"This DVD will self-destruct in 48 hours." This could be the warning message on a new type of DVD to be launched next month.
Catch me while you can
The disc, called an EZ-D, will be sold in an airtight envelope. Once the package is opened, the surface of the disc will start to react with the air, slowly changing colour from red to an opaque black over the next two days.
DVD players use a laser beam to read information held on an information layer beneath the surface of a disc, so once the surface becomes opaque the DVD becomes unusable.
But what's the point of a DVD that self-destructs? Who wants a disc that effectively goes rusty?
According to New York-based Flexplay Technologies, the company that has developed the EZ-D, the new discs will make it far more convenient to watch films. That's because the discs will be sold at about the same price as it costs to rent a DVD, and will be available from vending machines, hotel gift shops and newsagents.
But unlike a rental DVD, each EZ-D will be brand new and scratch free when bought. More importantly to anyone who has forgotten to return a DVD or video from the video shop and has had to pay late return charges, there's no need to take the disc back. The EZ-D can be played repeatedly until it expires.
By making DVDs disposable, the company also hopes to turn a DVD movie into an impulse buy.
Evolution in reverse. But what's next?
The vast majority of new laptop computers are now equipped with DVD players, so instead of buying a trashy novel at the station to read on a long train journey, laptop owners will be able to buy a trashy film on an EZ-D instead.
It's never been sensible to rent a DVD when travelling because there's often no way to return the film, but at the end of the train journey an EZ-D can simply be disposed of.
Fortunately for the environment, there's no need to throw EZ-Ds away once they've expired, as Flexplay has arranged a recycling programme - in the United States at least - with a Missouri-based company called GreenDisk.
EZ-D purchasers will be encouraged to post their expired discs to the company, which arranges for them to be melted down. The resulting polycarbonate can be used in the car, computer and telecommunications industries, according to Flexplay.
Although the company is initially targeting its technology at the DVD market, it can also be used to make music CDs and computer software discs which slowly become unplayable.
Possible uses would include offering time-limited copies of music albums for journalists to review, or trial copies of computer programs for distribution with magazines. And although the discs need to be used within a year of manufacture, the "playable window" can be extended so that disks can be made that last for a week or a month instead of 48 hours.
Flexplay's technology has already been taken up by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, a division of Walt Disney, which will start selling EZ-D titles including The Recruit, Rabbit Proof Fence, Hot Chick, and 25th Hour in August.
But some doubts about the new format must remain. EZ-D's will incorporate exactly the same copy protection as normal ones, according to Flexplay, but disc pirates will surely be keen to discover whether EZ-Ds are a potential new, low cost source of material to copy illegally.
And there's little doubt that hackers will be keen to see if it's possible to foil the system, perhaps by polishing off the opaque black surface of an expired disc to make it payable again, or by storing discs in a liquid to slow down the oxidisation process.
Consumers will also be keen to discover whether an EZ-D disk which is nearly completely opaque after, say, 40 hours will actually be playable, or whether it will be unplayable in some DVD players but not in others.
Disc pirates will surely be keen to discover whether EZ-Ds are a potential new, low cost source of material to copy illegally
But at least the new discs should spell the end of the ultimate annoyance of the video age: paying late return fees to a rental store for a film you never even got round to watching.
Some of your comments on this story.
Yes, it will be nice to not have to return a rental DVD. But what about the environmental aspect? I very much doubt the DVDs will be biodegradable and we'll be faced with yet more mountains of CD/DVDs. I point you in the direction of the multi-millions of AOL introduction CDs that currently occupy landfill sites around the world. Rather than create a short-lived DVD surface they should look to developing a CD surface that doesn't scratch so easily.
Robert H, UK
This may not be much use in the fight against piracy anyway, as people can still copy DVD onto videos if they link up the equipment correctly.
Graeme Phillips, UK
And here I thought DVDs were really expensive to buy because they were expensive to make..
Ah, that's handy! More free coasters to put my coffee cup on!
Peter Organ, UK
At first I thought it sounded like a crazy idea, but I tend to only watch a purchased movie a few times anyway. If the DVD was cheaper, and died out after 6 months for example, that would be a good buy.
Fantastic, another landfill product for the disposable generation. What's wrong with paying to download a film, if the target is laptop owners?
Good idea until some smart person finds that by smearing them with olive oil/car polish wax/something else* will actually preserve them.
* Delete as appropriate
A trashy novel bought at the station to read on a long train journey does not self-destruct after 2 days. If the buyer doesn't want to keep the novel, they can sell it or give it to a charity shop. Surely it's better to find a consumer need and manufacture a product to fit that need - not the other way around.
Nick H, UK
Did Robert actually bother to read the report before commenting? I could have sworn it said the EZ-D's are already being recycled. Of course people won't bother to mail them back, but there could always be a bin in the store for you return timed-out discs at the same time you are buying new ones. If AOL used the same technology their "freebie" discs could also be recycled in the same way.
The staff at the New Scientist magazine have discovered that they could extend the life of the disc once opened by keeping it in a sealed container in a fridge!
Simon, Manchester, UK
Reading this article has just reminded me that I haven't returned my DVD from Saturday night - doh! - that's another £4 - this will be very popular ...