Self-destructing DVDs!

Updated: Sep 19 2003, 05:30am hrs
FlexPlay in USA has introduced an unusual DVD, namely, the EZ-D (easy to destruct), which provides for automatic destruction of its content within 48 hours. Made out of polycarbonate, this DVD package can be opened easily by anyone. The content (typically a movie) can be watched any number of times by the purchaser. However, after 48 hours, due to oxidation the disk turns black and the laser beam of the DVD drive just cannot read the content of the DVD! Naturally all the contents are irrevocably destroyed. Interestingly, the package can be opened any time, either hours, or weeks, months or even years after the manufacture of this special DVD. The oxidation process does not start till the package is opened, but it starts immediately after opening it and gets completed within 48 hours.

This DVD is compatible with all DVD devices, guarantees full DVD experience, and can be used to package any content, be it movie, programme or data. In addition, FlexPlay claims it is fully recyclable. Interest in EZ-D has led to a site www.ez-d.com. FlexPlay partnered with Buena Vista Home Entertainment, a division of Walt Disney, and in early September this year, some movie titles were introduced as part of its test marketing. Priced at $6.99, Walt Disney claims many advantages for the EZ-D: It is a DVD that does away with the hassle of a drive to a video/DVD rental company such as BlockBuster, either to check out or return a movie. There are no worries about late return fee, an assurance of a brand new copy every time you get this new form of DVD, and the added advantage of affordable price.

But the immediate reaction to EZ-D has been mixed. Environmental agencies are up in arms; they expect a huge issue over disposal, despite FlexCubes claim that the chemical used to manufacture EZ-D is fully recyclable. The video rental companies that make the maximum amount of money by way of collection of late return fee are worried that EZ-D will finish off their business. End customers are bound to be confused with so many options emerging video on demand and pay per movie options that are feasible with the upcoming broadband. Some of these options might be cheaper than EZ-D.

Many in the rural areas also might find EZ-D very attractive. They generally have to contend with the late arrival of movie cassettes/DVDs and a larger lead-time in procuring them. Suddenly, the distributors find a huge advantage. There are no lost orders due to inventory shortages and all supplies are brand new and therefore there is no worry of damages, and neither is there the problem of poor quality video due to excessive usage of the tape.

What is interesting about this development is the ability of the technology to embed planned obsolescence on the product, in this case a DVD. We are all familiar with Intel microprocessors packaging so much power in the next generation of chips that within a year or two the earlier chip becomes obsolete. While consumer electronics companies and even automotives have used this idea for years, nothing has been as dramatic as EZ-D. The possibility of distribution through video/DVD rental stores, vending machines, petrol pumps and even ATMs opens up very different delivery opportunities and resultant cost savings. The savings associated with the avoidance of two trips to a video/DVD rentals shop is another touted advantage.

What is not clear, though, is the relative demerit of huge environmental problems and the upsetting of the apple carts of so many video/DVD rental companies whose business model would suddenly collapse. Notwithstanding these controversies, EZ-D is a promising technology that will have an impact on video/DVD rental of movies. What remains to be seen is its full impact will it shift consumers en masse to the new form or not The next 18 months will be an interesting time to watch out for this phenomenon.

The author is Director of the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore. Views expressed herein are personal. He can be reached at askss@iiitb.ac.in