A Step by Step Guide for Dealing With Unfinalized DVD Discs

There are a few possible scenarios that could have led to you having a disc that is unfinalized:

  1. For whatever reason you have a disc which a reading device or software is specifically saying is unfinalized.
  2. The finalization process was (or you suspect it was) begun on a disc and for some reason failed.
  3. In the case of some camcorders or DVD recorders, the disc was still in the process of having content added when for some reason the disc was removed and finalization was never attempted.

Generally speaking the second and third scenarios result in messages saying that the disc is full (but will not play) or that there is no disc or even that there is a disc, it is empty but cannot be written to!

If the disc you have falls under scenario #1 above then keep reading and follow the instructions for using the Nero software to recover.

If the disc you have falls under scenario #2 or #3 I would also recommend following the steps below because there is no real way to be able to determine as to whether you truly have an unfinalized DVD or if you have some other typse of data corruption.

The bottom line is you have to start somewhere and it might as well be here!

Key Information on DVD Finalization, Data DVDs and Video DVDs

Before we dive in it is important that you get an understanding of some specific terms here so that you can proceed with at least an idea of what you are doing.

Finalization versus Closing

There are two strategies employed to “finish off” a DVD disc depending on the contents.

If the disc only contains data then certain final information is written to the disc to let anything reading that disc know what is on the disc and that the disc contains data only.

This is called Closing the disc.

An unclosed data disc generally speaking, can only be further written to by the original software that created it.

If the disc contains video as in a video DVD then the disc needs to be finished off so that the contents are readable by DVD playback devices and that those devices recognize it as a Video DVD.

This is called Finalizing the disc.

The internal structure of video DVDs is far more complex than a data disc and they MUST be finalized for it to be playable.

In this case the software is not just closing the disc so that it can be read by other software and devices.

The video DVD finalization process also involves writing a very complex set of files and instructions that tell the DVD player exactly what is on the disc and where it is.

What you see of this when you pop it in a player are simply the menus and their functionality.

If it is at all possible with any unfinalized DVD or open DVD, try to get the original device or software used to create the disc to finalize it.

If this is not possible or the original device is failing to successfully deal with the disc then read on.

There is no software available that is going to be able to tell you whether you have an unfinalized DVD or a DVD that has suffered an error in being finalized.

It is a “Catch 22″ in that the software will always be stumped because finalization is the key to the software working out what is on the disc.

Most software will report the DVD as being either full, unreadable or empty but unable to be written to!

The Good News and the Bad News

In order to recover from having unfinalized DVDs you are going to need software.

The good news is that there are two software products that can be used and they will give you two bites at the cherry.

Actually one will give you one bite plus two more half bites and the final one will give you a half bite as well so I guess that’s two and a half bites at the cherry… but who’s counting!

The bad news is that you are going to have to work out for yourself whether you are willing to pay for it!

The question you have to ask yourself is whether the contents of the DVD are worth the investment in the software.

I can’t decide that for you.

The Nero Solution

The Nero range of multimedia products have been around for quite some time and have always been at the forefront of technology for burning discs ever since home burning of CDs was first introduced.

Because of that they have probably the most friendly program for dealing with discs that may not have been created by Nero itself.

Nero obviously has a function that will perform a DVD finalization on discs produced by itself but this function can also be very often used on discs created with other software.

Failing that it has other functions that will allow extraction of all the data on the disc regardless of whether it is finalized or not.

In about 90% of cases Nero should be the only software you need.

Now a word of warning here!

In handling open, damaged, errored or unfinalized DVDs there will be long lags where it appears that the computer has frozen or that the software is doing nothing.

BE PATIENT! Take a walk, stay calm…relax! Some of the techniques here may take a long time to complete.

If you have an Unfinalized Video DVD start at Step One, if you have an unclosed or open Data DVD go directly to Step Three.

Finalizing a DVD in Nero

Download the Nero Trial Version Here

Step One

Place the unfinalized DVD into the computer DVD tray and wait until Windows has stopped asking silly questions about what you want to do.

Open the Nero Video module of the Nero program and click on the Tools menu top right then choose “Finalize Disc.”

If you get the “Media not supported” message movie on to Step Two.

In the Menus to Create section in the drop-down menu, choose to keep the existing menu.

Click the Start button. You have now finalized a DVD… probably!

Step Two

If the above procedure fails for any reason, usually because the disc has been partially finalized, we come to your next bite at the cherry!

This next procedure is your last chance at recovering the data from a Video DVD with all the Menus and necessary files and folders intact.

In other words your last chance of recovering the disc in the form of a Video DVD. (Don’t panic, you still have lots more chances of retaining the actual video files!)

We are going to use a little known function of Nero to pull all the data off the disc and on to your hard drive.

So, again from within Nero:

Open “Nero Recode.”

Select “Import DVD Structure.”

This will begin a search on the disc for the specific DVD files that comprise a correctly made Video DVD.

If you are lucky the folder that should appear is called VIDEO_TS exactly as I have written there.

Select “Import DVD.”

In the explorer window that opens, navigate to the DVD reader in your computer and select it.

Select the VIDEO_TS folder if it is showing and click on “Select Folder.”

Recode will now begin to read the contents of the disc.

Once that is successfully done on the lft side of the screen next to the figure “1. For which device?” Make sure that MPEG2 is showing.

For “2. To which quality?” Move the slider all the way to the right to the “Best Quality” setting and in the “Maximum size” drop down menu choose the same disc size as the one you are trying to recover.

Click OK then on the next screen click “Start Encoding.”

Navigate to your “My Documents” folder and you will find the newly created folder called “Recode.”

Inside that folder you will find the normal .ifo, .bup and .vob files normally seen in a DVD video folder.

Create a new folder called VIDEO_TS and move any files Recode created into that folder then use a normal DVD burning software application to create a new Video DVD.

Step Three

Nero Rescue Agent

Rescue Agent is yet another module within Nero that has the sole purpose of recovering data from damaged discs, errored discs or in this case, an unfinlized disc.

The only way to really know if Rescue Agent can read your disc is to put it in to your reader and let it run.

If the software can at least open the disc it will offer you the choice of a Quick or a Full scan. Try the quick scan first and failing that try the Full Scan.

Once the disc has been scanned Rescue Agent will offer to save off the files it has found to a location on your computer. Just follow the instructions.

Note that it is unlikely that Rescue Agent will recover a video DVD with any file structure or menus intact.

What it may do is recover the original video files which can then be used to rebuild a new video DVD.

Last Chance Cafe – Isobuster

Go to www.isobuster.com and download a copy of the software.

Using the free functions first make sure that Isobuster can read the disc and can report at least the presence of a file structure.

If it can then it is time for you to make the decision as to whether the data on the disc is worth the purchase price.

At this point the best you can hope for is the extraction of the MPEG video files or data files on the disc.

You MAY lose any video menu information and you may lose some of the video or data.

It is most likely, at this point, that there is damage to the file structure on the disc or even the disc itself and you are not dealing with a straight unfinalized DVD situation.

Start Isobuster then load the disc.

When Isobuster has detected the files on the disc run the Find Missing Files and Folders option under the File menu.

You will now have an entry on the left hand column of Files and folders found by their signature.

Select that, then go to File, Files found via their signature then for a Data DVD choose Extract files found via their signature. Choose a location and let it run.

For a Video DVD or disc choose Extract but filter only MPEG frames.

You will now have all the files where you selected them to go.

In the case of a video DVD you may end up with files having the .VOB extension. These are the MPEG files from your disc, wrapped in the VOB container.

They can then be imported into a video editing program using the “Import DVD/VR” function or can be read by most DVD burning software.

In the case of a Data DVD the files will usually be intact and have the appropriate extension.

Well hopefully somewhere on this page you found how to fix unfinalized DVDs! If not feel free to hit the “contact” button and I will try to help you in any way I can.

View Comments (19)

    • Hi Ian,
      Unfortunately over the years I have never been able to find anything that really compares designed for Mac.

  • Thank you so much! After spending several days trying to find a solution you provided a clearly explained perfect solution that worked seamlessly.

    I have an old Samsung DVD camcorder purchased in 2007. 2 of the discs would not read in my laptop's DVD-drive. I still have the camera and the old software disks. I tried finalising the discs in the camera. No luck! 'Disc error' came up. I tried plugging the camera directly into the laptop (to see if I could use it like an external hard drive and copy files that way). The camera was too old to be recognised. I even tried my ancient laptop, but it couldn't recognise the camera either. I tried using the software disc to download the driver for the camera and the software, but it was too old to be used on my new laptop. And for some reason wouldn't work on my ancient laptop either.

    By this stage I was becoming extremely frustrated and disheartened. I really thought my home videos of my kids as babies were lost. In a last attempt I went to Google and discovered this page. I worked through your steps in order (I used a free trial of Nero). Nero was unsuccessful, so I went to Isobuster. I loved that the free version allowed me to see if it would work before I had to spend some money. Once I saw that it would work, I happily paid the $60AU to purchase the product (I figured if I took it somewhere it would cost me at least that much, and after all this time of trying everything else I was happy to spend the money so my time wasn't wasted).

    IsoBuster recovered the files relatively quickly. Initially I thought that some of the videos hadn't been able to be saved (which I was prepared for), but a bit of investigating and I discovered ALL videos were saved, just some had been combined into one file. So on my video camera they were 3 separate videos, but in the recovered files the three videos had been combined into one. Nothing was lost! To say I was ecstatic is an understatement!!

    Once again, THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing your knowledge and expertise.

    • I'm not cryin' YOU'RE cryin'!
      So happy to hear you got your precious videos back and thanks for stopping by to let me know.
      You have made my day!

  • Hi, I recorded stuff from my camcorder dv tape to Dvd on dvd recorder. I thought i followed the correct procedures and for a while was able to watch said videos. But at a later date when i put the dvd in to play it says 100% free space ie nothing on there! What has happened to my treasured memories.

    • Hi Angie,
      OK a couple of possibilities spring to mind.
      If you transferred the video off the tape and on to the DVD THEN successfully played it then we can (probably ,maybe) assume the DVD was OK... probably maybe!
      So as far as that DVD goes check the playing surface (opposite side of the label) by holding it up near some light to see if the plastic is totally fine and there is no dirt, scratches, finger prints, peanut butter etc.
      If yes, clean with a soft cloth, if no... keep reading.
      Now look at that same side of the disc and you should be able to see the blue or silver metal foil that the data is burned on to.
      Make sure that all looks even and there are no blotchy sections or spots.
      Once you have done that get back to me but instead of doing it here in the comments of the website just use the CONTACT button on this page and we can talk directly.
      I am totally fine to help you with this but we may need to work through a bunch of possible causes to the problem.

  • RescueAgent did it for me. Thank you for giving me a clear path to trying out different options, along with explanations of what each step means! I now have my recovered VOB files AND a little more information on how it works!

    Thank you Lance!

      • We have some DVD's that were not finalized from our Sony DCR-DVD650 because it was stolen. If we can find another Sony DCR-DVD650 will it work to finalize what our DVD's, or would we only be able to do that with the original recorder?

        • Hi Austin,
          Absolutely the ideal situation here is to get the original recorder or at least another one of the same model to try to finalize those discs.
          This will give you a 99% chance of getting them handled.
          *Note: Notice how I said, "try to finalize" and then said 99%!
          We are dealing with technology after all so let's remain calm.

  • I'm using a Pioneer DVR-520H DVD recorder with an 80 GB hard drive. I created several unedited discs of home video to make room on the hard drive for other endeavors. I inadvertently finalized these discs, and subsequently erased the associated video files on the hard drive. I now want to load the files on the discs back onto the hard drive, but the machine won't copy files from a finalized disc to the hard drive. The discs are DVD-R and were recorded in the Video Mode (as opposed to VR). Is there any way to accomplish this?

    • Hi Ray,
      Yes this shouldn't be too much trouble.

      Place one of the DVD discs into the DVD reader of your computer.

      Usually at this point Windows will either perform the default action for discs or ask you to what you want it do do.

      If the disc starts playing back just stop it and close the playback window.

      If Windows asks you what you want it to do choose nothing and close that box.

      Now go to "My Computer" or "This PC" depending on your system setup and you will see probably the C Drive and some others plus the DVD Drive.

      Right click the DVD Drive and Choose to Open the disc. Do not choose Open AutoPlay or anything like that.

      What you want is to navigate into the files on the disc.

      Once it opens look for the VIDEO_TS folder.

      Inside the VIDEO_TS folder there will be a bunch of files with three extensions. they will be .BUP, .IFO, and finally .VOB.

      Ignore the BUP and IFO files, what you want are the VOB files.

      Just drag those on to your desktop. Once the are there change the extensions of those files from .VOB to .mpg.

      They should then play in Windows Media Player.

      Give that a go and let me know how you went and anything else you need.

  • I have 5 discs that were not finalized on a Panasonic DMR-EZ485VK. The client no longer has that deck. If we purchase a used Panasonic DMR-EZ485VK or Panasonic DMR-EZ485V deck can we expect to be able to finalize these DVD-R discs, considering they date back to the mid 1990s?
    I tried using 321Soft Data Recovery for Mac and it showed 12,000 .mpg files recoverable. all having different numbers as file names. If we used that process how can we be assured they will all stitch together as one long video sequence with properly synced audio?

    • Hi Chris,
      OK so let's go through both alternatives individually but for both of them you have to understand that there is nothing guaranteed about any of this!

      Plan A

      As far as purchasing a used DVD recorder of the same model goes on the surface this would generally be the best way forward.
      However when I wrote that recommendation I wasn't thinking of a DVD Recorder that was considerably out of date and would have to be purchased in a used condition.
      Theoretically that same model DVD recorder in good working condition "should" be able to read those discs and finalize them successfully.
      The only possible points of failure would be a fault in the recorder itself due to age, wear and tear etc. Or, that some or all of the discs have suffered degradation in either the surface of the disc (scratches etc.) or that the underlying dye layer that holds the data has degraded.
      So all I can say on that one is that if the discs show no visible signs of degradation they should be good to go with the used DVD recorder.

      Plan B

      The second method using software recovery will probably get you the files back but... and it's a big but!
      The software has reported back to you the files it has discovered, the .mpg files.
      These are the actual video files all in no particular order or any understandable naming protocol.
      The fact that the software can see them means that the software can recover them so you have that certainty.
      However if you place disc 1 in the computer and recover the .mpg files what you will get are a number of .mpg files and nothing else.
      From that point forward those files will have to be edited back together into a "whole" in order to re-create what was recorded originally.
      Out of sync audio should not be a problem here. Each .mpg file will have its own audio synced fine and editing them together would not throw anything out of sync.

      Get back to me if you need to discuss further.

  • Thank you so much for this article! After reading this, and reading Laura’s reply about her success with Isobuster, I decided to give it a try on a dvd interview my brother and I made of my grandma and uncle. It was never finalized and the player we used to watch it on wouldn’t play the disc anymore. I was out of ideas and started googling. Luckily I found this site. It worked like a charm and a 14 year old video with cherished memories and stories from two loved ones who have since passed away is watchable again. Thank you, Lance!

    • Hi Kim,
      So happy to hear it all worked out OK!
      By taking the time to drop by and letting me know you have totally made my day!!!

  • Thank you for your advice. I had a family video recorded on an old video camera in the 90's subsequently copied onto a VHS casstte, then copied onto an RW-DVDs with a Panasonic VHS cassette/DVD recorder. The video consisted of a 40 minute talk my Mother gave to the WI (she is now 98 years old), a 20 minute filming of my Father's 90th Birthday party and a couple of 3 minute films of family friends. I didn't finalise the DVDS at the time because I thought I might add to it.
    I thought I would do a copy so that I didn't lose the film but my PC did not acknowledge the disc, so I took it to a local shop that sends discs away to be copied, it was returned as not possible, unrecognisable format. As you can imagine I was very disappointed until I put the problem of retrieving files from an unfinalised disc onto the Internet and up came your site.
    I followed your instructions but was too worried about losing files to ask Nero to finalise the disc so went to your second suggestion, Isobuster, it recognised the disc, extracted the files and with a Winx video converter I now have MP4 files on usb and feel so smug! The only problem I had was that it split the 40 minute film in two, but I was able to join them with a sight distortion at the join. I am self taught so not up on some computer lingo but always keen to learn and get an enormous amount of pleasure from the process.
    So Thank You so much for the information without which I would never have achieved my aim!

    • Laura thank you so much for posting this, you have absolutely made my day!

      I am so happy you were able to retrieve your videos and remember... if anyone asks, don't tell them about this site.

      Tell them you worked it out all on your own! It's good to feel a little smug on occasion!

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