There are three main reasons for buying a Blu-ray rewriter: to play Blu-ray movies, to record your own HD videos and to archive substantial amounts of data. Pioneer’s BDR-203BK is designed to do all three and to do them faster than previously. The drive is rated at 8x Blu-ray, which is the speed level of all the latest generation of drives.
You wouldn’t know this from the outside, though, as the Pioneer drive looks much like any other Blu-ray, DVD or CD device. With the usual arrangement of tray, data light and eject button, the Blu-ray logo on the front is all that gives the game away. The SATA data and power sockets at the back are another telltale, though, and you’ll need a spare channel to connect the drive into.
Pioneer is bundling Cyberlink’s Blu-ray Disc Suite 6 with the drive and this suite covers use of the drive for movie playback as well as archival, and can even handle basic edits of HD video. The software is easy to install, though it did require a 95MB update and even then PowerDVD had problems playing our test movie. This was a pre-release copy of the software.
The chicken seem to have got a bit ahead of the egg in the Blu-ray world. Although the drive is rated at 8x, there is as yet no official 8x media to run in it. To get around this temporary shortfall, Pioneer has tested and approved a number of 4x discs for use with the drive as ‘overspeed capable’. These types, from companies like Philips, Sony, TDK and Verbatim, can all read and write at 8x speeds. The drive can handle 25GB single-layer and 50GB dual-layer discs, though these capacities don’t allow for formatting and so are both marginally less in the real world.
Writing a full Blu-ray disc of 23GB took 14 minutes and 18 seconds, considerably faster than with recent 4x drives we’ve looked at, and the read speed, at 15:26, is also improved. Playback of a Blu-ray movie showed no signs of break-up or other video artefacts and was smooth and detailed.
You still pay a price premium for Blu-ray media, so much of the drive’s time is likely to be spent working with DVDs. The BDR-203BK is fully capable of handling DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD+RW, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM and even recordable and rewritable CDs. It took around 5:50 to write a full DVD±R and around 8:30 for a DVD±RW, so is no slouch using this media, either.
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This is a very versatile optical drive, which can handle everything from dual-layer Blu-ray media down to a simple CD player. It has neatly sidestepped the fact that 8x Blu-ray discs are thin on the ground and gives improved speed with media that's already available.