Where DVDs Go to Die: Writable DVDs Often Don’t Disclose Life Expecentancies

Let’s face it – ever since the advent of the digital camera, you got a little bit trigger happy. Why take only 1 picture of the cheesy statue you saw on the family road trip when you could take 40? Of course you need to take a picture every day of your baby’s growth for the first year (and, come on, you know it is going to take at least 5 snap shots to get it right). Like most consumers, eventually you realized you don’t have time to go through every picture, and don’t want to throw them away – so how do you store them?

Many consumers have turned to the now almost ubiquitous writable and rewritable DVD technology (DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-RAM) to store these massive quantities of images, songs, family movies, documents and whatever else they are trying to clear from their desktops, phones, and cameras. But unfortunately, many don’t realize that these storage devices don’t offer perfect protection.

So, How Long Do DVDs Last?
I wish that we could give an exact number, but unfortunately there is a huge range. Let’s start with those factors that can impact the life expectancy of a writable or rewritable DVD.

  • Type of Disc: Writable discs tend to last longer the rewritable
  • Manufacturing Quality: Buying the cheapest disk might mean a shorter life span
  • Condition of Disc Before Recording: How clean was the disc? Had it already been sitting on a shelf for 3 years when you got it? Unrecorded, the shelf life of many dvds is only 5 to 10 years.
  • Quality of Recording: Was the disc professionally recorded, or did you burn it on your home computer without error checking?
  • Handling and Maintenance: Has this disc been stored away for safe keeping, or have you been using it in your car stereo?
  • Environmental Concern: Has this disc been sitting in your air conditioned home or stuffed in a box in the garage? Heat and humidity can wreak havoc on optical storage

Given all of this, what is the real life expectancy of a DVD? Well, manufacturers would like you to believe that a DVDR will last you anywhere from 30 to 100 years while DVDRws will last up to 30 years! Well, the good folks at Archive.gov have looked a little more closely (if you haven’t guessed, archiving is pretty important to them). Their “experiential life expectancy” which is a measurement of how long the storage is still readable is closer to 2 to 5 years.

How Do I Make My DVDs Last Longer?
There are several steps you can take to make the disc last as long as possible

  • Only handle the disc by the outer edge and center ring. Never touch the shiny surface either before or after recording.
  • Store at 62 to 70 degrees Farenheight and 35 to 50% relative humidity. Do not allow the temperature to fluctuate more than 2 degrees or humidity more than 5%
  • Store them in their specific “jewel case”
  • Store the “jewel cases” in plastic or steel containers

The best solution, though, is to have multiple back up plans and semi-annually transferring data to new discs while keeping the old discs as copies. There is safety in redundancy.


This guest post was provided by a staff writer at DVDs.com.