Stargate SG-1: A Space Travesty

I'm posting this page to bring to people's attention a serious problem with the MGM DVD set "Stargate SG-1: The Complete Series". I finally have a complete set of these DVDs, but it took seven (7) sets to get there. This page is intended to draw attention to the problem, and hopefully convince MGM that these DVDs should be mass recalled and pressed anew.

The Story

Sets 1-3

Fry's Electronics.

At the time, I knew nothing of the problems with this series of discs. I got home the set, eager to watch the whole series. About halfway through the disc, my Blu-Ray player choked. And I don't just mean a hiccup like a bad layer change. It coughed and sputtered for half a minute right through one of the most dramatic scenes in the movie.

A quick visual inspection of the disc revealed a circular scarring pattern in one spot that looked like someone had taken a fine grit sandpaper and rubbed it in a small circle. Horrified, I then went to Amazon.com and found that bad discs were not at all uncommon. I visually inspected all the discs and found that all but four discs showed serious scarring or pitting. I returned them.

At Fry's, of course, I attempted an exchange. I went back and picked up the next set. We inspected them at the store, and they were massively scarred as well. We repeated with the third set. That Fry's store sent back their entire stock to the manufacturer that day.

Unfortunately, I knew at that point that there was no hope of finding an intact set. The defect rate was too alarmingly high. So the only way to get a complete set would be to combine parts of multiple sets repeatedly until I had a complete set. Enter Amazon.

Set 4

Amazon.com

The fourth set was in much better shape than the sets from Fry's. Only about three discs showed significant scratching (lots of discs had a single scratch, which shouldn't be enough to cause problems, generally speaking). The big things I noticed in this set were that A. most of the discs had a gummy substance stuck to them that doesn't want to come off, and B. most of the discs had surface pitting. One had a pit almost as big as a pencil eraser that was so deep you could feel the roughness as you drug your fingernail across the spot.

I kept this set until the fifth set arrived, by which time I had used a laptop to attempt to read every disc. Out of 55 discs, 13 failed verification.

So about one in four discs is too defective to play correctly. That's horrific quality. If I shipped a product with a 25% defect rate, I would be fired, and I'd be lucky if my employer didn't sue me for negligence. Just saying.

Set 5

Amazon.com

The fifth set (second from Amazon) shared most of the same "road rash" discs as the previous set. That reduced the bad disc count to four. Unfortunately, at this point, Amazon was unable to do a replacement, only a return (for full money back), so I ordered a second set and floated them the extra cost of the set for a few days. Grrr.

While I had the fifth set, I compared the discs to see if any of the second set discs looked better than the working discs from the first set. For each of those discs, I checked them, and swapped out the ones that passed. Again, I saw about a 25% defective disc rate, give or take, though I did not check every disc, so that's just an approximation.

Set 6

Amazon.com

The sixth set (third from Amazon) was in much better shape than the first two, but still had a fair number of bad discs, including two of the same discs that were bad in the first two sets. This one reduced my bad disc count from four to two. Back to Amazon.

On this set, because the discs looked to be in better shape, I checked most of the discs. In total, I found eight defective discs in that set out of the 27 discs I checked, or just better than one in three—an even higher failure rate than the previous average, despite visual appearances to the contrary.

I particularly enjoyed that this set came with a "Hollywood Movie Money" certificate for free admission... that expired more than two years ago.

Set 7

Amazon.com

This set FINALLY got me a complete set of discs.

And another "Hollywood Movie Money" certificate, also expiring in August of 2008. Really freaking useful.

What Caused This?

A lot of people seem to blame the cardboard slip cover packaging. I think we can safely rule that out as the culprit except in cases where the discs were loose (as they were in one Amazon set and one Fry's set) and bouncing around inside the box.... I've used hundreds of CDs and DVDs packaged in paper/cardboard sleeves, including a computer magazine that came that way once a month for almost a decade. I've never once encountered serious scratching. Indeed, The only time I've seen optical media scarred as badly as the discs in this set was when I picked up a CD that someone had tossed out a car window onto gravel.

We're not talking about a few little tiny scratches here. We're talking about cracks near the hub on one disc and damage that resembled sandpaper rash on several others. We're talking about damage bad enough to make a DVD reliably fail to play even after careful cleaning, which if you've ever played a badly damaged rental DVD, you'd know is pretty hard.

So it's not the packaging. What is the problem, then? Amazon's product page has another theory: that discs scratched each other because people pulled them out of the sleeves incorrectly. Well, maybe in theory, this could happen. In practice, not so much. The paint coating should be softer than the polycarbonate, and the polycarbonate of one disc is of about equal hardness to the polycarbonate on another disc, so you'd have to rub them together pretty hard to get any significant scratching.

Just to prove this point, with my previous set, since I was returning it anyway, I did a little experiment. I took one of the scratched discs and rubbed it HARD against one of the other discs (against the label side, since that's what it would rub against if you took it out of the packaging incorrectly) and was unable to get ANY additional scratches. Similarly, I've rubbed it against the cardboard. HARD. No additional scratches. Hmm. I guess we can discard that theory out of hand, too.

There are two possible causes. One possible cause is that the manufacturer failed to clean and polish the discs correctly prior to inserting them into the sleeves. If you've ever wiped a pair of plastic glasses or sunglasses when it had sand on the outside, you know how easily dust and debris can scar plastic lenses. So, too, do the contaminants on the DVDs scar them when you pull them from the packaging.

To the extent that this caused the damage, there is absolutely NO way for the end user to avoid this damage; the bulk of the damage occurred when the disc was inserted into the packaging. Given the circular scarring, there's evidence that some contamination was present much earlier in the manufacturing process as well. The manufacturing plant must be absolutely *filthy* to get the level of contamination I've seen. When you have sticky material stuck to the outside of the finished discs that can be dislodged only with a fingernail, it's safe to say that you have serious problems.

The bigger problem, of course, is that the gunk makes it hard to even determine what is and is not a scratch. I'm still not sure, since I can't find anything that will actually cut the gunk reliably. I'm thinking maybe it is improperly hardened polycarbonate that dripped onto the disk or was mixed incorrectly or something---excess material on top that they should have polished off during the last stage of manufacturing, but didn't because they skipped the last stage of manufacturing. Just a gut feeling....

My second theory is that they put the discs into the cardboard sleeves before the resin was fully hardened. The discs stuck to the cardboard. When you remove the discs from the sleeve, patches of polycarbonate get ripped from the disc and remain stuck to the cardboard jacket. This explains why the areas that are damaged are almost always where the discs were pressed the hardest against the cardboard (and not where they could rub against another disc), why the discs cannot be damaged further by rubbing against the cardboard (they're hardened now), why the most heavily damaged discs were under the most pressure, and why most of the damage looks like pits in the outer layer rather than scratches.

If I'm right, then the solution to this is to give the discs a week to harden---stacked on a spindle with spacers between them so that there is air space between the media side and the top of the next disc---before inserting them into an uncoated cardboard sleeve. Either that or patches of the polycarbonate never harden due to some materials defect, in which case the solution is to never send jobs to that disc manufacturing plant again....

I rather suspect that the truth involves some combination of the above causes rather than just one or the other. It's also possible that some of the problems with polycarbonate resin sticking to something else occurred earlier in the manufacturing process, and that bits of the resin so dislodged are part of the debris that caused the circular scarring that goes nearly around discs that had never even been played.

Photos

As they say, pics or it didn't happen. Here you go. (Note that these photos are scaled down by your browser. Save them to disk and open them in a photo viewing app for even more horrifying detail.)

An example of a severely scarred DVD from one of the sets:

scarred DVD

 

An example of a pitted DVD from one of the sets:

pitted DVD

 

An example of a DVD with gunk stuck to it from set 7:

This photo is deceptive in that the disc looks like it is only lightly scarred. The scarring is much worse than that, but it is hard to see from this angle. The purpose of this particular angle was to show the blob of indeterminate gunk stuck to the underside of the disc (top left). You can scrape it off with your fingernail, but if you stick it in a player this way, it will do damage (to the disc, and possibly to the player).

pitted DVD

 

An example of a DVD with particularly bad scarring:

pitted DVD

 

Nine of the last seventeen discs from set 7:

Notice that they are all severely scarred. None of these discs have ever been put in a DVD player. They came out of the cardboard sleeve in this condition.

three boxed sets

 

Four additional discs from set 7:

Again, they came out of the box in this condition.

Note that the scarring on the leftmost disc indicates contamination during the disc polishing phase, as it consists of concentric circles around the disc as though the damage occurred while the disc was being spun.

Note that the scarring on the upper right disc looks suspiciously like crazing. Bizarre.

Note that the lower right disc shows scarring that is very unusual, consisting of a series of near-parallel zigzag lines, plus various other random scars. I can't begin to guess what caused this unless perhaps the disc was inserted into the sleeve before the plastic had fully hardened (but was not fully inserted), and then was allowed to bounce around randomly in the box during transport. Many of the discs were loose, so this is a plausible explanation.

three boxed sets

 

Me with three of the sets:

three boxed sets