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January 21, 2008

The Hunt for the Perfect CD Marker

If you're like me, you probably label most CDs by reaching for the nearest felt-tip pen or magic marker. For special ones you'll spend the time to create a nice color label, but most just get a quick few strokes of the pen.

When it comes to CD labeling, however, not all magic markers are created equal. Using the wrong marker can literally destroy your disc and make it unreadable. According to a librarians' organization, the only safe CD markers are water- or alcohol-based. If you can smell your marker, it is probably solvent-based, and can cause the thin lacquer coating protecting the top of the disc to dissolve. A ball point, even a rollerball, is also a nono, since it can literally scratch through the coating. DVDs are a little less vulnerable, since they have polycarbonate coatings on both sides of the disc, but we prefer to simply be on the safe side for all optical discs. If your backup photo disc is unreadable five years down the road, you're not going to remember what marker you used, only that you've lost your precious photos.

So where can you find CD-safe markers? Wanting to find the best way to label our discs, we went on an online search for the perfect CD pen. We were amazed to find a large selection of markers specially designed for CD and DVD labeling from Sharpie, Staedtler, Dixon, eFilm, TDK and more, none of which we'd ever seen in stores. So we ordered up samples and put them to the test. Two clear favorites emerged: the Sharpie CD/DVD Permanent Marker and the Staedtler Lumocolor CD/DVD Marker.

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Sanford Sharpie (left) and Staedtler Lumocolor (right) CD/DVD markers.

Both come in red, blue, green and black so you can indulge your color whims. The Sharpies are double-ended, with one ultra-fine tip and one fine tip that is also good for marking jewel cases. We really liked having a choice of thicknesses. They are also non-toxic, for use around small children. The Lumocolors have a fine tip for precise writing, plus the advantage of being dry-safe, which means you can leave them uncapped for days without drying up, and they are always ready to start writing. Both sets of markers dried quickly and were reasonably smudgeproof and waterproof.

For more great information on safe labeling and storage of CDs and DVDs, including how they react to light, moisture and x-rays, check out the Council on Library and Information Resources' guide to the "Care and Handing of CDs and DVDs."

March 14, 2008

Disc Label Spin Art

If you're lucky enough to already have a direct-to-disc printer already (a few Canon, Epson and HP inkjets have a special CD/DVD tray), you can skip this article. On the other hand, if you burn a lot of discs and you're interested in fast, top-quality CD/DVD printing, the new Dymo DiscPainter is the coolest kid on the block.

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This unique printer works by printing while the disc spins, from the inside out, keeping the print head steady as the tray moves under it. The end result is fascinating to watch, much like making spin art paintings at the school fair. I saw it at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, and had to try it out for two reasons: first, stick-on labels are just not good for use in many drives, especially cars and slot-loading Macs, where they can gum up the works; second, I'm creating more and more video and photo CDs as gifts for relatives, and Sharpies just don't cut it anymore.

The DiscPainter comes with a few blank CDs to get you started, as well as an ink cartridge good for about 100 discs. It works with both PCs and Macs, and can be used with the Label Creator software in Easy Media Creator 10, as well as the Disc Cover application included with Toast 9 Titanium. After a bit of experimentation I got things working perfectly on both platforms. Here are some tips for getting great results right off the bat:

Choose the Right Media: Be sure to buy special "inkjet-printable" CDs or DVDs for use with the DiscPainter or any other direct-to-disc printer. These have coatings designed to absorb the ink so that it does not smudge and the colors show up properly. They come in a variety of surfaces: matter white, glossy white, silver and colored. They also vary in how much of the inside "hub" of the disc is printable.

I tried several types, and my clear favorite was glossy white, which yielded the most vibrant colors and most professional-looking results. I also liked the hub-printable disc better since they provide more space for background images and text. Buy a few small samples and test before buying in quantity, however, since there was at least one brand that didn't take the ink properly. The Dymo discs and Verbatim inkjet printable CDs both worked well for me.


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Using with Label Creator on a PC: In the Print dialog box, choose the DiscPainter as your printer, and then set both Properties and Preferences. In Printer Properties, choose either "hub-printable" or "non-hub-printable," depending on whether your disc has a print area that goes all the way to the middle or not. Also select the desired print quality and ink density for your disc. Different densities are used for matte white, glossy white and silver or colored discs. With the matte Verbatim discs I used the lowest ink density, higher densities obscured detail.

Finally, since the DiscPainter is too new to be listed as a predefined "Paper Type," I selected the Epson PM-4000PX as a proxy, then adjusted the offsets slightly to center the image on the DiscPainter. To adjust offsets, click Preferences, then use Fine Tuning settings of -.8 for vertical, and -1.6 for horizontal.

Using with Disc Cover on a Mac: Printing in Toast 9's Disc Cover involves two steps. After pressing the Print button, select the Output (Direct to CD/DVD), Tray Type (Dymo DiscPainter), and Printer (Dymo DiscPainter) in the window that pops up. If you will be printing at Best quality, also choose 600 dpi output.

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Clicking Next brings you to the standard Mac print dialog, where you can set DiscPainter-specific Printer Features like hub diameter and ink density. For Best quality on matte Verbatim discs, I used Matte1. For the correct inside and outside print diameters, check your disc manufacturer's Web site or product label, or simply measure the disc in mms.

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I'm now dreaming up all the ways I'm going to use my DiscPainter, including a few holiday projects that I'd better get started on pronto!

March 20, 2008

The Myth of the 100-year CD

I've written previously about the damage the wrong pen or marker can do to your CDs and DVDs. But really, the biggest danger to the long-term health of your discs is the media itself -- some discs are just more reliable than others, made with better materials, equipment and quality control processes. A couple years ago, the UK Independent published an illuminating article on CD longevity, citing studies where media became unreadable after just two years in a dark cupboard -- even without exposure to sunlight or humidity, the usual culprits in CD degradation.

While some disc formats are better than others (RW discs tend to have lower rated lifespans, for example), the bottom line is that no CD or DVD lasts forever, and the professional archivists responsible for major CD and DVD collections use only top-quality media, make multiple copies, check them every few years, and recopy as needed.

So what are the best strategies for home users looking to preserve family photos or financial information? I asked Verbatim spokesperson Andy Marken for advice. He recommends looking for special "archival-grade" discs, and burning, handling and storing them with care. Archival discs are available from most of the major CD and DVD manufacturers, and may include special hardened outer coatings, more stable dye layers, and oxidation-resistant reflective metal layers. All of these things add to the cost of the disc, but are worth it when it comes to storing your most valuable data.

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Interestingly, when I asked Andy whether he'd recommend DVD-R or +R media, and single or dual-layer, he said that while there isn't much difference between R and +R, "Conventional wisdom recommends that you use single-layer as opposed to double-layer media just because you are multiplying the chances for issues." The Sony Studios library, for example, divides up its video files and spans them across multiple single-layer DVDs. (Both Easy Media Creator and Toast can perform disc spanning automatically.)

Andy also wrote a great article for Audioholics about the longevity issue that ends with some dos and don'ts for CD and DVD handling:

DO:
* Handle discs by the outer edge or the center hole
* Use a non solvent-based felt-tip permanent marker to mark the label side of the disc
* Keep dirt or other foreign matter from the disc
* Store discs upright (book style) in original jewel cases that are specified for CDs and DVDs
* Return discs to their jewel cases immediately after use
* Leave discs in their spindle or jewel case to minimize the effects of environmental changes
* Remove the shrink wrap only when you are ready to record data on the disc
* Store in a cool, dry, dark environment in which the air is clean -- relative humidity should be in the range of 20% - 50% and temperature in the range of 4°C - 20°C
* Remove dirt, foreign material, fingerprints, smudges, and liquids by wiping with a clean cotton fabric in a straight line from the center of the disc toward the outer edge
* Use deionized (best), distilled or soft tap water to clean your discs. For tough problems use diluted dish detergent or rubbing alcohol. Rinse and dry thoroughly with a lint-free cloth or photo lens tissue
* Check the disc surface before recording.

DON'T:
* Touch the surface of the disc
* Bend the disc
* Store discs horizontally for a long time (years)
* Open a recordable optical disc package if you are not ready to record
* Expose discs to extreme heat or high humidity or rapid changes in temperature or humidity
* Expose recordable discs to prolonged sunlight or other sources of UV light
* Write or mark in the data area of the disc (area where the laser "reads")
* Clean in a circular direction around the disc.

April 10, 2008

Self-Help for TiVo Addicts

If you own a TiVo, you probably belong to the ranks of TiVo addicts (like me) who constantly struggle to watch their favorite shows before the hard drive fills up. That 80-hour box sounds like a lot until you start cluttering it up with movies and old episodes of “Ask This Old House” that show you how to build the deck you’ve been meaning to install for three years now...

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Ironically, since I bought the TiVo mainly because I travel a lot, I always end up madly cleaning it out just before going on a trip, to make sure that there is enough free space to record “Mystery” and “House” while I'm gone. It's become another item on my travel To Do list, along with packing and calling the petsitter. But there's not always time to zip through everything before I leave, and it's really painful to have to delete unwatched shows, or get rid of a favorite old movie.

So what's the solution for TiVo addiction and full hard drives? Assuming you have a networked Series 2, 3 or HD model, you can shell out big bucks for one of the new add-on hard disks that just came out, or you can buy a few blank DVDs, and use TiVoToGo and Roxio software to burn shows to disc or export them to your portable media player. Both Easy Media Creator 10 and Toast 9 have official TiVoToGo support.

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Now, instead of having to watch 10 shows before I leave on a trip, I can take them with me to view on my laptop, which is great for airplanes. And all those movies and shows I want to keep for posterity I can burn to DVD, instead of letting them use up hard drive space.

You can even use the editing tools in Toast and Creator to remove unwanted segments from your recordings. Usually I only want to keep one 10-minute portion of a "This Old House" episode, for example. With Creator or Toast, I can cherry-pick the good parts from lots of episodes and put them all on one DVD with a nice menu for navigation. My dream house may not be built yet, but I'll know exactly how to do it!

I just need to upgrade to an HD TiVo and I'll be in DVR heaven.

So what is your experience using TiVoToGo? Any tips? Let us know in the comments.

May 6, 2008

Taking the Blu-ray Recording Leap

With Toast 9's groundbreaking support for AVCHD and Blu-ray video disc burning, I decided it was finally time to hop on the Blu-ray bandwagon and spring for a recorder, even if Apple isn't yet building them into new equipment. Like a lot of video buffs, I have a spanking new HDTV and an AVCHD camcorder, and want to be able to show off new family movies in all their high-def glory...

So I started shopping around, and found several external Blu-ray recorder options (external drives will be required for all but Mac Pro owners, a complete list can be found on EmediaLive.com). But even the cheapest was $599, almost as much as my state-of-the-art camcorder. And media is expensive too, from $15 for a 25GB write-once disc, all the way up to $50 for a 50GB rewriteable. I started having second thoughts about how much I needed that Blu-ray recorder right this minute...maybe I should wait till prices come down more (which they will).

Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that with Toast 9 and the HD/BD Plug-in, you don't even need a Blu-ray recorder to burn high-definition AVCHD discs that will play right in your set-top Blu-ray player or PS3! Toast can burn HD video onto regular DVD media, with the DVD recorder you already have.

But just how much HD video can you fit on a DVD? After all, Blu-ray discs can hold up to 50GB, whereas dual-layer DVDs hold only 8.5GB. Fortunately, the AVCHD video compression format is pretty efficient, compared to the space-eating DV format used by standard-definition MiniDV tape camcorders. The highest quality AVCHD bit rates currently available in HD camcorders is about 17Mbps, or 8GB per hour. Most AVCHD camcorders record at lower bit rates. So you should be able to fit approximately an hour of home movies on a dual-layer DVD that will play in your Blu-ray player. That's plenty for your average home movie.

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Toast 9 makes importing video from your AVCHD camcorder "drag-and-drop" simple with its integrated Media Browser. You just drag and drop video from your camcorder to the Toast window and you’re done! You can also crop and trim your AVCHD clips, and arrange them in the order you'd like them viewed. You won't need to touch iMovie '08 unless you want transitions and special effects, so using Toast 9 greatly speeds up the time from camera to disc.

I'm off to try it all out right now, using the dual-layer DVD recorder already in my MacBook Pro. In the meantime, what are your experiences with AVCHD and Blu-ray?

December 19, 2008

A Picture Saved is Worth a Thousand Thanks

Recovering Lost Photos with Toast 9 Titanium

Last month I decided it was time to revamp my iPhoto library, which contains all the new photos I've taken for the last few years, but not many earlier pics, which largely languished unseen on shelves and in boxes.

It was time to put everything in one place and organize it for easy access, which meant importing thousands of photos archived on various CDs and DVDs, as well as scanning all my analog prints and slides. Naturally, I decided to do the easy part first, copying over the CDs and DVDs I'd carefully archived for posterity.

All went smoothly till I came to a CD burned in 2001 that contained only 20 or so pictures, but very important ones, of an exhibition of my sister's artwork. Most of the paintings have since been sold, making rephotographing them impossible. The CD simply would not mount, in any of the two Macs and one PC I tried. I spritzed it with disc cleaner and wiped with a microfiber cloth, to no avail.

I was about to give up (and vowed to make two backups of every photo going forward) when a light bulb went off. I remembered that Toast 9 Titanium has a Disc Recovery feature that is able to grab whatever readable data remains on a damaged CD or DVD. So I fired it up, popped in the offending CD, and voila! ALL the photos were recovered!!

Here's how it works: Start a Disc Copy project in Toast, put in your disc (ignoring any error message about unreadability that may pop up), then check the "Use Disc Recovery" box at lower left. Finally, click the "Save as Disc Image" button at lower right to save the copy to your hard disk. Toast will start reading the data, and copy everything it can. This may take a LONG time (hours) if your disc is severely damaged, and if it has a lot of data, such as a dual-layer DVD, so be patient and just let it work in the background, or overnight.


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In my case, since I only had 20 pictures on the CD, the process was quick. A disc image file called Becky Pics.toast was saved to my hard disk, which I could then mount in the Finder by choosing "Mount Disc Image" from the Toast Utilities menu. From the Finder, I then dragged the recovered photos into iPhoto. The salvaged files:


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Resurrecting photos from the damaged CD is turning out to be the easy part of the job, however. Scanning and organizing thousands of analog photos is a significantly bigger task! But that's a story for another blog entry.

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to MyMoments in the Burning & Copy category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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