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DVD media RW. It's what people ask of the search engines day in, day out. But how many are versed in taking care of their discs? This is a concern especially relevant to those who use recordable formats, which tend to occasion much more man-handling.

Tips on DVD care can seem a little ridiculous at first. After all, what is there to know about taking care of DVDs? Don’t put fingerprints on them, don’t let them get scratched, and that’s all anyone needs to know – right? And even then, many would say, there are discs which have nothing but scratches on them and yet still manage to work fine in most, if not all, DVD players, from standalone units to those in computer laptops. Indeed, DVDs were engineered to be tough and withstand some real-world usage – after all, think of how many kids’ shows have made it to DVD! But there really is more than common sense to taking proper care of DVDs. So much more, in fact, that the government’s actually put out a handbook numbering fifty fact-filled pages on how to properly handle and care for optical discs like CDs and DVDs!

Yes, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, under the auspices of the United States Department of Commerce, has put out Special Publication 500-252 as a guide for librarians and archivists in Information Technology best practices. This next article in our continuing series devoted to DVDs will review some of these official recommendations, as well as look into the other topics to be found in that document.

Do not bend your discs. Do not touch the surface of the disc. Do not use adhesive labels on them. Sounds obvious enough? But how about something like not storing them horizontally for a long time? Granted, that advice comes with the stipulation “years,” as in “if storing for years,” but why should laying horizontally be an issue at all, regardless of the time involved? (Answer: the clear polycarbonate substrate that makes up most of an optical disc may bend or flex over a long period of time if not stored vertically.)

Care and safe handling are all about the life of the disc. Yet the life expectancy of optical discs depends on many factors, some of which are not within our control. Manufacturing quality is a big one, but perhaps the biggest factor of all is also the least obvious one: DVD type. The deterioration of the data material is the primary cause for disc degradation and constitutes the main factor in disc life expectancy. The three basic types of optical disc have data layers made of different materials – namely, molded aluminum, organic dye, and phase-changing film – with different characteristics such as the rate of natural decay.