Sunday, June 01, 2008

Self-Destructing DVDs Make a Comeback

Didn't we already go through this ten years ago? Flexplay Entertainment is making good on its threat -- er, promise -- to produce rental DVDs that self-destruct 48 hours after they've been opened.

The technology's not all that new; Flexplay DVDs have been around for about five years, though on a more limited scale. The premise remains unchanged: Flexplay's patented disc adhesive reacts to oxygen when the DVD's package is opened, beginning a slow chemical reaction that renders the disc unreadable in 48 hours.

The idea is that you can rent a movie without having to worry about when you'll watch it -- the disc remains playable so long as it's sealed -- or about returning it. Staples will start carrying Flexplay DVDs this month, for $4.99 each.

But like I said, we've done this dance before. It was in 1998 that a bunch of retailers offered us DIVX (no relation to the video codec), a -- wait for it -- self-destructing DVD format for renting movies, with a 48-hour viewing window. PC World's Dan Tynan echoed the prevailing sentiment when he included it in his 2006 article The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time; the technology was on the market for barely six months before it was yanked.

The Staples and Flexplay folks are probably banking on the fact that unlike DIVX, Flexplay discs don't require a proprietary player. But beyond that, is there really any benefit? People who think it's too much trouble to return a disc to the video store have likely already got Netflix queues as long as my arm. Plus, DVDs that aren't new releases are cheaper than ever -- given the choice of renting a disc for $5 and owning it for $7, a significant number of people will opt for the latter. It looks to me like history will be repeating itself.

[Originally written for PC World.]

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