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Finalize Those DVDs!!!

We are now in the mid 2020s, and it is safe to say the era of the disc (CD, DVD, Blu-ray) is coming to an end. The majority of our customers now request us to transfer their media direct to digital files. Okay - technically, discs are just data storage device that ALSO contain digital files, but the data is usually written in ways that are meant for hardware compatibility and are not so end-user friendly once you look at them individually (all of the miscellaneous files inside a VIDEO_TS folder on a DVD, for example). In any case, we are now delivering files transferred from a variety of analog media - VHS tapes, 8mm movie film, photos, slides, audio cassettes, and more - directly onto USB flash drives instead of discs. In addition to all of these legacy analog formats, we are now seeing more and more customers bringing in their CDs and DVDs that have been recorded over the past 15 to 20 years to have them also transferred to digital files. Sometimes it's a simple copy/paste, as in a photo CD that contains many JPG image files. Other times it involves some conversion. For example, the video file on a DVD is split up into multiple smaller files, recorded in the older MPEG-2 video codec. To properly convert these to a single usable digital file, we run conversion software than not only combines the multiple segments back together, but also saves them in the more modern MP4 video format. One of the things that we see often is that customers that either recorded their discs on a home DVD recorder or use a mini DVD camcorder failed to properly finalize their discs. What does finalize mean? Simply put, it is a way of "closing" the disc so that no additional information can be written to it. This also allows it to become compatible with other disc players and computers. The bottom line is than unfinalized discs will only play in the unit that recorded them (or a similar make/model).

Why did no one ever finalize their discs? It's simple - none of us tend to read the instructions! I know when I bought my first DVD recorder, I was all excited I recorded an episode of "Friends" as a test. This was the early 200s, so yes, it was still on the air. I took it to my living room to play it on our DVD player and... nothing! Disc error! So, I begrudgingly cracked open the manual and voila! - I understood what needed to be done.

So when we get discs brought to us for transfer, my first question always is, "Are they finalized?" and I am met with that look of bewilderment. If the answer turns out to be "No," then we have two options. The first is to use whatever device recorded the discs to finalize them. If that camera or recorder no longer exists, we have special recovery software that can read data from unfinalized discs. Unfortunately, sometimes only a portion of the unfinalized disc can be rescued. Occasionally none of it can.

Comparison of blank, unfinalized, and finalized DVDs.

Can you tell if a disc has been finalized - or use, for that matter - just by looking at it? In most cases the answer is yes. Recordable CDs are sometimes more difficult to tell, but writable DVD and Blu-ray discs show a significant lightening of the color where data has been written. Discs write from the inside hub outwards, but save some space for the table of contents, which is added to the disc as part of the finalizing process. So if there is a wide strip of unwritten data near the hub, it usually means that the disc is unfinalized. The actual width of this section varies by disc type and the piece of hardware that recorded it, but it's usually pretty obvious.

So the bottom line is that, if you are one of these "non finalizers" and still have your original equipment, go finalize those discs now, regardless of whether or not you are ready to have them transferred. It is the easiest way to make sure we can properly preserve the your media on those discs.

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