Pioneer DVR-A03

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Pioneer DVR-AO3

The revolution is upon us! No longer shall we endure the trials of low-quality linear videotape! No more shall we search through hours of garbage to find that golden 20 minutes! Pioneer has brought us affordable DVD-R, and we're getting a wee bit carried away!

Over the last two years, the thing that we've been asked most regularly is Ôwhen will we be able to buy affordable DVD writers?'. For a while, it seemed there was more chance of Hell entering an ice age than seeing such fabulous opportunities placed in the hands of mere mortals. Part of the problem was that nobody could agree on a standard. Everyone wanted to be the owner of the writable DVD format, but nobody was willing to put their money on the line and come forward with a product for the mainstream market.
Finally, Pioneer took the bull by the horns and launched General Use DVD media and a (relatively) low-cost DVD burner. The burner, the DVR-A03, has been instantly taken up by system builders including Apple and Packard Bell, and the drive itself is available to buy for a fairly reasonable £650.
This, of course, isn't Pioneer's first DVD burner. The previous model, the DVR-S201, was a SCSI device costing well over £3,000. But what that has that the DVR-AO3 doesn't is the ability to write to DVD for Authoring discs. These are slightly more pricey and seem to be compatible with a wider range of set-top players than the General Use discs that the A03 uses.

Hardware installation is no different to installing a CD-ROM drive. We made sure the jumper on the back was set to the correct position, slotted the drive into a 5.25in bay (then screwed it in place) connected the IDE and power cables, and powered up the computer. The system recognised the drive and no drivers were requested. We went to Windows' Device Manager, enabled DMA and rebooted.
Software installation was just as simple. For straightforward DVD-ROM authoring, Pioneer includes VOB Instant CD/DVD. For DVD video authoring, there's Sonic Solutions' MyDVD 2.3. Both programs installed without a problem. MyDVD brings with it a copy of PowerDVD - an excellent software DVD player, which also works as a plug-in MPEG player for the MyDVD interface. A reboot was needed after each installation, but the process was otherwise quite painless.

The DVR-A03 may well be the answer to many people's prayers, but we would prefer to see it bundled with less flaky DVD video authoring software. If MyDVD had been stable in our tests, we'd have been overjoyed at its versatility for a bundled program. Unlike Apple's entry-level solution, iDVD, MyDVD allows long videos to be marked up with chapter stops, and these make it much easier to navigate around a disc. Unfortunately, even when it wasn't falling over, it felt decidedly wobbly, and when it did go belly up, it was generally at the expense of a £9 write-once DVD-R disc. VOB's Instant CD/DVD, on the other hand, is a good all-round suite of disc storage tools, and is sure to prove invaluable.
The drive itself is good. Installation is incredibly simple, and - software permitting - it does a good job of archiving to General Use DVD-R, DVD-RW and CD media. Our only concern at this stage lies in the compatibility of General Use DVD-R discs with domestic set-top players, see compatibility chart, p61.

For the full review, see the August 2001 issue of Computer Video.

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