Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blu Ray: Lessons Learned From DVD Media

Blu Ray blank media guide : Introduction to Blu Ray blank media 
Introduction to Blu Ray Blank Media Part 2: Lessons Learned From DVD Media

What can we learn from the DVD storage media record? Blu Ray media have been around in commercial quantities for approximately 5 years, but it is only since the end of the HD DVD/ Blu Ray war that usage has taken off. As a result, global usage of Blu Ray BD-R (Recordable), while rapidly increasing, is still comparatively low, and we do not always see the large quantity of reviews for all formats and brands that would allow us to unequivocally make the right quality calls.

On the other hand, there is a long history for DVD-Rs (and other recordable DVD formats as well), which has allowed the establishment of a clear record for the industry. From this record we can draw some conclusions, some of which may apply, to a degree, to Blu Ray media.

Three tier industry
The industry has evolved into a three-tier structure, with a small number of expensive archival-grade brand names, a middle tier of non archival-grade brand names, and a third tier of cheap, untrustworthy, generally no-name brands. While the cheaper brands are clearly inferior, among the higher level brands price does not correlate well with quality. Its quite possible to find poor media from expensive brands, but it is not possible to find archival grade anywhere but in the top tier.

Expensive technologies are sometimes useless
Marketing-speak has pushed high priced technologies that did not turn out to be useful. For instance, gold, a very expensive technology, turned out to not to be a significant attribute for archival, whatever the manufacturer - in fact, it turned out to be harder to read. On the other hand, full control of the manufacturing chain and high quality dyes made a  big difference to quality.

Poor quality overall
Amazingly for a market as mature as that of the DVD data storage market, it is difficult to find truly reliable products. While some of this is due to the problems associated with a poor specification in the DVD standard, resulting in only 90-95% compatibility across media, readers and burners, much of it is due to poor manufacturing quality, even from famous brands.

Reputation: best and worst brands
None of the tip tier brands are inexpensive, although quite a few brands are more expensive. Top tier brands in the past 2 years have been the high end offerings from Taiyo Yuden (now switching to the JVC brand), Verbatim (Mitsubishi) and Sony, possibly the only brands to provide true archival quality. Mitsui has now split into MAM-America and MAM-Europe, and, while some include Mitsui Gold in the top tier, others consider MAM quality inferior. Verbatim is the most common archival quality brand, and its archival quality products include all those mentioning AZO dies in the product description or displaying the AZO logo  (in particular its Datalife and DataLifePlus series). Be sure to purchase Taiyo Yuden or Verbatim products from authorized distributors, as fakes are widely available in no-name stores.

Other tiers have not shown archival quality. Middle Tier brands include TDK (outsourced, in general to Ritek), Maxell (outsourced), Kodak, HP (outsourced, in general to CMC), Ritek, Imation (outsourced in general to CMC), Optical Quantum (high end Vinpower brand, outsourced). CMC's reputation is not that of a top quality manufacturer. Ritek-made media appears better when labeled under big brand names - maybe better quality control? Third tier, no-name brands or generics provide worse quality, with the high risk of large numbers of coasters, or, worse, short archival life with the resulting likelihood of data loss.

We collected over 10,000 user reviews of DVD recordable media for an upcoming review, and were able to rank all major DVD media brands present in the US. For archival quality products we found, in order, Taiyo Yuden (NOT including its Value Line), Sony, and Verbatim DataLife Plus. Several percent below, we found the other Verbatim products, i.e. AZO branded products and regular products - we believe that these are marginal when looking at true archival quality. we were surprised to see regular Verbatim products ranked roughly equal to AZO branded products, not including the DataLifePlus series.

Middle tier brands (most of which factoring Ritek media) were, in order, HP, Imation, TDK,  VinPower/Optical Quantum, Ritek, Memorex, Maxell and Kodak, none of which, we feel, are worthy of an archival rating. It is worth noting that Taiyo Yuden, Sony (at least until early 2010), and Verbatim, the top rated brands, were all also OEMs for their own media, while the second tier companies were all factoring products (except for Ritek, whose product is actually factored by most of the other middle tier brands). We are quite shocked to see TDK and Maxell, once considered some of the very best media producers for high quality sound reproduction, factoring media products and coming out with mediocre scores - what a sad come-down.Ritek and Memorex have long suffered a poor reputation in DVD media. But seeing Kodak, the company which produced the iconic Kodachrome 64 (the product line was just terminated in 2010), at the trailing end of the second tier quality, is also quite a commentary on brand quality management.

Blu Ray consequences
If the same rules apply to the Blu Ray market, we can surmise that:
  • there will not be 100% compatibility across media, readers and burners 
  • very few brands will be archival quality
  • the most expensive brands may not always be the most reliable
  • the cheapest brand will never be archival grade
  • archival quality media comes from brands who manufacture their own media
  • Taiyo Yuden (JVC) and the high end Verbatim and Sony products are more likely to be archival quality than the rest of the industry
The primary sources of media user reviews are Amazon, NewEgg, SuperMediaStore, Staples, and Meritline. Primary forum sources are digitalFAQ forums (in particular the blank media section),  Blu Ray forums, doom9 forums, MyCE blank media forum, afterdawn DVDR forum, avforums, and avsforum. The digitalFAQ site is the best fact-based site on DVD media, and is based on the experience of professional duplicators. The DVD FAQ section from the rec.video.dvd usenet is also valuable.

    Next we discuss Blu Ray media failure modes... So come back soon!

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