DVD Burners Group Test

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DVD Burners Group Test

We look at high-speed four-way ATAPI DVD burners from three leading makers - Sony, NEC and Pioneer. The test results, and some follow-up tests that were not included in the magazine are discussed here on Computer Video's DVdoctor-hosted forum. The forum page also has links to PDFs of the three reviews in full, the published tests results, all tests (published and follow-up), and notes about the follow-up tests. There is also a link to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of all results - which will help users check the write speed of their own DVD burners.

Sony DRU-510A

Competition between DVD-R and DVD+R formats has been a huge annoyance for some, but a blessing for others. While High Street stores - and some online retailers - are having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that not all recordable DVDs are the same, video professionals are finding that a choice of formats gives them a better chance of providing clients with discs that will work on their set-top DVD players.
While Pioneer and Philips fought it out to push their own recordable DVD formats, Sony was the first to jump down from the fence and offer a drive that would burn to DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW discs. The Sony DRU-500A came out well in our tests, but needed several firmware updates in order to make it compatible and reliable with different types of DVD disc. On top of that, there was a severe stock shortage, with many kept waiting months for the drives.
Despite these frustrations, the DRU-500A was a success, and the dual-format approach is taking off - not only with format-agnostic companies such as Iomega and NEC, but also with Pioneer itself.
Sony's latest dual-format burner is the DRU-510A. On paper, not much has changed. It has claimed writing speeds of 4x for DVD+R discs - but so does the 500A if you install the latest firmware. We suspect that most of the changes have taken place under the chassis, with inner workings streamlined and simplified. This should pave the way for a lower price, too, but sadly, the DRU-510A weighs in £225 - that's £30-£40 more than similar drives from Pioneer and NEC.

The DRU-510A proved solid in our tests, consistently producing good discs. The drive's support for DVD-R and +R formats is what will attract IT and video enthusiasts. The software bundle doesn't bring a lot of value to the overall product, however, and we feel that many video makers will already have better programs of their own, so might be better off hunting down a bare drive at a lower price. As it is, the drive's street price is too high when compared to similar products from Pioneer and NEC, which sell for £30 or £40 less. DVD burner prices haven't stopped falling though, and competition is likely to continue over the coming months - keep your eyes open, as there's sure to be bargains up for grabs!

Peter Wells

Pioneer DVR-106

Pioneer was the first to deliver a DVD burner into the consumer marketplace. This was possible because of the DVD standards the company introduced - write-once DVD-R and rewritable DVD-RW. These have proven immensely popular over the last couple of years, but were soon followed by a rival pair of standards championed by Philips - DVD+R and DVD+RW.
While video and IT enthusiasts are now well aware of the competing standards, few members of the general public have caught on, and this has led to some embarrassing confusion in High Street electrical stores and on web sites. Not long ago, one of the biggest online computer retailers had DVD+RW discs listed as essential accessories for a DVD-RW drive - discs upon which the drive is totally unable to record (though it should play them once they've been burned). Clearly something needed to be done about this confusion over disc types. Sony was first to respond - and in a very clever way. It introduced a burner, the DRU-500A, that was able to write to all four standards - DVD-R/-RW and +R/+RW.

Until one recordable DVD format dies off, multi-format burners will remain more attractive than single-format models. And we're very pleased to see that Pioneer recognises this, and is willing to sell a burner that also writes to its competitors' standards. Far from being a sign of defeat, we believe that Pioneer is simply meeting demand for multi-format drives - a shrewd move that will help secure Pioneer's standing in the market and help it hold onto OEM business. Until recently, Pioneer provided all the burners for Apple's top-end Mac computers, as well as for many off-the-shelf Windows systems. But system builders see a demand for the benefits of multi-format burners, and Pioneer has wisely decided to meet these expectations.
The DVR-106 burner is good, solid and reliable. Its price is fair, and its support for the competing formats looks likely to force companies in the +R camp - notably Philips, Ricoh and HP - to follow suit with multi-format burners of their own, expanding uptake of Pioneer's own DVD-R format in the process.

Peter Wells

NEC ND-1300A

NEC's latest IDE/ATAPI DVD burner is designed to support high-speed writing to the four main DVD formats, putting it in competition with the similarly spec'd four-way burners from Pioneer and Sony.
The street price for the retail version of the snappily named MultiSpin 4x DVD+/- Writer (model ND-1300A) is £199 (inc VAT). This includes Windows software from Sonic, Ahead and ArcSoft, plus cables and fixing screws. An OEM version, with no extras, can be had for £150.
At the time of writing, Sony's DRU-510A retail bundle was going out for £229 while Pioneer's competing A06 retail package was pitched at around £200, and the OEM version - the DVR-106 - was just £170. Pioneer provides Pinnacle editing and burning software with the A06, Sony offers Sonic and ArcSoft programs.
Claimed DVD write speeds for the NEC are 4x for DVD-R/+R; 2.4x for DVD+RW; and 2x for DVD-RW. For CD, they're 16x (CD-R) and 10x (CD-RW). The NEC is said to monitor the burn process throughout, analysing the reflectivity of the media in order to calculate optimal laser power - adjusting it in real-time to avoid failed burns. Read speeds are 12x for DVD and 40x for CDs.

It's hard to be definitive about the ND-1300A, since we were unable to say how well it performed with the Ahead software that should come in-pack - once we'd got hold of the right software, we'd run out of time to test it.
We're also in two minds about performance. Once we'd found a way of connecting that suited the NEC, it was the fastest burner on test this month. Until then, though, it had been the slowest by far. Bottom line? Readers should check out the thread on our board (www.dvforums.com/cgi-bin/ubb/Forum5/HTML/000570.html) where we'll be posting links to our follow-up tests.

Lisa Keddie

Read the full feature in October 2003's Computer Video magazine.


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