DVDs Require Careful Handling
Video dealers are reporting that the same thing is true of DVDs. Although they appear as rugged and impervious to damage as CDs, DVDs are much more likely to exhibit problems due to minor scratches, dust, dirt, and fingerprints. Slight scuffs that wouldn't faze a CD player could cause a DVD machine to lock up.
The reason is DVD's much greater density of data---seven times that of a CD. In order to read pits and lands (the optical medium's equivalent of digital ones and zeros) packed so closely together, the DVD's laser operates at a much shorter wavelength. Dust particles and scratches that are microscopically transparent to a CD player's laser appear as big as boulders and ravines to the DVD's. Possible results include skips, glitches, and lockups.
According to dealers, one part of the problem is that renters aren't very careful. Years of exposure to the relatively indestructible VHS tape, which has a rental lifespan of 75 or more "turns," have conditioned them not to be very careful; just pop it in the machine and hit Play. The new format needs careful handling, which is something dealers and consumers are still learning the hard way. Mishandled DVDs might not endure more than 10 or 15 rentals before they begin to have trouble.
The other part of the problem is DVD's original packaging. Some containers don't hold the disc securely enough, making it easy to drop. Others almost ensure that the simple act of removing the disc will cause fine scratches in the playing surface. Luckily, manufacturers and film studios are aware of packaging-induced problems and are hard at work solving them. One container that appears to alleviate all the difficulties is a clamshell box with a releasable hub called the CD-Safe, which has been adopted by Columbia/TriStar. Nothing contacts a disc's playing surface in the CD-Safe, which might become standard packaging for rental discs.
Durable, damage-preventing DVD packaging undoubtedly needs to become part of the DVD format before it can gain a solid foothold in the video marketplace. Meanwhile, treat your discs gently! Never put them in paper or plastic sleeves or in "CD Wallets." Make sure the disc is properly centered in the player's tray before pressing Play. Keep your fingers away from the playing surface. If you do have to clean it, carefully wipe radially (from center to outer edge) using a soft, damp cloth. Finally, stay away from cleaning chemicals, mechanical CD cleaners, and all forms of CD tweaks---they are nothing but trouble for DVDs. Take good care of your discs and you'll be able to enjoy them for a long time to come.