The Life-Span of DVDs

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the January, 2006, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

From time to time in this newsletter, we’ve had discussions about the life-span of CD and DVD media. At a trade show recently, I had a chance to talk to the engineers at MAM-A, one of the better CD/DVD media companies, about the life-span of burnable disks.

Here’s what I learned.

The life-span of a burnable CD or DVD is highly dependent upon the quality of the organic dye it uses. Not all organic dyes are the same. In fact, organic dyes will vary from one product line to another from the same manufacturer. (Want to know the technical name of the dye? Phthalocyanine. No, I can’t pronounce it.)

For example, MAM-A Gold label CD/DVD discs have been shown in the lab to last 6 times longer than silver label.

MAM-A estimates their Gold label CD-R’s have a life-span of 300 years and the silver CD-R’s of about 50 years. Other discs that they have tested look like they’ll fail in 2 years or less.

Due to differences in organic dyes between CDs and DVD’s, Gold label DVD’s have a lab-rated life-span of 100 years, if handled properly. MAM-A silver label CDs and DVD’s can start to degrade after 20-30 years.

Also, to improve disc longevity, store CDs and DVD’s in jewel cases, on edge, in a dark and temperature controlled space. For those of you old enough to remember, these are the same instructions we followed for storing vinyl records.

Here’s a link to NIST which discusses the best ways to archive CDs and DVD’s:

I’d been reading recently about a concept called “CD-ROT.” CD-ROT is caused when a bacteria attacks the aluminum backing of a replicated CD. Burned discs are generally not affected by CD-ROT.

Also, MAM-A recommends that to improve data integrity and compatibility, burn your disks more slowly. My recommendation is to burn CDs at 16x speed and DVD’s at 2x speed.

They felt that those numbers were a bit conservative. As their engineer, Joe Weisenbach, stated: “We see excellent results burning CDs at 16x, we have not seen significant improvements in burning DVD’s at speeds less than 8X.”

As a follow-up, I sent MAM-A an email asking about the correlation between “lab-testing” and “real-world” testing. They replied: “Who knows? We’ve only been making them for 12 years.”

Go to top.

Update: Life-span of DV tapes

Bill Moede, of Green Bay, Wisconsin (which I mention because it is near where I grew up), sends in the following update:

I have also had dropouts on older miniDV tapes, 4-5 years. For that reason, if we are retaining material long term, I master to DVCAM. I have DVCAM tapes that are nearing 8 years old with no problems.


I had also been making backup masters on SVHS, I have of some of these tapes that are still quite good after 12 years.


For a few years, I was backing up to digital 8mm just using a digital 8 camera with DV input, but I was seeing some dropout on those tapes after a few years also.


Currently, we are making backup emergency copies to Maxell Broadcast quality DVD’s. Yes, I know its compressed, but better that no video at all!


Also, I do not reuse miniDV tapes more that 2 years old.

Uli Plank also adds a comment:

[Larry wrote:] I understand your frustration — dropouts are not good. However, I am DEFINITELY not a fan of archiving on hard disk.


Uli continues: Very true! But in the case of very important footage, as long as it is short enough, I’d rather consider optical media. Tape is very sensitive to dust and magnetic fields, which are nearly everywhere. DVD-RAM is a very robust long-term medium and “only” depends on the availability of a reader (which may change it’s connectors, OS-support and such). And, well, even a tape needs a compatible player 😉

Larry replies: Thanks to both Bill and Uli.

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8 Responses to The Life-Span of DVDs

  1. Bill says:

    Started with your reflection of 2012 and been clicking away from that post to read all these other ones. Just wanted to say it’s all been a pleasure and thanks for the good work.

  2. Richard Hale says:

    Dear Larry,
    Let me take a few words and introduce you to a new technology that should be of great interest to you and anyone interested in a permanent solution to archiving..
    It’s called M-DISC and was developed by Millenniata in Orem, Utah.
    It’s simply a recording format totally compatible with DVD/BD Video and Data specifications.
    That is, once recorded, it will play on and/or can be read by disc drives capable of playing/reading DVD/BD discs.
    It is single layer and has a storage capacity of 4.7 or 25 gigabytes and soon a 100 gigabyte BD.
    The difference between M-Discs and other DVD/BD discs is the way information is written on the disc.
    It is etched in a stone-like material that will withstand extreme temperature and light spectrum variations without fading or deteriorating.
    Other BD/DVDs use an organic dye-based surface to store data which is very susceptible to fading and deterioration when subjected to light and temperature and humidity variations.
    The life span of regular BD/DVDs is months to a few years.
    The life expectancy of a M-Disc is rated at 1000 years.
    To read more about this wondrous development use this link:
    How costly are M-Discs? About $3 (DVD) $5(BD)

    Currently the M-Disc is the only file backup disc that will last forever! Hard Drives, Thumb Drives, Disc Media, and even the Cloud are not permanent solutions.

    • Larry Jordan says:


      Thanks for the comment. I’ve been aware of mDisc for a while and agree that it looks to be a very promising solution. My only concern is not with the technology but with capacity. An mDisc DVD only holds 4 GB or 8 GB, Blu-rays can hold up to 50 GB. While large, this pales in comparison to the terabytes generated by many video projects.

      mDisc is a solid solution for some media, but not a complete solution.


      • Richard Hale says:

        They are on the verge of releasing a 100 gig Blu-ray M-Disc. I think an interview on the Buzz with a guest from Millenniata would be highly informative. Places like Google are experimenting with massive storage solutions using multiple m-discs.

  3. Chris Filiano says:

    I disagree.The reality is that recordable CDs DVDs,and Blu-Ray Discs will last for many years if they are kept at temperatures between 40-120 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity levels between 40-60 %.

    • Larry says:


      Well, sorta. Based on what the DVD manufacturers tell me, the organic layer in burnable DVDs will last for 20 – 25 years. A replicated (meaning duplicated via manufacturing) DVD should last for close to 100 years. Burnable DVDs last about the same amount of time as an LTO tape.


  4. chris filiano says:

    It turns out that recordable CDs,DVDs,and Blu-Ray Discs can last for many years,decades,or even centuries if cared for and stored properly.

    • Hugh M Neely says:

      I fear the operative words “can last” rather than “will last.” Larry has learned that the dyes used in recordable DVDs may be quite variable in their fading properties. My personal experience is that I have lost data on perhaps 2% of writable CDs and DVDs in my collection…some after only a year or two. A few are unplayable, but more hang up randomly (or in the case of CD-Roms and DVD-Roms have individual files that can no longer be accessed). I expect most will last longer…but I’m hoping that M-Discs will prove more consistent over time. I cannot trust a DVD-R to have a long life. I also have a few CDs lost to rot or in one case, to coffee that spilled on it and got between the layers.

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