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Blu-ray shows promise

First INQpression Sony BWU-100A
Mon Dec 11 2006, 19:08
THE WAR BETWEEN two high-definition standards has been anything but boring. Sadly, both standards are showing heavy DRM infestation when it comes to movie reproduction politics. It seems that Hollywood really thinks that all of its consumers are thieves, but we'll leave the socio-political rant at that.

However, from the perspective of storage, the 4.7 and 8.5 gigs that are today offered by single and dual layer DVD media is mediocre at best. We're living in world where one hard drive easily fits over 100 single-layer DVDs and even USB sticks offer higher capacity than a single layer DVD. Thus, the time for higher capacity optical storage has come.

Overview of Verbatim's BD-R, BD-RE and 16x DVD media. Rewritable comes in darker shade of black when compared to non-rewritable media

Looking purely into capacity, between Blu-ray and HD-DVD there is no contest. Single-layer BD media comes with 25GB as default, while HD DVD-R offers 15 gigs. Dual-layer babies will raise the capacity to 50 and 30 GB respectively. After my recent loss of tens of gigs of pictures, benchmark spreadsheets and articles, due to the fact that I bought Western Digital marketing slogan "Put Your Life on It" and their 250GB backup drive, I rediscovered my love for burning backups on DVDs. But, 4.5GB just does not seem enough for the amount of data even an average user collects in a period of 30 days.

This is where Sony comes in. We tested one of the first Blu-ray drives on the market, dubbed Sony BWU-100A.

The Device
Hasta la vista, baby - Governor of CA during glory days

Unlike previous generations of optical mediums, Sony DWU-100A supports both single-layer and dual-layer Blu-ray mediums from day one, enabling you to save your data on both 25 and 50 GB media.
Opening the retail package shows you a sigh-worthy ribbon cable, mediocre-sized manual, a bit of packing foam and the drive itself. We found no recordable media inside the box, so you will be forced to shell out around 15-20 euros or nine squid for a single recordable media disc. We find that 5-pack offers far more value, since it retails for 80 euro or so. However, we find that rewritable BD-RE is better value for 11.28 squids or 30 euros. You can expect these prices to drop as the adoption grows, as always.

The front side of the device looks pretty cool, with the tray cover taking 2/3rds of the front. Below that there is a blue LED, eject button and force eject hole. Opening the tray shows two holes media detection.

Taking a look at rear calls for 80s flashback

However, looking at the backside of the drive brings extreme frustration. It's unbelievable that Sony opted for P-ATA interface - it has been a year that the Xbox 360 has shipped with a S-ATA DVD drive, PlayStation 3 and Wii took the same route and used S-ATA standard inside their cases. But no, PC users get the treat of the ribbon cable that's been an integral part of the PC ever since IBM PC came out in 1981. Shame or lame, you decide. The S-ATA version, BWU-100S should come later to the market, but frankly the P-ATA vs. S-ATA decision was wrong.

The Software
CyberLink BD Solution maybe in beta, but comes with stable and pretty usable burning and backup utilities.

The retail version of the drive comes with a CD containing CyberLink BD Solution 1.0a, a software package featuring PowerDVD 6.6 Blu-ray Edition (beta version, free upgrade to 7.0 will be available in Q1 '07), PowerDirector, PowerProducer, Power2Go and InstantReady - pretty much supporting all of your needs - from watching to creating videos, burning BD and DVDs, backup utility and so on.

NERO Info Tool shows all the supported media

In our reviews of DVD coasters, we have used Verbatim 2x BD-R, 2x BD-RE, 16x DVD-R, 16x DVD+R, 8x DVD+RW and 4x DVD-RAM. For CD testing, we've relied on Intenso 52x CD-R and Verbatim 16x CD-RW.

Regardless of the BD type, all will be read at 2x

Sony will burn the Blu-ray media at maximum speed of 2x (Blu-ray 1x equals 36Mbit/s while DVD 1x equals 11.08 Mbit/s), and it took us 53 minutes to burn a full 25GB. Reading BD-R and RE media is pretty much the same, so it will take 40 minutes to an hour to read it. As you can see, this is return to the old days of one hour for reading one CD or DVD media. DVDs cannot be written faster than 8x, so BWU-100A will give you solid 10 minutes to think while DVD-R/+R/+RW burns. DVD-RW will be written no faster than 6x, while DVD-RAM will be recorded at 5x speed.

DAE (Digital Audio Extraction) for audio CDs ends up with a ripping speed of 18.92x on average (peak speed: 25.38x), while DVD ripping using DVD Decrypter worked at 6.17x, which is faster than almost all average DVD burners.

The Movie Experience
We have tried movie reproduction of Blu-ray movies - Terminator 2 Extreme Edition in DVD, WMV-HD and Blu-ray versions and compared Superman Returns in DVD and BD version. Sadly, for Blu-ray reproduction, you are required to have HDCP-enabled graphics and the monitor. In theory, the movie would downscale to 480p (baseline-DVD) from its original 1920x1080 (1080p) signal. However, this remained a theory, since we got a blank screen on both a six-year old Hansol CRT and four-year old Dell 19" LCD. Plugged in a new Dell 2407WFP and we had zero problems whatsoever. Inceidently, this is not due to problems with Sony, but rather the beta version of PowerDVD.

In short
All in all, we can conclude that Blu-ray is first to market in the world of next-gen burners for PC as we know it. Testing the device proved its quality, but not without flaws. Sony's decision to go with old ATA-66 interface can only be described as dumb and short-sighted, because it's pretty sure that your next computer won't have P-ATA connectors on it. We had no major problems with the drive, and we can recommend it if you want higher-capacity optical storage.

If you want the highest capacity optical media for backup that can play movies as well, Blu-ray is pretty much the way to go. Regarding the whole HD-DVD vs. BD war of standards, the end of next year will probably bring combo drives anyway, and pronouncing HD-DVD victorious over one 200 dollar add-on is pretty much payware class. We need to see the HD-DVD burners first, not notebooks with HD-DVD-ROM units. ?

We wish to thank Matija and Branko from Ve-mil Croatia and Maria from Verbatim for their cooperation.


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