Ricoh MP5120A

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Ricoh MP5120A

Just when you thought it was safe to buy a DVD-R recorder, a rival format appears. Ricoh is first to market with a DVD+RW drive for desktop PCs. Has it missed the bus, or is there room for one more on top?

It had to happen. No sooner do we allow ourselves to get excited about recordable DVD, than a rival format appears. Early subscribers to consumer-level DVD burners will already be familiar with Pioneer's DVD-R and DVD-RW formats, but Philips has entered the arena too, with its own re-writable standard - DVD+RW. This had been promised for a long time, but with no news of hardware to back it up. With the launch of Pioneer's A03 drive (review, August 2001, p30), and the growing support for DVD-RW, we thought DVD+RW would be scrapped before products hit the shelves. But we've been proven well and truly wrong - two DVD+RW drives have now appeared - Hewlett Packard's DVD100i, and the model reviewed here, Ricoh's MP5120A.

Philips' main claim for the DVD+RW standard is that discs are more compatible with existing CD-ROM drives and set-top DVD players than are those for DVD-RW. We've yet to hear of any comparisons between DVD+RW and DVD-R, however. Other claims appearing on the internet are that DVD+RW is better equipped to handle variable bitrate MPEG-2 and complex menu structures. These claims are still unproven in the real world, but we'll be keeping our ears to the ground.

The Ricoh drive will write to DVD+RW, but doesn't support any write- once DVD formats. This is a shame, as write-once discs will almost certainly remain cheaper than rewritables, regardless of how far media prices drop. However, the Ricoh does support the two CD writing formats, CD-R and CD-RW, and sports more impressive burn speeds than Pioneer's A03 - 12x for CD-R and 10x for CD-RW as opposed to Pioneer's 8x for CD-R and 4x for CD-RW. While its recording repertoire is a little limited, we're glad to report that it is a good disc reader - it even plays DVD-R discs made with the Pioneer A03.

The useful but boring bit

DVD isn't just a video format. It's useful for data backup, too. In addition to an interesting array of DVD video tools, Ricoh provides the user with two general data programs - B's Recorder Gold, and B's Clip, both from BHA.

B's Recorder Gold is a familiar-looking program in the Easy CD Creator mould. Upon launch, the user is given a choice of wizard tools to help create data CDs, audio CDs or video CDs. Hard drive backups are also possible, as is live audio recording to disc. B's Clip is a packet-writing program, allowing DVD+RW and CD-RW discs to be used in the same way as floppy discs. The disc must be formatted first, but, for DVD+RW at least, this only takes a couple of minutes, after which files can be dragged and dropped in Windows Explorer - as with any other random access drive. Writing is speedy. A single-file 1.62GByte transfer to DVD+RW took only nine minutes to complete, while a 612MByte transfer (also single file) to CD-R took six minutes.

InterVideo

Many of the video tools provided with this drive are made by InterVideo - best known for its WinDVD software DVD player. Version 3.1 of the player is bundled with the drive, and we found it to do an excellent job of playing retail discs, as well as DVD videos we'd made ourselves.

Also from InterVideo is WinCoder, an MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 encoder. It has an interface much like WinDVD's but it allows AVI files to be selected in a batch and encoded to SVCD and DVD-compliant MPEG-2 or VCD-compliant MPEG-1. WinCoder offers profiles for the creation of PAL VCD and PAL SVCD discs, but we were unable to use them, no matter how many ways we tried to change the default from PAL DVD. A very nice feature of WinCoder is its ability to encode to MPEG in real-time while receiving a DV signal via FireWire. In this situation, there's no SVCD profile - possibly because it requires the video to be rescaled - but we were able to capture to MPEG at DVD and VCD quality. At the program's highest recording quality setting, real-time capture to DVD-compliant MPEG-2 was on a par with results we'd seen encoding from files on the hard drive. Capture to VCD- compliant MPEG-1 worked well too, but again, the quality was poor compared to what we've seen from Tsunami MPEG encoder and Canopus's SoftMPG. The program can also capture DV directly to the hard drive via FireWire, and send DV back to tape, too.

The biggest surprise in InterVideo's armoury is a simple video editing program for DV and MPEG files, WinProducer. It has 23 transitions - a mix of 2D and 3D - which are added to areas of clips that overlap on the same track of the timeline. There's only a small selection of image filters but right-clicking on the filters' library gives the option of importing DirectX plug-ins, including emboss effects and motion blur. Picture-in-picture overlay is also possible, with the position, size and scale of the inset image easily altered by dragging its borders on the video monitor itself. Titling is fussy, but gives good results. Text must be typed into a small box in the Text Properties window. WinProducer itself can't output from the timeline to tape, although the project can be saved to the hard drive as a DV file and recorded back to a camcorder using WinCoder.

Conclusion

Ricoh's MP5120A is a good performer, and we must credit the company for providing enough tools to get the user from start to finish in the DVD authoring game. InterVideo's software is far from perfect, but if the company starts to polish up its programs, they could turn into something very special. Sonic's software, while being more reliable than we'd expected, was a sad letdown. As for the DVD+RW format itself, only time and real-world experience will tell whether it is indeed a more versatile and compatible format than DVD-RW. And, regardless of which is better, the fight will ultimately be won with marketing - we still remember the hard fought battle between Betamax and VHS! Right now, DVD-RW has a distinct advantage of four months on shop shelves. DVD+RW's success will depend greatly on hardware cost and whether or not PC makers decide to build the drives into their machines. For the full review, see the December 2001 issue of Computer Video.




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