The only way you’ll know this drive is not a straight DVD rewriter is the Blu-ray logo on its tray-front and the substantial drop in your bank account when you buy one. The cheapest we could find it for was just over £550 at the time of writing, so you would expect a considerable improvement over a Dual Layer DVD, in both speed and capacity.
On the first point, you’d be disappointed. Being an early example of the breed, the Pioneer BDR-101A can take little advantage of integrated technology. There are completely separate red laser and blue laser head mechanisms inside its case, to give the drive backwards compatibility with readable, recordable and rewriteable DVDs, though none with CDs.
Its DVD specs include 8x write speed on DVD±R, 4x on DVD±RW and 2.4x on DL DVDs. Compared with current DVD rewriters, which can manage 16x, 8x and 8x respectively, the BDR-101A’s figures are not particularly impressive.
With a Blu-ray disc you’re looking at over five times the capacity of a single-layer DVD and over two and a half times that of a dual-layer disc. Even so, this drive only supports single-layer Blu-ray discs, whereas the full specification includes a DL, 50GB version.
The drive has a standard IDE interface, so you can fit it in place of a simple DVD or CD drive, using the same data and power connections. It has a fan fitted at the rear to help keep it cool, but in use it isn’t noisy enough to be intrusive.
As you can see from the test results table, we wrote 5GB of data to a recordable Blu-ray disc in just over 10 minutes and read it back again in just under half a minute less. With a rewriteable disc, the times were nearly identical, meaning it will take around 50 minutes to fill a Blu-ray disc of either type.
Pioneer supplied us with a copy of Roxio’s DigitalMedia LE v7, which provides basic archival and disc copying, but the drive will work with other DVD software, such as Nero and InCD, in versions which support Blu-ray. You run the drive in the same way as recordable/rewriteable DVDs, using an application to burn a Blu-ray BD-R disc and a UDF file handler for BD-RE.
This drive proves that Blu-ray works and if you have an irresistible need for one then you’ll have to bite several bullets and find the money. Just bear in mind that 8.5GB DL DVD drives currently cost around £20.
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At the time of writing this really is an early adopter's device, for people with a lot of spare cash. There's little doubt the price will plummet when more blue laser diodes become available (they're currently being hogged by Sony for its PlayStation 3), but for the moment this 25GB DVD drive is a bit of a luxury.