50GB Blu-ray disks aren't exactly what I'd call "cramped", but just in case you thought the existing spec was getting a bit long in the tooth the Blu-ray association has released a new standard today that will bump capacities up to 128GB (write-once) or 100GB (rewritable). The new format which will be called BDXL sounds promising, but unfortunately won't be backwards compatible with older hardware. I suspect this little caveat will hamper its adoption pretty heavily, but is great to see that optical storage isn't dead yet.
Video applications for BDXL aren't exactly clear at this point, but it's unlikely the 3D craze that's sweeping the media industry is to blame. Existing disk capacities seem to be holding up quite well, so it's likely this will be phased in slowly over time without the vast majority of users even noticing. The new disk technology goes three to four layers deep on the disk, and a more powerful laser requirement is the reason you'll need to upgrade to get it.
BDXL is also expected to be phased into PC consumer grade optical drives over time, but I suspect flash drives will continue to suck the wind out of adoption for this as a backup medium.
In December, we reviewed Plextor’s PX-B320SA combination Blu-ray reader/DVD burner and found it a worthy product for the dual purpose of writing DVD discs and watching Blu-ray movies. But that internal drive does little good for folks who do all their computing on a laptop. For them, Asus’s SBC-04D1S-U combo drive could be the answer.
The SBC-04D1S-U external drive is not only slim and stylish, but also very portable, measuring approximately 5.5x6x1 inches and weighing less than 1.5 pounds, and it takes up little room on a desktop when perched vertically in its included stand.
Unfortunately, despite its conveniences, the SBC-04D1S-U doesn’t sport quite the same performance muscle as its internal counterparts. The SBC-04D1S-U, which connects to a PC using a dual-head USB 2.0 cable (included with the drive), is capable of writing to DVD+/-R at 8x—the internal combo drives we’ve tested, Plextor’s included, are rated at 16x. Put into real-world terms, Asus’s drive wrote 4.38GB of data to a DVD+R in 10:46 (min:sec) compared with the Plextor’s time of 5:20. With double-layer media, the Asus drive is rated at 4x while the Plextor drive is rated at 8x—the Asus took 29:36 to write 7.96GB of data to a DL disc, while the Plextor took just 16:58.
Blu-ray has yet to prove itself as a sensible storage medium—there are just too many less-costly solutions for backing up data. But just because you’re satisfied with a standard DVD drive for your burning chores, doesn’t mean you should be denied the enjoyment of watching Blu-ray movies on your PC—especially now that large 1920x1080 monitors are so affordable.
Enter Plextor’s PX-B320SA DVD burner/BD-ROM combo. We can’t say it offers the best of both worlds, but it strikes a nice balance. The drive’s DVD speeds aren’t up to the likes of, say, Samung’s SH-S223 performance DVD drive. For example, the Plextor is rated at 16x for DVD+R writes compared with the Samsung’s 22x. In our tests, that amounted to a 5:20 (min:sec) time to fill a single-layer disc vs. 4:46—not such a big deal. With double-layer media, the Plextor took 16:58 vs. the Samsung’s 13:16—yes, over time those minutes can add up.
Recordable Blu-ray media has been expensive, and slow to catch on, but would a bump to 100GB capacities change your mind? New developments made by Sharp could do just that by introducing a blue-violet laser which is able to read triple-layer or even quad-layer Blu-ray disks. Current BD-R single layer disks hold a mere 25GB.
The light put out by the beam is much stronger than traditional readers at 500mW, and it is made possible thanks to an aluminum oxynitride layer that is located squarely between the laser’s crystal and dielectric film which is meant to protect the laser.
In addition to capacity increases, this could also allow for writing speeds of up to 8x across all four layers, making it a much more interesting archiving option for digital packrats. Prices and availability still haven’t been announced yet, but the company describes the technology as “production ready”. At the very least it would be nice to see a new affordable disk option come along to replace those aging 4.7GB DVD’s, which frankly, just don’t cut it size wise anymore.
Are you itching for new recordable disks, or is flash the future of the sneaker net?
On the surface, OWC’s Mercury Pro Blu-ray external drive could seem appealing. The cabinet is attractive and sturdy; it offers FireWire 400, FireWire 800, USB 2.0, and eSATA interfaces—including all the requisite cables; and it holds a Pioneer BDR-203 drive, which is rated at 8x for BD-R writes—the highest rating available—and 16x for DVD+/-R. Yet, after using the device, we’re unimpressed.
We first tried to test the drive with the eSATA interface but it failed to work with any of our test beds, which use the nForce 680i SLI chipset. It was recognized by motherboards using Intel’s P45 and X58 chipsets as well as those boards’ auxiliary Marvell controllers. However, we benchmarked using USB 2.0 on our standard test bed for continuity.
Now that Lite-On is sharing the same drive manufacturing line as Plextor (not to mention Sony, HP, and Philips), you might wonder whether there is any difference between this 22x DVD burner and the Plextor PX-850SA 22x burner we reviewed in March. In fact, the two burners are virtually the same in terms of parts and mechanics, so differences really come down to the firmware each company uses and the tweaks and optimizations each makes to the final product.
The first thing we discovered is that Lite-On didn’t tweak this drive with an over-speed feature. So, like the Plextor PX-850SA, the burner stayed within the confines of the DVD+R media’s 16x rating, writing 4.38GB of data to a single-layer disc in 5:43 (min:sec). Samsung’s SH-S223, which can reach 20x-plus speeds when writing to 16x media, was almost a minute faster, at 4:46.
If you read our disc-ripping challenge on page 62, then you already know that LG’s GH22LS30 22x SATA drive is a slowpoke at copying video discs. But if that’s not an activity that interests you, this drive offsets the shortcoming with other talents. For example, the GH22LS30 turned in the fastest time we’ve ever clocked at writing data to a single-layer DVD+R disc. Like Samsung’s SH-S223 (reviewed February), LG’s 22x burner isn’t daunted by 16x media; the drive peaked at a 20.1x speed when filling the disc and achieved an impressive write-speed average of 16.31x. Thus the GH22LS30 was able to write 4.38GB of data in 4:29 (min:sec) compared with the SH-S223’s time of 4:46. The GH22LS30 read the single-layer data disc in 4:58 to the SH-S223’s 4:55.
Last month we reviewed our first 22x DVD burner, Samsung’s SH-S223; this month, Plextor presents us with a challenger in the form of the PX-850SA—a similarly spec’d drive that rises to the occasion in some respects, but falls short in others.
Like Samsung’s new burner, the PX-850SA boasts an industry-leading 22x speed rating for DVD+/-R media. It lacks, however, the Samsung’s over-speed feature, which helped that drive eke out a 4:46 (min:sec) Lab record when writing 4.38GB of data to a single-layer DVD+R disc. By comparison, the Plextor took 5:36, never breaching the 16x speed limit imposed by our Verbatim media.
The difference between the two drives’ performance with double-layer media was more expected. After all, Plextor’s PX-850SA is rated at just 8x when writing to DVD+/- DL, compared to the Samsung drive’s rating of 16x. In practical terms, this means Plextor’s drive took 16:33 to fill an 8GB disc versus the Samsung drive’s time of 13:13.
But the Plextor PX-850SA did have its triumphs. Read on for the rest of the review.
We’ll admit we’ve been perfectly content with Samsung’s SH-S203 DVD burner for more than a year. Once we were writing 4.38GB of data to a disc in five minutes flat, we were feeling pretty satisfied with the state of DVD technology. Nevertheless, we’re not about to turn our nose up at a performance increase. And that’s what Samsung’s latest DVD burner, the SH-S223, offers.
As you might have guessed from the name, the SH-S223 represents a jump from 20x to 22x DVD+/-R burn speeds. In our tests, this effectively shaved 12 seconds off the time it took to fill a single-layer DVD+R disc. The SH-S223 took 4:46 (min:sec) compared with the SH-S203’s flat 5:00. In both cases, we used 16x media, the fastest-rated media that’s readily available. And in both cases, the drives’ “over-speed” feature enabled them to burn data at higher than rated speeds. In the course of its write, the SH-S223 steadily climbed from a starting speed of 8.38x to 20.7x.
For more than a year, LG has been sitting pretty with the only 6x Blu-ray burner available for retail, but now that Sony’s BWU 300S offers 8x BD-R write speeds, LG’s supremacy has come to an end. Sort of.
The 300S is uncommonly fast—given the right circumstances. The drive managed to fill a 25GB BD-R disc with data in a blistering 13:56 (min:sec), compared with the LG GBW-H20L’s time of 22:16, but only when the drive was fed manufacturer-recommended Panasonic 6x media. And good luck finding that—our online search for the media was fruitless. When using more common 4x media, the 300S stuck closely to that speed rating, taking 22:56 to complete the same task.