Pros: First Blu-ray drive available. Writes Blu-ray discs comparatively quickly and reliably.
Cons: Few BD authoring tools. No support for CD and 50GB BD discs. Copy protection system not set yet.
The Pioneer BDR-101A is the first PC-compatible Blu-ray Disc burner to hit the market. The drive may be light on software and extras, but its appeal as the consumer’s first look at the technology is undeniable. In our tests, we were able to pack nearly 25GB on a single write-once disc, and in about 45 minutes.
The drive has a single-lens optical pickup with two lasers – a blue laser capable of reading and writing to Blu-ray Discs and a red laser for reading and writing to DVD media. However, as the first Blu-ray burner to market, the BDR-101A sacrifices a few format details in favour of being here now. Though it supports BD and DVD media, it does not read or write to CDs. It doesn’t write to dual-layer 50GB BD media either, and there’s no support for the full AACS copy protection specification, as this hasn’t been formalized yet.
Blu-ray Disc is one of two competing formats battling to replace conventional DVDs. The format is based on blue laser technology and offers several times the storage capacity of current DVDs. Blu-ray stores 25GB on a single-layer disc and uses a new disc structure that puts the recording layer much closer to the laser. The competing but incompatible format – HD-DVD – stores a little less: 15GB of data on a single-layer disc.
The drive is aimed at Blu-ray authors producing test and single-installation discs. Transfer to replication houses is still best performed using portable hard drives – but it’ll make a useful back-up and data transfer format when media prices come down.
We tested a production-level BDR-101A drive using BD-R media from TDK, and close-but-not-quite-final software from Sonic. The drive’s installation was standard fare for an IDE drive: It looks and feels like an ordinary optical drive, and was a snap to install in our system.
The drive performed impressively. It took around 45 minutes to master 22GB of data to BD-R using the bundled Sonic DigitalMedia SE software. This translates to a throughput of 67Mbps, as compared with the theoretical maximum of 72Mbps for 2x-speed BD-R. It took a bit longer than that to copy that same disc back to the hard drive.
Compared to DVD writing, that’s slightly more time than it might take you to burn to five single-layer DVD-Rs, but slightly less than it might take to burn the same capacity to double-layer DVD+R – not accounting for the time it takes to swap discs.
For example, the Plextor PX-760A, the fastest DVD burner we’ve tested in our lab, about six minutes to transfer 4.35GB at 18x to a single-layer DVD+R. For double-layer burns at 10x, the Plextor BDR-101A required over 14 minutes to write 7.9GB to disc. Not surprisingly, however, if speed is your goal, a hard drive remains a faster bet.
The BDR-101A drive ships with Sonic’s DigitalMedia SE software for data writing, but Blu-ray authoring tools are few and far between (see right).
Pioneer’s BDR-101A burner is only a first salvo in what promises to be a new burst of drives. It has some limitations, but the drive provides the high-capacity removable storage that users are clamouring for.
Tech notes: Authoring options
DVD authors looking to step up to next-generation formats will find their options limited. Apple’s DVD Studio Pro 4 – now part of the Final Cut Studio bundle – can create projects in the rival HD-DVD format, and the company is characteristically keeping mum about when support for Blu-ray will be added.
Sonic is leading the charge for both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc (BD) authoring tools with releases at the recent NAB show in April. Within the company’s own products, support for the formats has been limited to the high-end Scenarist system (and its Cinevision encoding platform). However, an update for Avid DVD by Sonic released at NAB added support for BD authoring.
However, neither Avid DVD by Sonic nor DVD Studio Pro 4 include support for the level of interactivity offered by HD-DVD or Blu-ray, and it’s expected to be some time before tools for this are added.