Double Layer DVD +R9 burners and software test and review

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Double Layer DVD+R9 burners and software

First warts-and-all in-depth UK reviews

We were all on a high last month as we put together our lead news story about the arrival of inexpensive DVD burners able to write to 8.5GByte Double Layer DVD+R9 discs - the format developed by Philips in conjunction with Verbatim's parent company MKM (Mitsubishi Kagaku Media).
The capacity limitations of the 4.7GByte DVD blanks we all presently use would, we said, soon be a thing of the past given that the new discs are claimed to hold up to four hours of DVD-quality video. We were astonished (and delighted) at the low prices at which new burners were being sold from the outset - the cheapest we found was an NEC ND-2510A from Ebuyer UK, at just £68.50 (inc VAT, but not carriage).
About the only downside we highlighted was the likelihood that blanks would at first be expensive, due to production volumes initially being low and there being only one maker (Verbatim) and only one substantive UK retail stockist (PC World).
Well, that prediction did turn out to be right. DVD+R9 discs are selling at the rip-off price of £14.99 each - a massive premium considering it's possible to buy 4x DVD+R 4.7GByte blank Verbatim discs in library cases at 60p each, and 8x at 80p (SVP, Despite the price, though, we had expected DVD+R9 discs to fly off the shelf - until, that is, we starting trying out the new-format DVD Video discs we'd burned.
At that point, we discovered that they wouldn't play in the majority of set-top DVD players we tried, didn't play properly in two big-name games consoles, plus they had problems (big and small) in a significant proportion of DVD-ROM drives and DVD burners.
We'd be the first to admit that our tests weren't exhaustive, but they were as comprehensive as it was possible to make them, and we'd be shocked if our findings could be faulted. We created discs using two models of DVD+R9 burner and three DVD authoring programs. And, of course, we only had one type of blank DVD+R9 disc to use. But, seemingly, that's one more than some magazines had when they carried out so-called 'reviews' of these new-generation burners.
It could be argued that the number of playback devices we used was too few to be a meaningful sample, but our counterpoint would be that we'd used most of them beforehand successfully with a wide range of DIY DVD Video discs.
So, judging by these warts-and-all reviews of Sony and LiteOn burners, our assumption in last month's news story that DVD+R9 models will rapidly displace the current generation of burners could turn out to be well wide of the mark. Okay, plain wrong. Unless, that is, the makers of hardware, software and discs start talking to each other, start testing their products properly before putting them on shelves and manage to sort out the problems. But don't let us make up your minds for you; check out our findings and draw your own conclusions.

Sony DRU-700A
The DRU-700A isn't the cheapest dual-layer burner on the market - LiteOn's offering weighs in about £30 cheaper. But the overall software/hardware bundle is attractive. The drive behaved beautifully and Ahead's software makes the transition from single- to dual-layer discs appear seamless. There's no knocking it for ease of use, but the difficulties we encountered when trying to play back Double Layer DVD Video projects were quite alarming.
We'll be testing more dual-layer programs in the coming months, and hope to find some hardware/software combinations that serve the needs of video enthusiasts, so please stay tuned. It's also worth remembering that this isn't the end of the evolution of DVD burners. We're still waiting for dual-layer DVD-R discs to appear, as well as high-capacity rewritables. Plus, it's very unlikely that the current generation of drives will support these when they finally arrive. The need for dual-layer DVD+R is large and immediate, and while Sony's drive has great potential, we'd be cautious about recommending it quite yet.

LiteOn SHOW-832S
Of the two DL burners featured in this month's issue, LiteOn's comes out as a clear winner, purely on the strength of being £30 cheaper than Sony's. Otherwise, the two products are almost indistinguishable. For normal single-layer DVD burning, they're very capable drives, and proved extremely reliable. DL discs also have massive potential for data backup - particularly for video makers who often work with massive files. Sadly, however, using DL discs for DVD Video production appears to open an all-new pit of player compatibility problems, and while a big part of the problem will almost certainly be fixed by proper implementation of break points in authoring software, we fear that issues with the discs themselves may prove an ongoing annoyance for some time to come.

Peter Wells and Bob Crabtree

Read the full review in September 2004's Computer Video magazine.


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Reviewed in this issue:

Double Layer DVD+R9 burners and software
Microboards Gemini
Primera Bravo II DVD
Apple DVD Studio Pro 3
Neuston Virtuoso MC-500
Canopus ProCoder 2

In September's news:

Edius upgraded to V2.5
Faster, low-cost editing Macs
Matrox Premiere Pro 1.5 drivers
Sorenson squeezes further
Porsche drives
Really cool Apple Power Mac
Boris professional FX
Digital arts from onedotzero
Cheaper, faster Mac portables
Formac FireWire hard disks
Edius goes high-end High Def
Steinberg V5 audio updates

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