Pioneer won the Blu-ray burner race, but it cut some corners on the way to the finish line. The company's BDR-101A, an internal PC drive, is the first drive available that uses Sony's Blu-ray disc (BD) format. When DVD burners first arrived and CD burners before that, the first-generation drives were expensive and slow. The Pioneer BDR-101A's sky-high price of $999 and its slow 2X write speeds, therefore, should come as no surprise. What did surprise us was the fact that the drive supports neither dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray discs nor plain Jane CDs. Sony just announced its first Blu-ray drive, the BWU-100A, which supports both of these disc types, and it costs $250 less. We haven't tested Sony's drive yet, but it looks to be the better pick of the two because it provides support for more discs types for less dough. Both drives, however, are aimed at professionals and well-heeled enthusiasts; consumers are wise to wait until more Blu-ray players hit the market and prices go down while write speeds go up.
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.