:40 AM

    Not all recordable DVDs are created equal. Good quality ones will last for years and years if kept in a cool dark place. Crap ones will degrade to unreadability in the same time frame. All disks will degrade faster if your home doesn't have AC for those summer heat waves, or if you leave them out in the sun, etc.

    Googling for "CD-r DVD-r media quality" and the like will pull up various articles on the subject, but basically even among recognized brand names, many of the disks sold are of inferior quality made in inferior factories using inferior colour-changing dyes. And 100% of the cheapest no-name disks are made in the same crap factories. So you need to buy only certain brand names, and make sure that the brand was actually made by the company in question and not outsourced (ie, "made in japan" instead of "made in china").

    Here's one guide to which brand names are actually any good, and here's another.

  18. Thanks for this--some of my data backups from just a few years back were turning up garbled, and yes, of course, this would explain it.


    There's at least one monastery I know that makes money by converting paper records (card catalogs, etc.) into digital form. Ironic, no?--the institution responsible for preserving so much information for the ages is now making it ephemeral!

  19. I swear by Taiyo Yuden DVDs and CDs for the things I want to keep long term and then use the normal ones for stuff I want but wouldn't cry if I lose. Taiyo Yudens are high quality (you can get gold, but they have a more affordable line that) - you can get them from several sources, Amazon being one.