With their latest DVD offerings, Sony and Hewlett-Packard hope that they have gotten things right this time after their somewhat uncertain market entrance with first-generation DVD+RW recorders. To overcome a much-publicized past deficiency, the new Sony DRU120A and HP DVD Writer 200e not only write DVD+RW discs, but also the new DVD+R format. Like its principal competitor, DVD-R, write-once DVD+R claims superior physical DVD device compatibility combined with lower blank media costs than is the case with the previously introduced rewritable DVD+RW.
Similar to all recorders in this introduction of DVD+R-enabled products, the Sony DRU120A and the HP DVD200e employ Ricoh's second-generation MP5125A mechanism to offer near-identical performance to its predecessor, but with the addition of DVD+R writing capability. Resulting features of the DRU120A and DVD200e thus include 2.4X CLV DVD+R and DVD+RW, 12X CLV CD-R and 10X CD-RW writing speeds, 8X CAV DVD, and 32X CD reading and Digital Audio Extraction (DAE) performance, buffer underrun protection for CD, lossless linking for DVD, and a 2MB buffer.
Sony's internal $499 bundle is a little more generous than we came to expect in the past and includes one blank DVD+RW disc, B.H.A. Corporation's B's Recorder GOLD and B's CLiP, Dantz Retrospect Express, CyberLink PowerDVD, Mediostream neoDVDstandard, and Musicmatch Jukebox. Incredibly, however, no DVD+R disc is included.
HP's external $599 package (an internal model is also available) comes a little beefier with the necessary USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 interface and audio cables, blank CD-RW, DVD+R, and DVD+RW discs, plus an array of supporting software. Included are HP/Sonic MyDVD, HP/Veritas RecordNow, Drive Letter Access (DLA), and Simple Backup, ArcSoft ShowBiz and Multimedia Email, CyberLink PowerDVD, HP Memories Disc Creator, and Musicmatch Jukebox.
For all intents and purposes, practical minimum system requirements for creating DVD videos with the DRU120A and DVD200e consist of at least an 800mHz Pentium III PC with 128 to 256MB RAM and a 7200RPM Ultra ATA/66 or better hard drive with 10 to 20GB of free space. MS Windows 98 SE, ME, 2000 and XP operating systems are supported, but not NT 4.0. The DRU120A attaches easily to one of the PC's internal EIDE connectors while the DVD200e requires external hook-up to a USB 2.0 or IEEE 1394 (FireWire, i.LINK) port. Since only some of the newest PCs offer these state-of-the-art accoutrements (and the ubiquitous USB 1.1, while passable for CD recording, is useless for DVD recording), be advised that an additional interface card may be required.
For this evaluation, the DRU120A and DVD200e were put to the test using a 1.7gHz Pentium 4 PC with 256MB RAM running MS Windows XP Professional, a Western Digital 60GB Ultra ATA/100 EIDE hard drive, Adaptec DuoConnect AUA-3121 combination USB 2.0/IEEE 1394 host adapter, and a Lite-ON IT LTD-163 16X max ATAPI DVD-ROM drive.
Recording and Video Software
HP/Veritas RecordNow has, within recent memory, in its bundled version remained essentially the same and can still be best described as "light" software offering basic recording functions for creating or copying audio and data discs. By comparison, both amateurs and enthusiasts alike will undoubtedly find Sony's choice of B's Recorder GOLD significantly more satisfying with it's kitchen-sink approach to features reminiscent of Ahead's Nero Burning ROM and Roxio's Easy CD Creator. Using their included premastering software, the 2.4X speed DRU120A and DVD200e wrote full DVD+R and DVD+RW discs in approximately 24 minutes, giving them a slight edge over competing 2X DVD-R products and a significant speed boost over the current generation of 1X DVD-RW rewriting.
The HP/Veritas DLA software included with the DVD200e takes care of drag-and-drop UDF packet-writing chores with both recordable and rewritable discs. Sony's B's CLiP is more limited, only working with rewritable media. Written discs can then be read in PCs running operating systems, such as MS Windows 2000 and XP, which incorporate reading support for UDF 1.5-formatted discs or systems with B's CLiP or DLA installed. It is important to note, however, that while DVD+RW background formatting is offered by both drives, neither unit supports the new Mount Rainier specification, which, proponents say, will improve the ease of use and interchangeability of packet-written CD-RW and DVD+RW discs.
With Sony's DRU120A bundle, DVD-Video title creation is handled by neoDVDstandard from Mediostream, while in HP's DVD200e, the task goes to Sonic Solutions' MyDVD 3.0. Both software packages are geared toward performing basic consumer, educational, and corporate authoring tasks working from both camcorder and existing digital source files. Of the two products, neoDVDstandard offers a friendlier interface, but suffers some of MyDVD's power. For example, neoDVDstandard takes a middle-of-the-road approach to compression, allowing only up to 90 minutes of video per DVD, while MyDVD permits as much as 180 minutes. Also, neoDVDstandard lacks MyDVD's ability to edit DVD-Video disc content in the future (Sonic's OpenDVD specification).
Drawing a Blank
When shopping for a DVD recorder, it's important to keep in mind that, like feeding a printer with ink cartridges, the real cost of owning a writable drive comes from the ongoing purchase of the necessary blank discs. In the past, DVD+RW media has been difficult to source, but now is becoming more commonplace. DVD+R discs, on the other hand, are currently made by only a couple of manufacturers (Verbatim and Ritek) and, being brand new to the scene, are relatively hard to come by.
Production-oriented users should also take note that inkjet-printable DVD+R discs are even scarcer, while top-line thermal transfer and Rimage Everest printer-compatible versions are, essentially, unavailable. Depending upon quantity, packaging, brand, and vendor DVD+RW discs currently range in price from $8 to $11 and DVD+R from $5 to $10. In comparison, media compatible with competing DVD-R/-RW recorders remains significantly easier to source and lighter on the pocketbook. DVD-R General Purpose (GP) media runs between $1 to $6, DVD-RW goes for $10 to $12.
Compatibility is King
Extensive testing using the latest versions of Ahead's Nero CD and DVD Speed analysis software reveal that the DRU120A and DVD200e offer equivalent read performance to their earlier versions. Observed data transfer rates include 3X-8X CAV for pre-recorded (pressed) DVD-5/10, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-R, and DVD-RW discs as well as 14X-32X CAV for CD, CD-R and CD-RW discs. Random access times for DVDs were measured at 133ms and 109ms for CDs.
In the grand scheme of things in the real world, the accessibility of low-cost blank media and the physical compatibility of written discs go hand in hand. Keeping that in mind and to assess media interchangeability, two Verbatim DVD+R and two DVD+RW discs were fully written using the DRU120A (as typical of both the Sony and HP units) and were played back in nine set-top Panasonic, RCA, Hitachi, Samsung, Sony, White Westinghouse, JVC, and Pioneer set-top DVD-Video players. Another two Verbatim DVD+R and two DVD+RW discs were fully written by the same recorder with data and the files compared against their sources using 18 DVD-ROM drives (Toshiba, AOpen, Hitachi, Matsushita, Pioneer, Sony, LG, Samsung, Lite-ON IT) ranging from 1X to 16X speed. To provide a competitive context for the results, two Verbatim DVD-R and two Verbatim DVD-RW discs were written with the same information (one video, one data) in a Pioneer DVR-A03 DVD-R/-RW recorder and subjected to the same tests.
Problems developed and, as was the case with the previous generation of DVD+RW recorders, physical disc compatibility didn't live up to the hype. Test results proved to be disappointingly hit and miss. For example, the written DVD+RW discs were incompatible with three of the nine set-top DVD-Video players and nine of the 18 DVD-ROM drives in the test.
On the brighter side, DVD+R performance in the set-top DVD-Video players was decidedly better with the discs working in all devices. However, on the data front, the DVD+R discs could not be read in seven of the 18 DVD-ROM drives including, most surprisingly, four of seven recently purchased name-brand 16X models. By comparison, the written DVD-R discs worked in all the set-top players and failed in only three older-model DVD-ROM drives.
The Bottom Line
With well-rounded software bundles, solid rewritable performance, respectable CD-R/RW functions, and the option to write more affordable DVD+R discs, the Sony DRU120A and HP DVD Writer DVD200e have a lot going for them. However, when all is said and done, our test results here put DVD+R and DVD+RW short of the mark where it counts the most—physical compatibility with current DVD devices and on low-cost blank media. As it stands today, DVD-R represents a better solution on both counts. The future remains uncertain but, as of now, quite simply, the DRU120A and DVD200e don't as yet stack up to their competition.
If you currently need to write DVD-Video discs or archive or distribute data on DVD, your best bet remains DVD-R. However, it's important to appreciate that writable DVD products, realistically speaking, are still in their infancy. Next-generation recorders are due later this year from a larger number of manufacturers and with the promise of significantly higher 4X DVD and 24X CD recording speeds, possible Mount Rainier capability for CD-RW and DVD+RW, and at much lower prices. Good things may come to those who wait.
Companies Mentioned in this Article
Hewlett-Packard Company www.hp.com
Sony Electronics, Inc. www.storagebysony.com
Pioneer Electronics www.pioneerelectronics.com
Rimage Corporation www.rimage.com
Sonic Solutions www.sonic.com
Verbatim Corporation www.verbatim.com
Veritas Software Corporation www.veritas.com