Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Adventures in DVD repair

Anyone who owns an XBOX 360 has personally experienced or at least heard stories about discs becoming scratched by moving the game console from a horizontal to a vertical position or vice versa while the disc is inserted and spinning.

Why would someone do this, you might ask? Well, as a victim of this phenomenon, I will attempt to explain. For years I worked on my own computers - upgrading, souping them up, and tweaking my PC's to within an inch of their cybernetic lives. This meant that many times I would move the PC tower around while a disc was playing in order to open up the back and fix a problem or perhaps to silence a noisy fan. Never once did I have an issue with this practice.

So I thought nothing at all of moving my XBOX 360 console to evade the grabby hands of my one year old while my 9-year-old son and I were playing Guitar Hero III. MISTAKE!

What resulted was a horrifying GRAAAKK! sound, followed by some adult terms emitting from my mouth because I knew exactly what had just happened. Opening the CD tray confirmed my suspicions.

I had scratched the disc irreparably, rendering it unplayable. After contacting customer service at Microsoft I found that there was nothing which could be done for me in this particular situation. A trip to their website warned users of moving the unit while a game disc was madly spinning away. Perhaps they felt that this exempted them from any responsibility.

But I digress. Because of this unfortunate incident, I was forced to shell out another $60 for the game. I'm not a poor man, but I'm also not wealthy, so $60 isn't a small sum for a father of three whose PR man salary supports the entire family.

Fast forward a few months to a rather intense Grand Theft Auto IV gaming session (God I love that game.) Let me set the scene:

I had nearly completed a critical key mission - the second to the last one in the game as a matter of fact. My son and his friend were playing in his room, far from where the ultra-violence and virtual slew of "F-bombs" were dropping like spring flower petals in the living room. For some reason the boys wandered out to the living room, perhaps on their way to the backyard to take in some wiffle ball practice, and my son's friend decided at that particular time to body tackle our 90 pound yellow-labrador.

In the midst of this impromptu wrestling session - which lasted mere seconds mind you - the young lad kicked out his foot, struck the XBOX squarely with his heel, and I heard that dreaded sound once more - GRAAAK! A sinister noise which could only mean I had destroyed yet another $60 game (one which I was THOROUGHLY enjoying I might add.)

This time instead of feebly calling Microsoft and facing their denial of any liability, I chose to turn to the God of all information - the Internet - in an attempt to solve the problem myself. What follows are the results I gathered from my research. I present them in the hopes that you may be able to apply these techniques to solving your own scratched CD or DVD dilemmas; whether they occur from an XBOX mishap, an overactive child, or other calamitous situation.

The first thing I discovered in my reading was that disc scratching is a common problem with the XBOX 360, so much so that there is a website which sells a kit to correct the problem. Since the 360 requires special tools and tricks to crack them open in order to install the buffer pads included in the kit, I decided instead to leave my XBOX case, and in turn the manufacturer's warranty, intact.

Learning my lesson the hard way, I now leave my console in the horizontal position at all times and take extreme measures to assure that all horseplay or other similar ruckus-induced activity is kept to a minimum near the XBOX while I'm gaming. That didn't help me much with my existing scratch, though. Since the damage had already been done, I had no remorse but to try and repair the disc.

A trip to Radio Shack yielded a couple of different potions which were touted as disc scratch removers. Neither one repaired the deep groove which afflicted my GTA IV disc so it was back to the Internet, specifically YouTube. Before you google "disc repair" yourself, be aware that there are dozens of interesting videos out there, some very creative but essentially useless, so you'll have to weed through them to find the methods which work the best. I'll boil them down for you to save some time:

1. A banana rubbed on the disc followed by a banana peel rub. After running the disc under water and wiping it off with a cloth, this seemed to hardly make a difference.
2. Toothpaste plastered on and washed off. This didn't do much either, even after multiple attempts.
3. Toothpaste, then peanut butter on top of that, followed by a bath in a tupperware vat of coca cola. Surprisingly enough, this removed some small scratches but not enough to repair the nasty groove I was working on.
4. Buffing with super fine sandpaper. I didn't have the cajones to attempt this one and I still have doubts about whether or not it will actually work without destroying the disc entirely. One guy even used an electric drill with a buffing wheel to wear down a thin layer of the disc's acrylic surface. This method may work but seems dangerous and carries the possibility of completely melting the disc.
5. THE FINAL SOLUTION. One of the YouTube videos which advocated sanding the disc finished the process off with a hand cloth buff on/buff off with rubbing compound - the same kind of compound used to take scratches out of a car's finish. With nothing to lose I decided to try the rubbing compound without the sanding to see if it actually worked. So with a tub of compound in hand I rubbed on the goop, let it dry, then rubbed it off three times, trying the disc in the XBOX after each try. My efforts yielded no success at all. The disc would begin to load, then freeze on the opening screen.

Just when I was ready to give up, I remembered that I had another kind of rubbing compound in the garage that was a little bit grittier called "Blue Magic." This different formula also left behind an acrylic coating after it was applied and subsequently removed.

The first time I used this new product on my scratched disc, the game went from completely freezing up when I put it in the console to actually advancing almost to the point of gameplay. My spirits soared!

I ecstatically ran back to the garage and grabbed my tube of Blue Magic and applied a few more coats, being careful not to use too much and to spread it evenly across the entire disc. I finished with a clean cloth (actually an old T-shirt), buffing the affected software delivery device to a bright sheen. Even after I was satisfied that I had worked the lotion into the surface of the disc sufficiently I could still faintly see the scratch, but it certainly had been reduced signifigantly.

But would it play?

Well...I'm happy to say that Blue Magic really was magic, because I was able to get the game to reboot with no further problems, even throughout multiple additional playing sessions. I'm also happy to say that I've finished the game now and I'm gleefully playing in free mode in an attempt to rack up as many achievements as I can before I get tired of carjacking and senselessly killing bad guys and move on to some other game. For the price of $0 and about 15 minutes of my time I had saved $60 and a lot of frustration from not finishing my game.

Since going through this ordeal I've found a couple of websites where you can send a disc at no shipping charge and a company will use a $2,300 "disc repairing machine" (as seen on CSI!) to take scratches out of your games, CDs or DVDs. If I would have known about that then I might have used them instead.

But for now I'm happy with my rubbing compound and an old T-shirt.

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