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I’ll admit it right now; I’ve got a bias against these things. I work in a video game store that also retails in DVDs. We rent them out, which means on a daily basis, I’m likely to handle in the realm of 5-20 discs (it’s no Blockbuster, I realize.) and as my hands pass over all these different titles, the ones that particularly stand out are the double-sided discs.

You’ve seen them, I’m sure. In fact, it’s hard not to take notice. But in case you’ve never come across one of these beauties (and let me tell you right now, you are one lucky human being) they look like a blank audio disc, on both sides. The title is printed nearly illegibly in the very center, along with the notation of the ‘widescreen’ or ‘full screen’ side. The first problem, as you may notice from my description, is that these discs are nearly impossible to tell apart from one another. If you throw twenty double-sided discs (or DSDs, as I shall refer to them henceforth) in a pile, I’m going to have one hell of a time finding the one I’m looking for. But I suppose that’s a minor point in the sea of complaints I have regarding these discs.

Another unfortunate problem in dealing with these DSDs is that they will get scratched and smudged twice as fast as normal discs. Normally when one handles a disc, if they are somewhat of a civilized human being, they will hold it by the edges or perhaps put their finger in the center. In any case, not much contact with the side that holds information. In most cases the most that will happen will be a few fingerprints or a smudge on the information side. However, when you have information on BOTH sides, the chance is that much higher that the disc will be damaged.

I was watching Welcome to the Dollhouse a few nights ago with a friend (wonderful film, but that’s for another time) and to my dismay, the disc Blockbuster had bestowed upon us was indeed a DSD. My first issue was putting it so the widescreen version would play. I’m sure I don’t need to get into the whole widescreen VS. full screen argument here, but nonetheless it’s a bit inconveniencing when I attempt to put the disc in properly, sit through all those warnings about piracy and how they’ll cut my ears off if I burn this DVD, and finally get to the menu, only to find that the movie has been “formatted to fit my screen.” So I turn the damn thing over and go through that process again, just so I can watch my movie in the desired aspect ratio. At one point about five minutes in, the disc began to skip and eventually just stopped altogether. Now, Welcome to the Dollhouse is not a ‘hot renter’. My friend had seen it about six times, but I’m willing to venture she’s probably the only person in the entire world who has. That said, with the limited amount of handling I imagine this disc had, there were scratches, prints and marks all over it. We cleaned it off and attempted again, this time making it through most of the movie, until we missed five minutes of the end, due to scratches.

This is not just a question of my clumsiness with DSDs. When taking into account the condition in which most DSDs come back at work I can confidently conclude that they are more susceptible to damage than normal discs. For anyone who rents, buys, or simply handles these discs on a frequent basis, we must ask the question ‘WHY CAN’T YOU PUT THE STUPID MOVIE ON ONE SIDE?’ I still cannot understand the need to have a single side of a disc devoted only to the full screen presentation. I realize some people may prefer it (and I hope they enjoy only watching half their movie) but many DVDs simply offer the option of full screen or widescreen on the menu itself. No need to choose disc sides and get confused. The only explanation I have (which unfortunately seems to be the running trend) is that it is cheaper to release movies this way.

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