If you rent a lot of DVDs, late fees are an unfortunate fact of life. And if you're not the most organized person around, they might even figure prominently in your monthly budget. Forget to return "Battlefield Earth" for a week, and you'll­ pay more in late fees than the DVD is worth. This, of course, was the video store's plan all along.

If this sounds like you, then take heart -- the march of technology may have come to the rescue. A company called Flexplay Technologies has introduced a new type of DVD that sells at rental prices but never needs to be returned.

A Flexplay® DVD takes care of the "rental period" itself -- it hits a chemical stopwatch when you open the package, and when your time is up (in 48 hours, say), the disc stops working. Recycle it or turn it into a coaster and consider it returned. And because you don't need a standard rental store set-up, just about any store (even restaurants) could potentially sell the DVDs.

It's an interesting idea, and the technology behind it is pretty interesting, too. In this article, we'll find out how these DVDs do what they do.