"CDs and DVDs should last a hundred years," said Bob Daly, co-owner of Polyline. "If the dyes are inferior, however, the disc could break down more rapidly. Then, you're going to have people calling you up and saying they can't play their wedding DVD anymore."
This is totally different than what people experienced with VHS. With tape media, if there is a bad part of the tape, you can still recover a large portion of what was recorded on the tape. (How much you can recover is dependent on how much of the tape is damaged, of course.) With digital media, however, "either you have it or you don't."
"The Internet has really fueled the supply of substandard media," said Daly. "The Internet has been good for many things and is a valuable tool for reputable companies and their customers. It's bad for others, however, because anyone can throw up a Web site and start selling media. We think it's crucial for you to really know your media dealer to assure that the media you purchase today are actually quality, licensed media that will stand the test of time.”
The so-called "substandard media” consist of products that may have been legally obtained but was not intended for sale in this country or for the purpose for which it was sold. There are a couple of ways that substandard media enter the U.S. market place. One way is for a manufactured product that does not make quality specifications to be sold as B or C grade to brokers that are relied on to sell it as B and C grade. Instead, some of these brokers will sell it as A grade to non authorized dealers, thus isolating the dealers from the initial agreement and keeping the quick profits for themselves. Other times, as the disc gets passed along distribution lines, the knowledge of the defect somehow gets lost.
Another way substandard media enter the market is when media that have quality issues is repackaged as a no-name or odd-named media.
What is being done?
Manufacturers are taking steps to control substandard media products. Notably, many are placing serial numbers on their products that identify where the product came from, where it originated and to whom it was intended to be sold.
Also, Philips, a major patent holder for CD-R & DVD-R technology, is beginning to enforce its licensing rights and obligations by actively pursuing manufacturers and importers of unlicensed discs. Products manufactured under standard licenses must comply with the standard specifications of that product and should, therefore, be able to work in a larger number of machines (this is called interoperability). Unlicensed discs may meet the standard specifications of the media, but there is no guarantee that they do.
How do you protect yourself?
"When an authorized dealer, such as Polyline, buys direct from the manufacturer, we know the product has been taken care of, from manufacturer to distributor to end-user," said Daly. "The problem with the 'substandard media' market is most of the media look the same. That makes it hard to know where the media came from, what grade it is, how it was shipped or, most importantly, if it will last. Your media could be stored in a cargo hold somewhere, which is not a suitable environment for media."
There are several things consumers can do, as well, to protect themselves from substandard products:
- Buy your CD-Rs, DVD-Rs and packaging from a manufacturer's authorized distributor, such as Polyline.
- When selecting a distributor, try calling the dealer on the phone first. You want a distributor that not only publishes a phone number, but can actually be reached. You also want a distributor that has media experts who can answer all your questions.
- When selecting a distributor, check out how long the company has been in business and see what other products the company is currently offering. It is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a steady supply of substandard products. If someone is dealing in substandard media, they may be offering a variety of seemingly unrelated products to keep a steady income.
- Be careful of off brands. Stick with major manufacturers that will stand by their CD-R and DVD-R products.
- Finally, Daly reminds us, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you see a really good price on the Internet, don't jump at it -- call your trusted distributor and ask about the pricing.