The Softer Side of Blank Media

Just what your video equipment needs.

Media.

Just the mere mention of the word raises your pulse a little, doesn't it? Feeling all goosebumpy and excited? Come on… we all use it. We always need more. We can never get enough of it.

Ahem… Well, OK, buying media is undeniably not one of the most exciting moments in the spectrum of human experiences, but we're here to give you a practical guide on the stuff that our video equipment needs in order to actually record the video that we produce.

VHS

Yeah, we know, who actually uses VHS (or S-VHS, or VHS-C, or S-VHS-C) anymore? DVD has certainly displaced VHS as the distribution media of choice for now, with its significantly better quality, random access of scenes and unparalleled ability to add features to content, such as commentary and alternate language tracks, multiple angles, etc.

Even though it seems like VHS is woefully obsolete, there are still a few circumstances where you've got to have that format. In that case, tape is dirt-cheap and still easy-as-pie to get. However, we increasingly have a hard time seeing the logic in keeping large quantities of VHS in inventory–we'd sooner reassign that space to keeping some spindles of DVDs. But hey, it's your cupboard–do whatever you want with it.

Mini DV

Mini DV, along with its variants, is certainly the camcorder format of choice at the moment, and will most likely stay popular for years to come, since the very same tape can also handle HDV recording. This means that it's a safe bet that Mini DV will be around for many years, or, at least until another consumer/prosumer HD acquisition format comes along that can compete with HDV.

Happily, Mini DV's popularity means that tapes are getting much easier to find, and even more reasonably priced. $3 per tape quantity deals are quite easy to find online. (Remember the bad ol' days when Mini DV tapes were $12 apiece, if you could even find them?) Expect to pay more for tapes with memory chips (if your camcorder has logging functions that you want to use), for longer tapes, or for DVCAM tapes.

Here's a quick reality check, though. Note that some manufacturers offer "HDV" tapes. Consider the idea that a digital videotape is a vessel for raw data. If a particular brand and grade of tape can handle one type of data, it will certainly be able to handle the other without a problem.

CDs

Check your supply of blank CDs. If you've got less than a spindle, do yourself a favor and order some more. While you're at it, make sure you've got some in your laptop computer bag as well. There's no way that we know of to have an overabundance of blank CDs–we always find ourself needing them for something, whether it's for collecting music for later editing, stashing stills for slideshows, or for sharing short video clips with clients or friends with a minimum of fuss.

Have you noticed that CD burners haven't gotten any faster than 52x over the past couple of years? The reason for this is that a disc would become unstable if was physically spun any faster than 52x. And technically, because of the way data is written on CDs, those drives are only 52x when accessing data on the outside tracks of a CD, and more like 24x when accessing inner tracks. At these speeds, though, your disc is physically spinning at about 15,000 rpm. Either way, it means three minutes or so for burning a full CD will remain the gold standard for high speed for the foreseeable future… at least until someone builds a better mousetrap.

DVDs

The other shiny disc of the moment (at least until Blu-Ray and HD DVD start showing up) is DVD. Now, thankfully, the rival recordable DVD camps have laid down their arms, and manufacturers have followed suit by making their drives capable of recording on either DVD-R or DVD+R. The upshot of this is that pretty much any burner you buy now will be able to record almost any blank disc that you can throw into it (with the frequent exception of DVD-RAM).

Even better than that, dual-layer drives have precipitously dropped in price. The cheapest drive available at one of our favorite online shops (at the time of this writing) is a dual-format model that can also burn DVD+R DL for the miserly sum of $35. So if you've been using the "Oh, it's too expensive!" excuse to avoid joining the DVD burning revolution, it's official: you now have to come up with another excuse.

Happily, blanks have gotten much cheaper over what they cost when they first came out. One place that we went to revealed unbranded discs for $0.20 each and brands that we recognized for $0.50 each. Dual-layer discs are still more expensive, but acceptable at $3.70 each. (Remember the bad ol' days when blank, single-layer DVD-Rs cost $12 apiece, when you could even find them?) On the same visit, we also spotted rewriteable discs for $0.45 each. If you want discs that are certified for higher write speeds, expect to pay a little more.

Camcorder DVDs are still rather expensive, though, especially when compared to the prices of their larger bretheren. You'll pay a premium for rewriteable discs, and even more for DVD-RAM cam discs.

Identifying

Another thing worth mentioning is that it's not a very good idea to put labels on discs, since today's ultra-high speed drives, with their powerful spindle motors and the air resistance discs must go through when being spun at such high speeds make discs warmer than they should be, which can lead the adhesives on the labels to do bad things. Using a permanent marker like a fine-point (but not ultra-fine-point) Sharpie is a fine solution, as well as the markers sold next to blank discs at your neighborhood electronics store–problem is, hand-written discs just don't look quite right to some audiences. (We'd tell those audiences, "Hey, let the content recorded on the disc dazzle you–you're just complaining about a piece of plastic!", but that's not our style.)

Some good solutions include using printable discs, which are available for inkjet, thermal-transfer and other types of printers. These discs have a special white surface to accept whatever kind of design you want to print on them. Problem is, they're expensive. Expect to pay a premium for either type of printable disc.

LightScribe is a new and still-emerging technology for labeling discs. The label side of the disc contains a light-sensitive coating, so after you burn your data, you flip over the disc and burn the label onto your disc with your drive. The results are stunning, but the technology is currently limited to producing black printing on a bronze-colored disc. You will also pay a bit of a premium price for blank LightScribe-capable discs–we found CDs for $0.55 each and DVDs for $1.00 per disc.

We hope that we've piqued your interest in this usually utilitarian, kind of stuffy subject, or at least given you a reason to smile when you think of blank tapes and discs. Who would have thought the subject could be so tantalizing?

Charles Fulton is Videomaker's Associate Editor.

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