Your CDs And DVDs Won't Last Forever

Your CDs & DVDs Won't Last Forever

One of the reasons so many people prefer physical media over digital downloads is the supposed permanency of it all. HDD goes bad? Memory corrupted? Doesn't matter, I've still got the disc! Remember though that those discs will not live forever.

In fact they may not live very long at all if you don't look after them. In a piece on The Atlantic, The Library of Congress talks about the surprising number of difficulties they're having restoring and preserving media not even they assumed would have started dying out so fast.

One of the problems is that with so many manufacturers building CDs and DVDs to so many different standards, it's hard coming up with universal means of preserving them. Another is that most people have accidentally been mistreating their discs for years/decades, as the safest way to handle them is from the middle, not the top (which is actually more dangerous, since scratches up there lead straight to the disc's sensitive areas).

Most alarming is the result of an experiment performed on a 1987 CD, where two identical copies were subjected to temperature "you'd expect on a sweltering July day in New York City, but not quite as humid as a rain forest". The results are below.

Your CDs & DVDs Won't Last Forever

If you've got a collection of old PS1/PS2/PC/whatever games lying around on these older storage mediums, The Library of Congress has some advice. Don't stick labels on them, don't draw on them and like I said above, try to handle them by sticking your finger in the hole instead of rubbing dirt and oil all over the top of them.

The Library of Congress Wants to Destroy Your Old CDs (For Science) [The Atlantic, via Game Informer]


    oh yeah there was an article too, something something nothing lasts forever, BUT REBEL ASSAULT II

      I loved the texture of those old LucasArts CDs, I don't know what they put on them but they always felt way sturdier and special than other kinds. The art was amaaazing too.

        Yup... Grim Fandango still looks as new :D as does all my other Lucas Arts discs, and there are a lot of them :P

          My Grim discs are scratched from the admittedly beautiful cardboard case they put it in. Glad I got a re-release backup with the same art on it. :D

            Yeah wasn't a good move to have them in a cardboard sleeve, it always concerned me :\
            But tested them last year and they still work awesomely :P

              I like the little mariachi riff at the start of the installer.

                Man the installers... I like how they were all the same, everything from Grim Fandango to X-Wing alliance just had different audio XD... if it works don't fix it i suppose

      I tried reading the article like 3 times... But I just keep going Rebel Assault II!

      God I loved that game so much...

    So what I'm getting from this article is that if you don't look after your stuff they break?

      Not just that. Also that they won't necessarily last long no matter how well you treat them.

      It wasn't implicitly stated in the article but estimates of the lifespan (granted, stored correctly) of a CD traditionally ran as high as 200 years so as PiMan mentions above, it's more a case that they won't last anywhere near as long as experts anticipated even when conditions are ideal.

      Last edited 16/05/14 3:54 pm

    All my CD's are in storage away from moister or sunlight. Funny they show an old Lucas Arts game because so far they all still work.

    In fact they may not live very long at all if you don’t look after them.

    This is the most important thing, nothing lasts for very long if you don't look after it.

    But if you do look after them they can last for a very long time. I've still got CD's that are 20 years old or more that still work fine, because I take care of them. You just have to follow one simple rule, if you're not using them they stay in the case.

    Last edited 16/05/14 3:13 pm

      And try to keep them in a cool place that doesn't experience a lot of variation in temp. That's really about the most you can do without getting too carried away.

        Wait... are you saying that folder of CDs I've had in my car for 10 years isn't doing them any favours...?

          Yes I might be saying that. But you really won't know until you give them all a go.

          Good luck! :D

    Funnily enough my old Atari 5 1/4" floppies still work perfectly, most were recorded more than 30 years ago.

      I can't even remember the last time I saw a 5 1/4 floppy in the flesh. Every game I had used to come on those.

      I remember when 3 1/2s came out and we all got really excited about it.

        at work, i found a "back up"... 5 1/4" floppy, i nearly lost the plot, i was laughing sooo hard

          Do you guys even have a 5 " drive?

            lol no.. most computers don't even have cd drives!

              That's a pretty safe backup system then!

    I meant to say moisture!

    I work in an archive that collects and preserves cultural materials, up until 2006 our photography team was saving digitised photo collection to disc. Needless to say we are now in the process of moving 10s of thousands of files off CDs and onto server based archives. Not all of the discs made in the last 10 years are readable.

    Last edited 16/05/14 3:28 pm

      I work in Records, people are surprised when I tell them that conventional Burned CD/DVDs have a half-life of 5 years and probably wont work. The chemical recording layers on the discs dont last long if not stored or used correctly cause they are made to be cheap.

      Professionally produced CDs for like music/games/movies can last 20 years or more, but still they are not indestructable or flawless systems.

      You want a CD to last you need a Gold Archive CD-R, write once only to a gold metal layer that doesnt rot, oxidise, fade... they reportadly last 100 years with proper care. Else nowadays with HDD costs, get it onto HDDs/ File Servers and make them part of your routine backup processes.

    I was having this argument with people in the article about Blu-Ray sales being down.

    Physical copies will always break and even if they don’t then in all likelihood they’ll end up in a format thats inconvenient and outdated far before a digital license will.

    Years ago we didn’t have a choice, but anybody who’s buying physical media these days should really think hard about whether it is actually offering the benefits that they tell themselves they are. I’m not saying that there aren’t good reasons for owning physical copies, just that the reasons most people say (I will own it now and forever) are ridiculous.

    If I loved Back to the Future and bought a copy on VHS in the late 80’s, then I’m not still going to be watching that VHS now. Even if the physical VHS is still working, I probably re-purchased it for $10 on DVD at the end of the 90’s, maybe then again in 2008 on blu-ray. Now I might just want a downloadable version that I can keep or stream as necessary.

    The idea that digital media is worse because it is likely to be taken away from you (removed from servers or something) doesn’t add up when you consider the inconvenience or retaining compatible (old) hardware and the likelihood of breakage that comes with physical media.

      Nobody is really saying that a digital only age isn't coming. Everybody knows they'll be apart of it long before they're dead. But we're not that close yet. Considering how long it takes to download something, with the memory of our storage units, and how bad Australia internet is, everybody is happier with physical copies until the digital age becomes better.

      Especially when I buy a bad game that's been hyped up for 100 bucks and I can't refund that on digital as easily.

        All fair points.

        I’ve been on the digital games bandwagon since XBL started putting good sales up a little over a year ago, I was concerned at first but now I find it so convenient having games on the HDD that I wouldn’t go back.

        I don’t mind physical copies of games like Tomb Raider that you play once, but for things like shooters or sports games that you just duck in and out of digital is great.

          Digital Dark Souls was the final motivation to finish it. I'd had the disc version since launch, but it always seemed too much effort to put it in the drive and play, because I just died and hated it.

          But I bought it digitally on mega-sale last year and found myself more willing to give it a whirl. Then it got it hooks in and now I love it!

          I also find it super weird that Trials Fusion is on disc. I don't think I'd ever play it if I had that version.

      For the most part I agree. In a lot of cases people make up excuses for buying physical copies that don't hold too much water. They just don't like change.

      I've got no issues with moving to all digital for my games these days, as I play mostly on pc, although I still pick up the odd physical collector's edition for the art books. Being able to buy games cheaply on Steam/GoG etc. and have them all sitting there on my hard drive ready to go is great, and I can't see myself going back to buying physical copies.

      I'm not quite there with TV and movies yet though. I think it mostly falls to the fact that I'm not able to reliably stream video to my big ass tv in HD as the mood strikes me. Hopefully one day we'll have decent enough internet in Australia for that to be a reality, but right now it's often just easier (and faster)to go down the street to JB and pick up the blu-ray. It doesn't help that there's no real equivalent to Steam Sales for TV/movies either. Better pricing here would certainly get me buying more digital products.

      The one area in which I refuse to go digital though is books. I know paperbacks are big, bulky, often more expensive that a digital copy, and prone to wear and tear, but goddamn if they don't smell amazing. When Apple or Google come up with a digital equivalent of new book smell, maybe then I'll stop buying physical books.

        Yeah, books will certainly be the last thing to go. Aside from the scent they’re the only format that never gets outdated by advancing technologies. You’ll be hard pressed finding a blu-ray player in 50 years time, but your old books will be as accessible as ever.

        I do read from my phone/ tablet sometimes though, and it is good for people with bad eyesight because you can adjust the font size.
        Books will die out eventually, the generation being born now won’t have a lot of use for them by the time they’re teenagers. They’ll get expensive as more and more people use digital copies and paper books become boutique items and before you know it only tosspot hipsters in their early 20’s will be carrying them around :-)

      I still have a fair few old, working VHS tapes - and as far as I know anything I've collected over the years since is in fine, working order. It's not terribly difficult to look after them, and we're still pretty far from a digital-only age. By the time DVDs are rendered so obsolete that they're unusable, I'll likely be feeding worms, and there will still be collectors about.

      The likelihood of breakage is very minimal, and it's not hard to retain old hardware at all. Hell, if you look after your discs, chances are you look after the hardware that runs them as well.

      Ultraviolet was a complete flop, hard-drives can crash... There's arguments on both sides of this coin. For some, nothing beats a physical library; far more rewarding to attain, and free of any inconveniences that software, hardware or other unforeseen digital consequences bring forward.

      Last edited 16/05/14 5:18 pm

      yeah but i rip my blu rays, so that i have 100% quality not some stupid compressed streaming 1080p and also as obviously my internet isnt up to streaming 1080p anyway. plus i can easily seperate movie from special features and menus that slow down the watching experience

      however if i there was a blu ray format type of thing that was non physical id be interested - though obviously a 50GB file for a movie isnt everyones cup of tea

      I'm pretty sure out of all the disc formats, blu-ray is the best. I was chatting to the guy at the video store and he was telling me how they had way less issues with the blu-rays than the dvds.

    File quality on any electronically stored data is subject for warping/corruption.

    Its usually the CD Wallet in the car thats first to go.

    PS1 discs were actually really well made - I barely lost any yet PS2 dvds seemed to have a higher failure rate if anything.

    I always worry that one day when I switch on my near 20 year old Pokemon Blue cartridge that it will just seise to work yet it always does.

      My understanding on old game boy and game boy colour cartridges was that they contained a battery as a means of storing save files. As a result almost all the old games are starting to lose the ability to save progress. Of course, you can replace the battery, but previous progress is lost when you remove it, so yeah...

    I think my CDs and other physical media will last longer than servers that I have no control over.

    Last edited 16/05/14 3:37 pm

    Serious question... what does the article mean when they talk about the 'top' of the disc? The part with the title/artwork etc? Because I don't understand how you would be handling the top without also handling the bottom of the disc too, unless you had fingers like Spider-man.

      The top, as in the label side. The recording layer is actually closer to the label side and the label is only a bit of thin plastic. Handling the top like having it in your open palm, leaving it on a table label side down.

      Stick you index finger in the hole and your thumb on the edge. This way you can handle discs without touching either the top or bottom.

        yet so many people dont do this, its criminal

          That's the only way I've ever handled discs, yet you are right there are far too many people that just don't care and will grab the disc on both sides like it's a piece of pizza.

            I notice children do this a lot. Of course it's a bit unavoidable at certain ages with their lower motor-movement skills, but as they get older they should be taught better.

        That's how I always handle my discs... wasn't asking about that. I was looking for clarification on what the writer meant by the 'top' of the disc. This part in particular is a bit confusing:

        "Another is that most people have accidentally been mistreating their discs for years/decades, as the safest way to handle them is from the middle, not the top (which is actually more dangerous, since scratches up there lead straight to the disc’s sensitive areas)."

        ... as it talks specifically about the 'top', but when people are touching that part with the artwork etc they would also be handling the bottom, which kind of makes the part in brackets irrelevant.

          Is suppose what they mean is how many people allow parts of their fingers and other surfaces to rest on the top, including holding a disc upside down. I gotta admit that 'holding' the top would be pretty hard without touching the bottom, but I'd assume that simply trying so hard to avoid scratching the bottom would simply result in so much fumbling and mistreatment of the top.

    Take out the Mynocks!

    To me all futures of retaining old games are bleak unless all this happens.

    - games are transferred early into public archive systems
    - standardised format for recognising ownership (so your physical copies can be turned into digital
    - mandatory lower pricing by age
    - laws on the side of the consumer in regards to what services get to control in terms of your games ownership
    - widespread embracing of piracy, abandonware, and emulation

    Really the people who prefer physical copies to digital are not unaware of the ability to break over time. It's the sense of ownership and control.
    Regardless of the morally grey overtones, I'm grateful that I don't have to worry about my Mega-Drive collection braking down, thanks to the people who made freely downloadable emulated copies.

    This is the future of digital to me: access. While I disagree with all the digital-lovers throwing away boxed collections, and I'm wary of the control of third-parties - the number 1 thing that has brought me to Steam is how a game I bought is (at present) always available regardless of equipment. Digital distribution needs to save us from degrading media, and never take away what physical provided us.

      Depends on the quality though. I like my blu-rays because simply I cannot DL or stream anything in anywhere near the same quality level.

      I just like the best visual and audio experience possible.

        Well unless we're talking HD remakes and the like, games benefit from either working or not working, with the hardware that runs them simply getting better all the time.

        Obviously I'm arguing for the archival of all media, nobody should be making the best version of something scarce just because an okay version is already archived.

          Totally. Games it's just if it works. And hopefully on modern systems. I was talking about movies though. Movies I don't want to stream, I want it in the best quality possible. Right now that's blu-ray.

    In theory magnetic media have a lifetime of round ten years. In practice it seems to be longer than that (I have 20 year old floppies that are still readable).

    The killers are the problems with mastering of early DVDs. Some were created with a glue that would crack and let the air into the layer between the plastic surfaces. Some of these went bad within months, not years ("DVD rot") until the problem was noticed and fixed (but not for those already made, of course). Unfortunately for this reason I have a large number of utterly pristine but utterly useless DVDs.

    They still have some value though - even if they aren't readable themselves, they're a physical sign that yes, you do "own" a licence for that media. Given the number of DRMed media providers that have gone bust over the years that's not entirely to be ignored.

    But really, it comes down to common sense. Keep two copies of everything, in different formats and locations, all locations being fairly stable and low-temperature. Make spot checks occasionally to check for defects. Be aware that most companies will almost certainly either die or shut down their services eventually.

    It's one of the reasons I loathe single player games with a multiplayer component or some sort of server checkin. Eventually those servers will go away, and when that happens the game (which I paid to play in perpetuity) will stop working. I've never heard of a case of a company compensating its customers for doing this; just as with DRM, we're expected to eat the consequences of the publishers' self-protection.

    Last edited 17/05/14 4:51 am

    Weird, I've always handled my disks by the little hole in the center. It's right there! Perfect for grabbing on to! As to the "don't put labels or use pens on them" you can see these warnings written in the manual of any game ever.

    I'm sure my discs will outlive me if i take care of em, no biggie.

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