It’s toasted.

I’m borrowing the famous Lucky Strike tag line to share my recent experience and observations regarding DVD burning.

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29 May, 2012

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The mandatory foreword: I’m just reporting what happened to me and I don’t have the pretence to pass my anecdotal findings as data, so take this with the proverbial grain of salt. On a personal level, this experience has been rather interesting… and time-wasting.

I don’t burn CDs and DVDs with the same frequency I used to. My usage of optical media, however, is far from insignificant. I still burn discs for photo and video backups, to watch stuff on my big screen TV, and to pass files to older Macs. Along with the internal Matshita SuperDrive of my MacBook Pro, I also own an external USB LaCie DVD burner like this one I purchased a few years back when my main machine was still a PowerBook G4 12″ with a Combo Drive.

In all my disc burning history, I very rarely experienced failures. If I had to venture an estimate, I’d say I’ve had to throw away, like, ten DVDs in more than 12 years. Well, I’ve thrown away ten DVD-RW and two DVD+R discs in the last week.

My burning problems (no pun intended) roughly started at the end of last year, after upgrading to Lion. It’s been hard to pinpoint a precise cause, because different burning sessions have yielded different results. Is it Lion’s fault? Has my MacBook Pro’s internal SuperDrive started to fail? Has my external DVD burner started to fail as well? Is it the software used to burn discs? Or what?

At first I thought my MacBook Pro’s SuperDrive was failing. I’ve been using it rather often since I bought the Mac in mid-2009, and Apple’s internal SuperDrives are not known for their durability. What led me to believe it was the SuperDrive’s fault was its increased distaste for reading discs, both commercial DVDs (movies) and CDs/DVDs I burnt with that same drive two or three years ago. But after cleaning the SuperDrive’s lens with an appropriate cleaner kit, everything was back to normal. At least, for reading discs. Burning them was another matter.

These past days I needed to burn some DVDs, making a few redundant copies of my 2011 photo archive. So I opened a 10-pack of TDK branded DVD-RW discs and a 5-pack of TDK branded DVD+R discs. I started with the latter pack. I’ve never had problems with TDK discs, or with the SuperDrive, or with Roxio Toast Titanium. I burnt the first DVD+R, everything seemed fine upon writing, but the disc failed the verification with an error reading a certain sector. Second attempt, with a DVD-RW disc, same hardware/software combination. Same error. Erase the disc, try again with the external drive. Same error. Erase the disc, try again using Disk Utility. Burning failed during writing.

As I was getting frustrated already by the whole business (which, on a good day, it would have taken me 5 minutes per disc), I went to Roxio’s website to check something, because I started suspecting some incompatibility between Toast 10 and Mac OS X Lion. It turns out I was right. If you upgraded to Toast 10 while you were using Snow Leopard and forgot to keep Toast updated, you may still be using an earlier version than 10.0.9. As this page on Roxio’s site informs, if you’re on Lion, either you upgrade to Toast 11, or you install version 10.0.9 for Toast 10. Earlier versions don’t work properly with Lion.

I went back to my copy of Toast 10 and, indeed, I was still using version 10.0.6. So I promptly updated to 10.0.9, attempted to burn the DVD-RW disc again, but it failed, both using the MacBook Pro’s internal SuperDrive and the external LaCie DVD burner. At this point I was starting to look at the discs themselves suspiciously, so instead of erasing the same DVD-RW disc as before, I used another from the 10-pack. No joy. I then tried a DVD+R from the 5-pack. No joy. I tried a different brand, pulling out an old 2x DVD+RW Verbatim disc, but to no avail.

I was about to give up for good, blaming basically everything, but perhaps Lion especially, since all problems started — directly or indirectly — after the upgrade. I couldn’t do any other attempt with different hardware because none of my other Macs has an internal SuperDrive with DVD burning capabilities… Then I remembered that the PowerBook G4 17″ that has been recently donated to me does have such SuperDrive. So I installed my older copy of Toast 8 Titanium on the PowerBook, picked the same TDK branded DVD-RW disc I used before, and it was a success right from the start. I then burnt six more DVDs with the PowerBook G4 17″ internal SuperDrive, and everything went well without the slightest hiccup.

What to make of this messy situation? I don’t really know. As I said before, it’s hard to give clear-cut answers because I honestly didn’t find a constant point of failure. The overall impression I’m left with is that Toast 10 + Mac OS X Lion (10.7.4) make for a crappy combination, and Toast 8 + Mac OS X Leopard (10.5.8) on a PowerPC G4 look like the winning team. I guess that, as burning optical media becomes an art of the past, I’ll have to use hardware/software combinations of the past as well. As soon as I have some time (and blank DVDs to spare) I want to try different software solutions, like NTI Dragon Burn or Disco (which is free now), and report any interesting findings to make a proper comparison. In the meantime, feel free to write me and share your experiences, if you’ve been having more problems at burning DVDs since upgrading to Lion, the software you’re using, etc. Everything helps to clear matters in this regard.

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