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Hard Coat Protection for Recordable Discs  (6/2005)

    by Douglas Dixon

Hard Coat Products
Consumer Message
Industry Plan

Consumers love DVDs. They love to buy and rent movies, and they're learning to record their own discs. But consumers are perhaps a little too friendly with their discs, treating them with a casualness and lack of delicacy abhorrent to industry insiders, who understand how big a problem a dirty fingerprint or scratch can cause in a world of laser wavelengths. The result is consumers that are no longer so happy with their DVDs, when scratches and smudges make discs stutter and skip, or even become totally unplayable (see NIST Care and Handling Guide

        TDK DURABIS coating

This is obviously a problem for any family with young children whose grubby little hands cannot hold a disc carefully by its edges. And it's a problem for DVD rental and audio book companies, and local libraries, when the disc budget is eaten up by the need to replace damaged discs -- suddenly VHS tapes do not look so bad. Librarians resort to replacing all their DVD packaging with standard (and theft-resistant) cases to try to encourage patrons to learn to remove and handle discs carefully, and also apply a preventive shield spray as a combination sealer, protector, and cleaner to defend the surface (see

Meanwhile, the development of next-generation blue-laser DVD escalated this problem for the recordable media industry. A fingerprint is bad enough on a red-laser disc, but moving to a shorter wavelength (650 to 405 nm) results in a light spot area for Blu-ray discs that is only 19% the size of DVD. Especially for recordable discs, it's difficult enough to punch a blue laser through dirt and grime to read the smaller pits, much less reliably burn them. And the obvious answer of protecting the disc with a cartridge was out of the question for a consumer product, as the industry has seen with DVD-RAM, where medical users like the cartridge protection for archival media, and consumers demands bare media to use with their camcorders.

Hard Coat Products

The result was the development of new hard-coat technology for optical discs, as demonstrated by TDK for the Blu-ray format. This good idea was then extended to plain old red-laser discs with a series of announcements as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2005:

- Imation announced its ForceField scratch resistant coating for CDs and DVDs ( It is described as providing a long-lasting "memory protection" layer designed to resist the rigors of everyday life: scratches, dust, smudges and everyday wear and tear that can interfere with the maximum enjoyment of music, photos and videos.

- Maxell introduced a new premium line of DVD-R PRO media featuring its MAXPRO Hardcoat technology (, described as producing a media surface that is 40 times more scratch resistant and 20 times more dust resistant than standard DVD media. Besides the scratch resistance, the DVD-R PRO media is positioned as ultra-reliable, using a high-quality, propriety dye that further ensures data integrity and longevity, and providing up to two times longer archival and storage life.

- TDK unveiled its DURABIS coating technology that significantly increases the durability of the Blu-ray Disc ( TDK unified its super hard coating technology under the same name, and has produced a logo to identify it (the word was coined by combining the words "durability" and "shield"). The DVD-R product is advertised as "Armor Plated DVD," and described as 100 times more scratch resistant than uncoated discs. Single-piece list pricing in April 2005 was $5.99, compared to $4.99 for standard media.

- Verbatim announced VideoGard-enhanced discs that are 40 times more resistant to damage without a significant increase in the cost ( The media, available for 8x DVD-R, 8x DVD+R, 2x DVD-RW and 4x DVD+RW formats, is positioned as specifically designed for home video recording, for making irreplaceable home videos and recordings of favorite TV programs.

            Verbatim VideoGard

Says Andy Marken, Verbatim spokesperson: "All Verbatim media has -- and has had -- a double protective layer, which is one of the reasons it has been resistant to scratches and scuffing. The VideoGard coat provides about 40x more protection than industry standard discs. The challenge was to provide added protection for the consumer without a significant increase in price. Verbatim/MKM tested more than 2 dozen formulations before choosing the present coating which combines protection with extremely broad compatibility (read compatibility through the hard coat is extremely vital) and economy."

- Maxell and Panasonic also announced new media for DVD camcorders in the smaller 8cm size. As with blue-laser discs, the hard coat allows customers to more comfortably use DVD-RAM discs outside the optional cartridge ( Maxell DVD-RAM High Grade Camcorder media with Hardcoat Surface is available in both single-sided (1.4 GB) and double-sided (2.8 GB) products. Panasonic is adding its Pro Hard Coating to all its 8cm and 12cm DVD-RAM media products, and will introduce a much more superior protective coating called "Super Hard Coating" around June 2005.

Consumer Message

The industry is positioning these new products as able withstand the rigors of everyday handling without being scratched. And since scratching is no longer a big concern, any grime on the disc surface can be simply wiped away with any old cloth or tissue.

The message to consumers is broken into three parts:

- Resists scratches and scuffs -- The hard surface is not easily scratched by ordinary handling, so, for example, you no longer need to handle discs carefully by only the edges, and you can slide them safely into and out of sleeves. You even can casually stack discs and slide them on a table.

- Resists smudges and grime -- The surface is not just hard, but it also has a finish that prevents smudges from smearing out. Like rain water on car wax, fingerprints "bead up" and are easy to wipe away (stand by for commercials in which animated hard coat soldiers repel the invasion of the oily fingerprints). And the scratch resistance means you can just wipe the surface with any handy cloth to clean it.

- Resists dust -- The surface repels dust particles by releasing static charges quickly, instead of attracting dust and binding it to the surface (with high surface energy). This means you no longer need to be concerned about using a lint-free cloth to clean discs, or be as careful about storing discs away between uses. (More likely, most consumers were at most dimly aware that these were issues within the industry, and not do not need to be educated about them.)

The bottom line: You don't need to be dainty with your discs anymore (though don't go overboard and deliberately abuse them). However, it's not clear how far the industry should go with this message -- the encouragement in one Imation brochure that consumers can "Say hello to... Tossing a disc across a desktop... without concern for damage" would still send shutters down the back of most DVD professionals. And of course, this liberation of consumers only applies to recordable discs with hard coats, so consumers still need to be trained to be careful with all other discs, especially replicated movies.

Says Verbatim's Marken,, "We have to emphasize that VideoGard and hard coating is not bullet proof. Even the first user can damage the disc if he or she doesn't practice "normal," common sense conservative media handling. The added protection was developed for the normal user who practices good handling but just wants that added peace and mind because of the kids or clumsy in-law. It will withstand remarkable abuse, but was not added so that people could see how much abuse they could give to the disc before it would be unusable."

Industry Plan

The industry is beginning with recordable discs. "Disc reliability and longevity are top concerns to users," says Carla Pihowich, Imation Americas Marketing Manager for Consumer and Office Products. These new products are targeting a rapidly growing customer segment that Imation has coined "Memory Keepers" -- "users with an expectation for higher quality, longer-lasting and more innovative digital media to protect and save their most precious video, music and photo memories." Other important segments are the "TV Watcher," who is capturing, recording, and keeping TV shows, and the B-to-B market, in which business users are also concerned about quality.

Beyond the consumer and business markets, Marken also sees demand for professional and archival use: "For most professionals who are accustomed to properly handling DVD media hard coating is almost a non-issue. For archivists who are accustomed to properly handling and storing discs, the added coating is less of a concern. With this said, the demand for VideoGard across the sectors -- and especially with archivists and volume professional personnel -- has been extremely high because the coating provides them that added degree of protection...just in case. These individuals understand the amount of data stored on the disc and the value of that data."

As a result, these companies plan to continue carrying both lines, with and without the hard coat, and expect to expand from recordable (R) to rewritable (RW) formats as volumes increase, and from there to volume spindle media for custom production. The premium, says Pihowich, will be "around a 25 - 30% price difference."

On the other hand, notes Tony Jasionowski, Executive Technology Director, North America, RAM Promotion Group at Panasonic, the reality is that recordable DVD prices are coming down. The result, he says, may be that "hard coats may be a way to stabilize the decline in prices. It's a benefit for name brands, since their prices are higher to begin with."

        Panasonic DVD-RAM with Hard Coating 

The hard coat itself is an additional polymer layer on top of a conventional DVD sandwich and polycarbonate layer. "It's only a couple microns thick," says Subodh Kulkarni, Executive Director, R&D at Imation, "and well within the DVD specification."

And where do these claims of 40X more scratch resistant and 20X more dust resistant come from? These are based on test methodologies from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM,, using a table abrader for calibrated scratch tests, and measuring the time for a charge to decay to resist dust build-up.

Given consumer concerns about preserving their memories, and professional concerns about archival quality, it's helpful to have some real numbers, instead of trying to sell higher-priced media based on general claims about "archival quality." The problem, says Rusty Rosenberger, Director, Global Business Strategy at Imation, is that "archival quality is hard to quantify. But there is broad trade industry interest in standard measures of archival quality, though organizations like OSTA and NIST."

For the moment, however, hard coated media seems to provide a clear and quantifiable message and product differentiator for the industry.

"It's part of the evolution in the enhancement of the platform," says Rosenberger. With CD recordable media, the data layer is close to the print surface, so "first we added protection for the label side, and now to the data side."

"Blue-laser discs are the next step," he says. "They would need a cartridge if they did not have hard coat, so it's more of a standard feature for advanced media." The success of blue-laser discs as a consumer product was really dependent on getting the media out of the cartridge and into the consumer's grubby hands. And even before mass introduction of next-generation DVD, the benefits of hard coats have flowed to standard DVD.


Imation - ForceField

Maxell - DVD-R PRO / MAXPRO Hardcoat

TDK - DURABIS - Armor Plated

Verbatim - VideoGard

Panasonic - Pro Hard Coating

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)

NIST - Care and Handling Guide for the Preservation of CDs and DVDs

Library Video Company - Protecting Your DVD Collection