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Scratch-Resistant CD Keeps Data Alive

You can wipe off that drink coaster and slip it into a CD player--that is, if you really wanted to. The Scratch-Less Disc relies on a special polymer, co-developed by General Electric, that's 100 times harder to scratch than the surface of standard CDs.

After twenty-three years on the market, the compact disc is getting an upgrade. Colorado-based Scratch-Less Disc Industries on Monday introduced a CD that's designed to protect data from damage caused by normal use and handling.

Todd Kuchman, the company's founder and CEO, says the Scratch-Less Disc relies on a special polymer, co-developed by General Electric, that's 100 times harder to scratch than the surface of standard CDs. He says the Scratch-Less disc has a resistance to abrasion similar to glass.

A ring of 20 protective bumps that circumscribe the underside of the disc adds further protection by reducing contact with any flat surface upon which the disc might rest.

The result is a CD that can be used both as a drink coaster and storage medium. (Typically, a disc gets demoted to coaster only after being damaged beyond use.) Kuchman, however, cautions that Scratch-Less discs are merely tough. They are not so impervious that they could survive, say, a sledgehammer attack from a music aficionado determined to rid the world of Madonna recordings.

Only a few years ago, these new, presumably longer-lived discs might have met with a lukewarm reception from the recording industry. According to Kuchman, as recently as 2001 record companies counted on re-buys—customers purchasing replacements for previously owned recordings that have been lost or damaged—for almost a quarter of their sales. Currently, he claims, that figure hovers around 2% because, among other reasons, digital music stored on hard disks tends to have a longer shelf life.

Today, if anyone has a hard time mustering enthusiasm for a tougher data storage medium, it might be opponents of the recording industry's copy protection efforts. Among those who advocate the right to copy CDs and DVDs, the need to make safety copies of data is frequently cited as a justification for duplicating discs. Assuming Scratch-Less discs perform as advertised, back-ups become less of a necessity and disc copying in general becomes less defensible.

Scratch-Less discs are compatible with over 99% of the installed base of CD players, according to the manufacturer. Incompatible players, which merely have problems ejecting Scratch-Less discs, include stock single CD players in Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Plymouth models from 2000 to 2005, and the stock single CD player in the 2005 model Ford Explorer.

The new discs cost about $1 each, slightly more than their more fragile predecessors: Sony brand CD-R discs cost about $0.67 each, based on a 30-unit pack.

The Scratch-Less disc is now available in the CD-R format. CD-RW versions should ship soon. In Q1 2006, various DVD formats will debut.

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