Are Cheap Blank CD, DVD or Blu-ray Discs Really Cheap?

I confess.  I’m a sucker for cheap media.   I bought blank DVD disks for a few cents each when Circuit City liquidated its inventory.  I bought blank CD-R discs the same way.  I have hundreds of discs I have not even broken the wrapper on.

I’ve bought cheap media other times, from other places, but don’t buy this stuff anymore.

Would I use these for business purposes?  Not a chance.

The actual media –whether cheap or quality — share some basic similarities: The disc is a polycarbonate platter.  On one side, a special layer is bonded to the polycarbonate disc.  This layer has a dye that changes in response to the ‘writing’ beam of the recorder’s layer, creating a ‘pit’ or a ‘land’ corresponding to the data being written onto it.  This layer is then covered with a reflective coating (which makes the discs often look like round mirrors), followed by a coating or two of material that is designed to protect the ‘working’ layers beneath it.  In some cases, these can be very strong, virtually scratchproof.  In other cases, these layers also perform a task.  LightScribe discs, like those carried by Aleratec, use the top surface as a recordable surface, providing the ability to burn a label onto the media.

My experience with cheap discs over the years was one where the top layer was often not adequate to keep the metallic and organic dye levels from getting easily scratched off.  A disc I recorded in the past could wind up unusable later, because the top ACTUALLY CHIPPED OFF of the polycarbonate plastic below it.  Some ‘cheap’ discs will begin losing this layer if flexed, even slightly.  A quality disc is often thicker, and more resistant to bending, than the cheap generic media.

I’ve had one or two discs actually SHATTER in my drives.   The speed that the drive was spinning the disc was so fast (but within normal limits) that the disc literally flew apart.  This killed the drive – if I was able to open the drive door at all, the thousands of bits of disc that flew around inside the drive made removal of all the stuff extremely difficult.

A better quality blank disc, like the ones Aleratec sells, typically has a much thicker protective layer, and is more resistant to forces that would cause such failures.  LightScribe media, by virtue of their design, may be even more resistant.  The recordable label layer on a LightScribe disc adds a bit of thickness to the platter below it.  The coating increases resistance to scratching on the label surface of the drive, and helps to add stability.

Another factor that isn’t often discussed is this – cheap media may not work in all drives.  I have a notebook computer that can’t write to cheap media.  It doesn’t want to, or doesn’t know how.  Throw in brand name (or Aleratec) media, and the drive accepts, and writes to it.  This is probably an issue with many slim drives.

Then, there’s the intangible – would an organization make much of an impression if it sent out its materials on obviously cheap discs?  Is it worth the risk for an organization to send out discs that could, potentially, shatter, or that may not be readable in the recipient’s drive?  Wouldn’t a label burned onto a disc with a LightScribe surface be a much safer choice?  (And, beyond this, wouldn’t the ability to create standard labels for your organization or department, quickly and easily, using an Aleratec disc duplicator with LightScribe capability be a great way to control your company’s image?)

Mark Brownstein is a technology journalist and technology consultant who specializes in explaining and interpreting new technologies, and clarifying how to integrate these new products into current systems. He has been Editor-In-Chief at computer technology and networking publications, has held significant editorial positions at major technology magazines, and is a frequent contributor to various technology magazines. He has written seven books. He is Microsoft Certified, and spends much of his time testing hardware and software products, running his own networks, and learning the best ways to get computer systems running and to keep them running.

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Posted in DVD CD Blu-ray Disc, LightScribe
One comment on “Are Cheap Blank CD, DVD or Blu-ray Discs Really Cheap?
  1. Steve says:

    Cheap is certainly not cheerful in my experience either…

    I have probably used in excess of 5000 lightscribe discs over the last 5 years and every time in the past (I have not done this now for about 18 months…) I have tried yet another cheap brand of LightScribe discs I alway find some problem, usually its either of my drives reading the disc.

    I have to be honest I have not tried the discs you sell here, but in my experience I never have had any problems with Verbatim.

    And like you say if you are using these as part of your business, either for your own use, or for your customers the ‘few pence’ extra per disc is worth the cost to your reputation many times over.

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