What's next for DVD
DVD burners are cheaper and faster
PC World - Media attention these days focuses mostly on the high-definition Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats. Yet in this interim period -- while high-def adoption ever-so-slowly ramps up -- standard DVD continues to see updates and new products. Here's a wrap-up of some of the most interesting (and some of the more pedestrian) DVD players and burners that have crossed my desk this summer.
Multipurpose burners march on
Sony recently began shipping the latest iteration of its stand-alone DVD burner, the DVDirect. The $230 VRD-MC5 is no ordinary external drive -- it's intended for use independent of your PC.
In fact, that's the first major change in this version: The DVDirect can no longer even connect to a PC. According to Sony, the capability was removed because the company's research showed that 97% of DVDirect users didn't bother with a PC. Gone, too, is support for PictBridge, which let you slot in a memory card and output a photo via a PictBridge printer.
And no wonder, since DVDirect's strength lies in what it allows you to do without being tethered to a computer. The unit boasts memory card slots (for Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick Pro Duo, SD Card, xD-Picture Card and CompactFlash media) on the right side, and composite, S-Video, and analog audio inputs on the left. It also has four-pin FireWire and USB 2.0 inputs for connecting to camcorders. On its top surface, the DVDirect has a 2.5-inch LCD screen for playing discs created by the unit, as well as for previewing video and image content.
One of the coolest abilities of this product is that it can easily create DVD photo albums (with up to 2,000 photos) directly from a memory card. The discs can act as photo slide shows, and you can even choose an MP3 for background music during the show.
Another nifty new ability: The VRD-MC5 can transfer high-def 1080i video from Sony AVCHD camcorders to DVD; the unit encodes the resulting video in H.264, an efficient high-definition video codec. Sony says you can get up to 95 minutes of HD video on a DVD, and the disc should be playable on most Blu-ray Disc players.
Other improvements include support for DVD+RW media, a bizarre omission in the previous MC3 model; a stop-record timer (in 30-, 60-, and 90-minute increments); and the ability to detect and record all (or just new) content on a camcorder.
Pixela's portable burner
The Sony DVDirect is clearly intended for use in a home; in contrast, Pixela's PIX-BU010-P01 DVD Burner targets the mobile camcorder user with its slick, slim-line, portable design.
The $300 Pixela DVD Burner puts a slot-loading DVD drive inside an easy-to-tote, 1.3-inch-high chassis. The unit has a mini-USB input for attaching SD Card- and hard-drive-based camcorders -- including models from JVC, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba (see the full list of models) -- and for attaching digital cameras or SanDisk's SDDR-89-A15 memory card reader.
The product is very simply designed. All you need to do is connect the video source, specify whether you want to create a DVD-Video movie disc or a data disc (for a raw data dump of your files), and then press the green-ringed start button.
The concept is certainly a viable one, and Pixela executes it well. I could see how this device would work for transferring files in a hotel room without having to bring a laptop along for the ride. It's pricey, however, and I find its usefulness somewhat limited by its lack of a display option -- at the least, outputs for TV (which might be limited anyway, given how Fort Knox-ified most hotels keep their TVs these days). Personally, I'd prefer something with a screen, like the DVDirect, so I can preview what I've transferred to disc to make sure the transfer went smoothly.
Burners get cheaper, faster
It's a familiar tale: faster write speeds, cheaper prices. I've seen some DVD burners priced at $30 in weekend advertisements -- a clear sign of just how commoditized DVD burners have become. But that hasn't stopped manufacturers from refreshing their product lines.
Sony, for example, recently rolled out its internal $70 DRU-840A and external $110 DRX-840U drives, which support writing at 20X on 16X DVD±R media. Though many vendors are slowly shifting their drives to the newer SATA interface, Sony's internal model still uses an IDE interface. (The SATA advantage for DVD drives has nothing to do with speed; rather, the cabling for SATA drives is simpler, which translates into better airflow inside your PC.)
This year marks Sony's entrance into the slim-line competition with the $130 DRX-S70U, which is due to ship next month. Although desktop burner write speeds have managed to creep up over the past few years, slim-line portables such as this 0.87-inch-high model remain stuck at just 8X (maximum) for writing to single-layer DVD±RW.
Earlier this summer, LG and Plextor both introduced new models. LG released a new drive that offers SecurDisc, a hardware-software one-two punch from LG and Nero that's designed to protect burned data. SecurDisc is a feature in the $80 internal GSA-H55LI and the $120 external GSA-E60L; both are multiformat drives that max out at 18X for single-layer DVD. The internal model uses an IDE interface. SecurDisc also appears in LG's slim-line model, the GSA-E50L.
Finally, Plextor shipped its newest internal and external 18X burners earlier this summer. The external $140 Plextor PX-810UF has both FireWire and USB 2.0 interfaces. The internal version, the $90 TurboPlex PX-810SA DVD Super Multi Drive, uses SATA to connect to a PC motherboard; this model complements another 18X model that uses IDE.
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