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Can Pit Art Deepen a DVD-R’s Impression?

Why are recordable and rewritable DVD media saddled with the same labeling options as CD-R and CD-RW discs? Felt pens, sticky labels, and inkjet, thermal transfer, and re-transfer printers serve CDs and DVDs alike, but shouldn’t DVDs enjoy something innovative and special?

Can Pit Art Deepen a DVD-R’s Impression?

Hugh Bennett
EmediaLive, Mar 1, 2003

It’s well known that writable CD and DVD discs, while the same diameter and thickness, have fundamental physical differences—for example, CD is single-sided while some DVDs can be written on both sides. So why are recordable and rewritable DVD media saddled with the same labeling options as CD-R and CD-RW discs? Felt pens, sticky labels, and inkjet, thermal transfer, and re-transfer printers serve CDs and DVDs alike, but shouldn’t DVDs enjoy something innovative and special? The double-sided construction of writable DVD discs surely affords a brand new distinctive desktop disc labeling opportunity—namely, an approach involving pit art.

Pit art is already used to decorate selected mass-produced prerecorded DVDs and the occasional CD. The method involves exploiting the optical effect generated by the difference in height between the pits and lands and their various lengths. The laser beam recorder (LBR) which creates the replication master translates text and graphics into a series of pits and lands, visually recreating the original images rather than generating data-bearing content. And while the mastering LBR produces the label in prerecorded media, it’s possible to achieve a similar effect using CD-R/RW or DVD recorders. Instead of exploiting pit and land height, writable systems employ the resulting contrast between written marks and unwritten areas in the disc’s recording layer to forge their labels.

To date only Yamaha has produced a CD-R/RW recorder with image-drawing capabilities. Dubbed DiscT@2 (tattoo) technology, it allows graphics and text, such as logos and signatures, to be written on the recordable side of CD-R discs at an approximate resolution of 250dpi. Plagued by its many inadequacies however, tattooing is little more than a gimmick. For example, labels can only be written outside of the Lead-Out Area so only very limited real estate is available for labeling. Further, discs must be finalized (so no more information can be written) and the written result is often hard to see (azo dye generally yields passable results, but images drawn on phthalocyanine and diamond media are almost invisible).

If a company chose to market a unit offering identical “tattoo” capabilities for recordable DVD discs, all of these problems would remain. However, in contrast to the limitations presented by single-sided CD technology, double-sided writable DVDs present truly attractive pit art possibilities. For example, with an entire side of the disc potentially dedicated to labeling, the flip side, with its full 4.7GB of storage space, is still available for recording. Similarly, the written side of discs can remain open for appending information through multi-border and packet writing.

A dedicated labeling side of the DVD might also allow for the use of novel materials in its construction, since it need not conform to the standards required for a writing laser to produce reliable data-bearing features. So long as the recorder can receive signals from the substrate’s groove or pre-pits (depending upon the disc format) for tracking and addressing, the label side need not even use a conventional recording dye. This might allow for the use of special materials designed and optimized to produce handsome, high-contrast results.

Speculating further, it may be possible to engineer and employ materials that not only exhibit great contrast after writing, but also may change color (perhaps even multiple colors) when written by different laser powers. One might even envision drawing to a phase change or other reversible material which would allow labels to be written and rewritten as often as the contents of rewritable DVD discs. Image quality would also be superior thanks to the tighter track pitch and much finer writing stylus (compared to CD) afforded by DVD technology.

Beyond the potential to imbue discs with attractive labels, pit art, instead of more conventional decorating techniques, offers several advantages in the realms of label and media durability and longevity. For example, with pit art drawing there is no possibility of labels smearing or otherwise deteriorating from packaging, environment, or handling. As well, unlike sticky labels, pit art will neither unbalance a disc nor will it adversely affect the durability of recorded data as may be the case with adhesives, inks, or printing processes exercising heat, pressure, or other mechanical or chemical means.

Pit art recording also presents a desirable universal solution for labeling writable DVD discs. Not only could computer recorders generate labels, but also set-top and consumer electronics gear including TV-attached DVD recorders, PVR/DVD recording systems, and even writable DVD camcorders. Wouldn’t it be appealing to archive your favorite TV programs to a DVD, flip over the disc when finished, and have the system draw the show names and air times directly onto the label side?

In the never-ending hunt to differentiate products, writable DVD pit art might just be what the doctor ordered. For example, manufacturers supporting one family of writable DVD formats (- or +) could pour development efforts into advanced pit art features, lock up key patents, and introduce exclusive capabilities in their devices. This might yield a tangible and decidedly tactical advantage over competitors in the eyes of consumers—in stark contrast to the fruitless quests manufacturers now have embarked upon such as jacking up recording speed beyond all rational belief, introducing multi-family devices, or engaging in childish name-calling and posturing. If such a radical group effort could not be mobilized, however, cutting-edge pit art features could still offer individual hardware manufacturers tremendous opportunities to gain advantage, and commercial DVD authors, by taking advantage of these features, opportunities to lend their titles visual distinction. And what media manufacturer wouldn’t welcome the prospect of commanding premium prices in what has already become a commodity market?

Hugh Bennett, editor-in-chief of Hugh’s News, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems, a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on Hugh’s News, as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

Copyright © Online Inc. / Hugh Bennett