DVD writers group test review

DVD+R/+RW format DVD writer
Photo of DVD writers group test
£210 + VAT

As one of the members of the DVD Forum, Panasonic is one of the companies trying to make DVD-RAM and its ilk more popular. This format group has advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages first; a DVD-RAM disc can be re-written to up to 100,000 times (DVD-RW only manages 1,000) and it doesn’t require any special burning software, since files can be dragged and dropped using any file manager once the disc is formatted. A good way to look at a DVD-RAM drive is to see as another hard drive.

As for the disadvantages, the media itself is expensive, and few home DVD players support DVD-RAM. But with this multi-format drive, you can also opt for writing to DVD-R or DVD-RW, which have much better compatibility with home players. Panasonic has made a breakthrough in pricing, too, compared with previous models of this type.

The LF-D521E DVD Burner II is a normal-sized player, but with a substantial tray to take the large DVD-RAM cartridges, although bare discs can also be used. It’s not the faster burner on the block; DVD-RAM and DVR-R both record at 2-speed while DVD-RW is a disappointing 1-speed and DVDs read at 6-speed.

The CD speeds are nothing to write home about either; CD-R is 12-speed, CD-RW is 8-speed and the drive reads CDs at 32-speed. As with the other drives reviewed here, this relatively poor CD read/write performance is a reflection of the heavier equipment needed to handle DVD and CD access in one machine. The drive is fairly noisy when searching for data, but it does quieten down a good deal when playing a DVD or CD.

Panasonic supplies the LF-D521E DVD Burner II with a useful bunch of utilities. FileSafe is an archiving program, DVD-MovieAlbumSE 3 is a video editing package, MyDVD3.5 is used for creating DVD-Video Disks, and there’s also the WinDVD4 player. For writing to DVD-R and -RW discs you get B’s Recorder Gold 5 Basic and also Clip 5, which is a packet writer for DVD-RW and CD-RW.

We tested the drives in both types of mode – closed session, where a ‘track’ of data is written to the disc in one go, and packet write, where chunks of data are written ‘on the fly’. The format used is shown in brackets next to each drive. For example, (-R) is DVD-R and (-RAM) is DVD-RAM, and so on.

We used the software supplied with each drive and timed each write operation, in seconds, using the same chunk of data (ensuring that any caches were emptied first). Note that for the Panasonic and Sony drives there’s more than one entry, because each can cope with several different kinds of write operation. In each graph, a lower bar represents a shorter time to write the data, and so a faster drive.

DVD writer performance results

DVD writer performance results

So you’re not too sure which DVD recording format suits your need? You can’t make up your mind as to which is best? Don’t worry; Sony’s DRU-500AX has come to your rescue. This DVD-Dual drive supports DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW.

This is the first of the DVD-Dual format drives to hit the market, along with its sibling the external DRX-500UL (which has Firewire and USB 2.0 interfaces). It combines the fastest performance of both formats, writing DVD+R and +RW at 2.4-speed, DVD-R at 4-speed, DVD-RW at 2-speed and DVD read at 8-speed. It’s no slouch when it comes to CD performance either, with write, rewrite and read speeds of 24, 10 and 32 respectively.

It also stands out from the normal run of drives. The panel that hides the tray is silver and, apart from the LED, emergency eject pin hole and eject button, the front panel is empty. However, the eject button is deeply recessed, which may prevent it being pressed by accident but it also makes it hard to find by touch.

The Sony DRU-500AX is another drive that comes with an impressive box of goodies. You get an IDE cable, mounting screws, two CDs of software, a manual and some informative brochures.

The software supplied lets you do just about any kind of burning and editing you can think of. Veritas RecordNow takes care of burning or copying DVDs and CDs, Veritas Simple Backup is a fully featured backup program, Sonic MyDVD 4.0 helps you to create professional-looking movies (within creativity limits), Arcsoft ShowBiz is a video editing utility, MusicMatch Jukebox 7.1 allows you to compile albums of MP3s and finally there’s a copy of Cyberlink PowerDVD.

On the downside, the drive comes with just a single DVD+RW disc, which is a surprise seeing how many formats the drive is capable of recording. Still, for the competitive price you get peace of mind, with all formats but DVD-RAM covered.

As one of the founding members of the DVD+RW Alliance it’s no surprise to find that Ricoh’s second-generation drive, the MP5125A, supports DVD+R/+RW. This is different to its predecessor, the MP-5120A, which was DVD+RW only.

The MP5125A writes both formats at 2.4-speed and reads at 8-speed; slower than some of the other drives in this review. Its CD performance is pretty average too; it writes CD-Rs at a maximum of 12-speed, re-writes at 10-speed and reads at 32-speed.

To maintain compatibility with DVD-ROM drives and DVD players, the Ricoh MP5125A features Lossless Linking technology, which keeps gaps in data recorded to within one micron, especially when editing or adding data; as we’ve said earlier, it’s a neat trick. The DVD+RW Standard defines a technology called High Frequency Wobbled Grove that allows such precise positioning to be achieved, and that’s included here too. The drive also features a 2MB buffer to help prevent buffer under-runs.

Ricoh supplies all the items you need to get started; IDE and audio cables, mounting screws and suchlike. The most impressive thing about the package, besides the drive itself, is the software bundle. Ricoh includes Nero Burning ROM 5.5 for CD and DVD mastering, InCD for Packet Writing, WinProducer for Video Capturing and editing, Neo DVD for DVD authoring and WinDVD for playing DVDs. Add to this one disc of each of the four media (DVD+R, DVD+RW, CD-R and high speed CD-RW) and you have a complete setup in a box.

Pioneer’s latest DVD writer, the DVR-A05, is a vast improvement on its predecessor, the DVR-A04, with better overall performance and much quicker writing speeds for both DVD and CD formats.

Using DVD-R/-RW technology, the DVR-A05 is no slouch, writing at 4-speed DVD-R (the fastest mode at present) and 2-speed DVD-RW, with a 12-speed DVD read capability. When it comes to CD performance it’s a little on the slow side, though; CD-R is 16-speed, CD-RW is 8-speed, while CDs are read at 32-speed, encumbered by the heavier read/write heads of the DVD mechanism.

The DVR-A05, which has a 2MB cache to prevent buffer under-run problems, uses a number of new technologies to maintain reliability when writing to DVD. LCTT (Liquid Crystal Tilt Technology) is something Pioneer uses in its high-end DVD car navigation systems to maintain accurate reading and writing. Smart Laser Driver is circuitry that controls the record signal, while Dynamic Resonance Absorber lessens the problems associated with poorly-balanced discs.

Visually, the DVR-A05 looks just like any other run-of-the-mill optical device (i.e. not particularly inspiring). The front panel has the usual features; eject button, indicator LED, headphone jack, force eject hole and volume control. The back of the drive has the IDE connector, power connector, jumper panel and – a little surprisingly – just an analogue audio socket, with no digital output.

Pioneer assumes that you will fit this drive either in addition to, or as replacement for, another drive, as it only includes four mounting screws and the audio cable, not an IDE cable. But things are better on the software front; the drive is supplied with Instant CD/DVD v6.5 for burning your CDs and DVDs, along with Sonic MyDVD Video Suite, a software DVD player. The DVR-A05 comes with a standard one year warranty.

The first and possibly the only question to ask is; do you really need one of these drives? Buying one involves laying out a fair of money for something that some people may only use once or twice. If most of your archiving is done to CD, you’ll be losing performance by swapping an existing fast CD-R/RW drive for one of these DVD writers.

If, on the other hand, you have a lot of home movies that you want to edit and store, or need to back up serious amounts of data, then the drives reviewed here offer some of the most cost-effective methods of doing so.

The cheapest of the drives reviewed here, the Ricoh MP5125A-DP, represents good value for money as it combines reasonable performance with a good software bundle and comes with the most media in the box. As you might expect from Plextor, the PX504A is a well built, fast drive which comes with everything you need to get started, and both the AOpen DVRW2412 Pro and the Pioneer DVR-A05 are good drives.

As stated earlier, the major problem with DVD-RAM is its lack of compatibility with standalone DVD Players and DVD-ROM drives, however it is the easiest format to use, with its built in drag-and-drop read/write support, making it great for backups. Panasonic’s LF-D521E makes this format more popular due to its relatively low price and the fact that it supports the highly-compatible DVD-R and DVD-RW as well, so this is a nice all-rounder.

However, if you are unsure which format to choose, then the Sony DRU-500AX is the drive to go for, being the first of the DVD-Dual drives. It supports DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW, it’s reasonably priced and the software bundle makes it hard to resist. Unless you have reason to go for one particular format, or you specifically need DVD-RAM (which only the Panasonic drive can handle), the Sony is the drive we’d recommend, because it takes away the worry about which format to choose. Like VHS and Betamax in one.

Plextor has been associated with optical drives for a long time, with a name for producing well built, full featured CD-R/RW drives with good performance. The PX-504A is the company’s first DVD recorder and it certainly keeps up the tradition of build quality and performance.

Based on a modified NEC ND-1100, it uses the DVD+R/+RW format and is one of the few drives around that offers 4-speed DVD+R and 2.4-speed DVD+RW writing speeds, while reading DVDs at a maximum of 12-speed. The CD performance is as good as any other DVD recorder; it writes CDs at 16-speed, rewrites at 10-speed and reads at 32-speed.

Plextor has made the PX-504A stand out from the rest of the range by the simple addition of a black strip of plastic along the bottom of the tray. OK, it’s not much, but it makes a difference aesthetically. The front panel contains no surprises, though; eject button, volume control and headphone socket are all present and correct. Nor does the rear panel disappoint, with the usual IDE connector, jumper block, and analogue/digital audio outputs.

Plextor has added support for its PoweRec (Plextor Optimised Writing Error Reduction Control – a strained acronym if ever we saw one) to the PX-504A, which allows you to record a CD at the highest speed possible while ensuring the finished disc will be readable in all CD-ROM drives.

The drive is an RPC-2 unit which means you can only change the drive’s region five times. Unfortunately there is no patch for the firmware at present, but expect that to change once the drive’s been on the market for a while.

The software supplied includes all you need to burn, create and watch DVDs. You get Roxio Easy CD Creator 5.3 DVD Edition, Roxio PhotoSuite 5.0SE and CyberLink PowerDVD 4.0XP. For good measure you also get a trial version of Dantz Retrospect Backup Pro 6, a comprehensive backup program. Also in the box are an IDE cable, mounting screws, emergency eject tool, a 4-speed DVD+R disc and a 48-speed, 80-minute CD-R disc.

Although still expensive, DVD writers are slowly coming down in price and are finding their way into high-end PCs. But the battle still rages over which format (DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW or DVD-RAM) is the best. And, for that matter, which one will become the industry standard, which is a different question altogether.

The battle between DVD recording formats seems a lot like the battle between VHS and Betamax in the early days of video recorders, with two distinct camps; the DVD Forum and the DVD+RW Alliance. Now Microsoft has thrown its hat into the ring by announcing that the next Windows version (code-named Longhorn) will have DVD+RW support built in. So the result is now a foregone conclusion, surely.

But no, in a move that seemed highly unlikely in the computer industry – i.e. many companies agreeing with each other – there is now a new format, called DVD-Dual. This format combines the recording features of both standards into one device, so now we have drives that can record DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R /+RW. So far, all the major members of both camps have agreed to support the new format, but only time will tell how many stick to this agreement.

If all this seems confusing, this is how the formats differ.

DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM

This is the format group advocated by members of the DVD Forum, who include Apple, Hitachi, NEC, Panasonic, Pioneer, Samsung and Sharp. The forum has also approved the DVD Multi specification. Its various component formats are:

· DVD-R
The first DVD recording format has been around a lot longer than any other format, and therefore has a great deal of compatibility. Can only be written to once and uses 4.7GB and 9.4GB DVD-R discs, which can be read in around 90 percent of DVD players and DVD-ROM drives

· DVD-RW
Can be re-written to up to 1,000 times. Can be used in about 70 percent of DVD players and DVD-ROM drives, although may not play in entry-level or older DVD systems.

· DVD-RAM
Available in capacities up to 9.4GB. Has the best recording features, can be re-written to 100,000 times, but can only be used in DVD-RAM drives. It’s best thought of as a removable hard disk.

DVD+R, DVD+RW

This format group is supported by the DVD+RW Alliance whose members include Dell, HP and Philips. Its various component formats are:

· DVD+R
Records on 4.7GB DVD+R discs and can be used in around 80 percent of DVD players and DVD-ROM drives.

· DVD+RW
Can be re-written on 4.7GB DVD+RW discs. Can be used in around 75 percent of DVD players and DVD-ROM drives, although may not play in entry-level or older DVD systems.

You can see why there’s so much confusion, and why any agreement between the various camps is likely to be welcomed as A Good Thing. To find out exactly what’s on offer, we’ve tested six of the latest DVD writers, representing the different format groups. We’ve looked at their features and investigated how long it took to record a multimedia DVD using the supplied burning software.

Click on the ‘NEXT’ link below to find out more.

The latest edition to AOpen’s ever-growing range of optical drives is the fast performing DVRW2412 Pro drive, a DVD+R /+RW burner.

The DVRW2412 writes DVDs at 2.4-speed for both +R and +RW media and has a 2MB buffer. CD speeds are fairly quick too; CD-R is 12-speed, CD-RW is 10-speed and CD read is 32-speed. The drive’s DVD read speed is a nimble 8-speed.

The drive also has the latest AOpen buffer under-run technology built in. You may have seen Just Link and Just Speed before (they are technologies found in all the latest AOpen optical drives), but LossLess Linking is a DVD-only technology.

Just Link overcomes many issues associated with writing at 12-speed and faster, preventing buffer under-runs which can occur when the PC is interrupted to do other tasks while writing. It works by intentionally interrupting the write cycle until the buffer refills and then carries on writing where it left off. Just Speed prevents writing errors by deciding the most appropriate copy speed for the media being written. LossLess Linking keeps the data gap to within 1 micron when adding or deleting files, and maintains compatibility with DVD-ROM drives even when additional data is added to a +RW disk, which is a nice trick.

Also, the drive uses Background Formatting to speed up the time it takes to format a disc. It does this by formatting only a portion of the disk, small enough to allow the initial write, and then resumes formatting the rest of the disk when the drive is not reading or writing.

The AOpen DVRW2412 comes with an impressive amount of goodies in the box. Audio cable and screws are included, although there’s no IDE cable. There’s a single piece of each recording media the drive supports; 32-speed CD-R, 12-speed CD-RW, 2.4-speed DVD+R and 2.4-speed DVD+RW. The generous collection of software consists of CyberLink PowerDVD, Mediostream Neo DVD, Ulead Video Studio 6, Nero and InCD.

Company: Sony

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