Now that Blu-ray is getting the big push in the home video arena, the major studios are already starting to give up on DVDs, or so it seems.
I have purchased about 100 DVDs through Deep Discount.com in the last two years. Many of them I didn’t unwrap for months thanks to a hefty backlog of movies I needed to watch, and when I did open them I discovered that about 6% of them had scratches on the back side of the disc, rendering them unplayable. And at least 20% more had odd cloudy areas underneath, which is potentially connected to “DVD rot,” although I have yet to have problems with that. All of these discs were releases from both indie companies and studios. Deep Discount was great about replacing the scratched ones, even paying the shipping costs. (Now that’s customer service!) But it made me think about why so many discs are now manufactured so poorly, especially as I have recently received promo copies from many different studios, often in new, multi-disc box sets, that were also scratched up.
Then there are DVDs with mastering problems that can affect playability. One such problem occurred in 2004 with the THX-1138 release, which shows that the problem is not new. Months ago I lent a friend my copy of the original Inglorious Bastards, and he said the DVD had audio problems all the way through. Last year I received a copy of a reissued Lucio Fulci movie that had to be recalled right before its street date because the audio track was too low. Lucky for that company they figured it out before the DVDs reached the marketplace; Anchor Bay tried recalling Black Hole discs with bad audio a few years ago, but the recall only worked with retailers who actually cared to do it.
The obvious culprit here is mass production, which has lead to diminishing quality control. Ten years ago DVDs were a cherished commodity; today they litter the bargain bins at Wal-Mart and other big box retailers. But I also recall when cassettes were near the end of their life span and CDs were the format to push. Many tapes seemed to be manufactured poorly as an incentive to encourage people to buy CDs, which, by the way, rarely ever have defects. I can’t remember the last time I bought a defective CD. This situation also reminds me of how Cingular bought AT&T years back but did not bother to upgrade the AT&T towers, basically forcing people into switching to Cingular in order to get superior cell phone service. That may be too much conspiracy theory for some, but this DVD manufacturing problem is undoubtedly real.
Regardless of what the complete truth is, the day of the DVD is slowly coming to an end. I don’t think they’ll disappear off the shelves for many more years (the Blu-ray market is a long way from peaking), but the focus of studios is now shifting to the Blu-ray format, which provides high definition resolution, can store more information and is much harder to damage (although still possible under certain circumstances). But for those people who cannot afford to make the HD conversion yet, not to mention those who have amassed considerably large DVD collections and do not want to repurchase much of their personal catalog, the idea of investing in this new format is difficult or aggravating.
For now, remember to unwrap and check each new DVD right after purchase, just in case. Otherwise you might find out weeks later that your product is useless and you cannot exchange it.