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Saturday, February 01, 2003
A bad case of DVD rot eats into movie collections

If you think your prized collection of DVD movies will last a lifetime, think again - some are already starting to rot while others are falling apart. Unofficial estimates put the number of affected discs at between one and 10 per cent. Yet some of the largest distributors for Hollywood Studios are accused of refusing to accept the problem exists and replace faulty products.

Last year Australians spent $398 million buying 13.3 million DVD movie titles - a three-fold increase on the 4.3 million sold in 2001, according to research firm GFK.

The technology, sold as a replacement for VHS video tape, with added interactive content, is now five years old and the DVD industry claims it is the most successful packaged media in consumer electronics history.

The failures are a combination of corrosion - known as "DVD rot" - and delamination, where the layers of the disc separate.

Symptoms of the rot include picture break-up and freezing at a specific place on the disk. The main cause is believed to be poorly designed cases. Delamination shows up as a coffee-like stain that prevents the disc from playing.

Among those worst affected are video rental stores, which buy millions of DVDs per year.

"Some stores have reported they only get two or three rentals from a DVD before it's unplayable," said Ross Walden, director of the Australian Video Retailers Association.

Distributors "are washing their hands of it", he said. "Once a DVD has been rented out [distributors] will not take them back."

Rohan Byrnes, 34-year-old science fiction fanatic who owns 350 DVDs, has spent a lot of time looking at rot. He works as a failure analysis engineer, with access to an optical microscope.

Mr Byrnes has studied five cases of DVD rot - four in his own collection - and suspects the microscopic corrosion spots on the aluminium layer inside the disc could be caused by a "chemical attack", possibly related to the glue used.

One DVD website lists 18 titles known to have at least one bad batch, among them Planet of the Apes (1968), Men in Black: Collectors Edition, Independence Day and the Alien Legacy box set.

Mr Byrnes returned his discs to the distributors, 20th Century Fox and Columbia TriStar, enclosing his analysis, and got replacements, but other victims were not so lucky. Peter Longworth, a DVD collector in Newcastle, had an identical problem with Planet of the Apes two years after buying it.

However, 20th Century Fox refused to replace it as it was out of the 90-day warranty.

"The company refused to accept that there was a manufacturing problem," he said. Mr Longworth wrote to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in November, but the watchdog does not act on consumer warranty issues.

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox declined to comment on the matter. A spokesman said only: "We always fully compensate our customers for any manufacturing fault found." Warner Home Video's managing director, Stephen Nickerson, said: "If a customer has a problem with a disc and it is clearly a manufacturing problem we will replace it. The question is whether it is caused by a manufacturing problem or customer abuse."

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