With more people shooting high-definition video and watching and recording HD broadcasts, there needed to be a way to put that information on disc. With their 480-line maximum, DVDs do not support a high-enough horizontal resolution to display HD content, and even if they did, they don't serve up the needed capacity. Enter Blu-ray. Developed by Sony, Blu-ray supports the 1,920x1,080 resolution needed for HD video, and a single-sided disc has a 25GB capacity. For details on the developing format war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, read CNET's in-depth comparison.
One of Blu-ray's chief advantages is its large storage capacity: a DVD holds 4.7GB per side, HD-DVD holds 15GB per side, and Blu-ray holds 25GB per side. Though 25GB of storage capacity is impressive, it makes it all the more disappointing that the Pioneer BDR-101A doesn't support 50GB dual-layer discs, which are available now. Since CD burners are cheap and fast, we are less concerned with the BDR-101A's inability to read or write CDs. Your current optical drive is likely faster than the 24X CD-R write time of the Sony BWU-100A drive, which carries support for CDs and dual-layer Blu-ray discs.
The Pioneer BDR-101A is rated to write at 2X speed to both write-once Blu-ray discs (BD-R) and rewritable Blu-ray discs (BD-RE). The drive is also rated to write to DVD-R and +R discs at 8X, DVD-RW and +RW discs at 4X speed, double-layer DVD+R discs at 2.4X, and double-layer DVD-R discs at 2X speed. It has an 8MB buffer for Blu-ray discs and a 2MB buffer for DVDs.
Installing the Pioneer BDR-101A is a simple process and no different than hooking up any other type of optical drive. Slide the drive into an open 5.25-inch bay, connect it to a power cable, then connect it to an IDE (parallel ATA) cable. Our test system recognized the drive immediately. We tested on a PC; Macs aren't currently supported for the drive.
Pioneer bundles Sonic Solutions' Roxio DigitalMedia 7 with the BDR-101A drive. We used the software to run three tests, and the drive came very close to meeting the maximum speed. The 2X speed provides a data transfer rate of 72Mbps (or 9MB per second). By those numbers, it should take roughly 47 minutes to write 25GB of data to disc. For testing, we used single-layer 2X-speed TDK media, with both BD-R and BD-RE discs. The Roxio app recognized a BD-R disc as having 23.3GB of free space and a BD-RE disc as having 22.6GB of free space. Our test bed featured an Athlon 64 X2 4600+ processor, 1GB of DDR400 RAM, a 250GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive, and an Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT graphics card. We left the machine connected to the Internet but disabled our firewall and antivirus applications.