Finally, with a USB cable, you can connect the Sony DVDirect to a PC and use it as a standard DVD and CD burner. Sony bundles Nero 7 Essentials for disc creation, backup, and playback tasks. When used in PC mode, the DVDirect offers the following write speeds, some of which are improvements over those of the VRD-MC1: 8X DVD+/-R dual layer; 16X DVD+/-R; 8X DVD+RW; 6X DVD-RW; 40X CD-R; and 24X CD-RW.
The only major shortcoming we found with the DVDirect is that you can't edit the video being transferred. If you prefer to edit your video, you'll need to transfer the video footage to your PC first, and use the appropriate software to edit before burning.
To test all of the recording modes, we used camcorders from Sony and other manufacturers. In all cases, the drive worked as advertised, but using it with one of Sony's latest hard drive-based camcorders, the entry-level Handycam DCR-SR42, best demonstrated just how easy the VRD-MC3 can make things. This camcorder comes with a dock--in Sony's parlance, the Handycam Station--that you attach to the drive via USB. To transfer the video to a DVD, you simply insert the Handycam in its dock and then press the "DVD Burn" button on the dock or the camcorder itself. If you've previously burned some video to the disc, the drive is smart enough to only transfer new video on the drive since the last session (incremental mode), and you can repeat this process until the disc is full. If you prefer, you can always burn the entire contents of the drive onto a disc at once (full record mode). If you're transferring material from an HDD or DVD camcorder, the recording time will be a fraction of the playback time, depending on the quality mode you choose.
We also connected a Panasonic HD camera to the burner, this time via standard AV cables, and transferred a 15-minute video to DVD in real time. Setting up the transfer was a breeze, and we were able to play back the resulting DVD on both a PC and a DVD player without a hitch. We also transferred the contents of an old VHS tape to DVD, again in real time, and it worked as advertised.
Finally, we moved the contents of a CompactFlash card to a DVD using the built-in media card reader, and again, it couldn't have been easier. The DVDirect defaults to choosing all the images on the card, but you can manually go through the contents to deselect any photos you don't want burned. If you want to create a slide show, you can set up the DVDirect so that it creates a slide show any time you transfer photos to a DVD. The default setting for the slide show mode is off, in which case the DVDirect will ask you whether you want a slide show to be created when you press the disc Eject button. Keep in mind that the slide show will keep the photos in the order they are in on the card; if you want the slide show to appear in a different order, you'll have to rearrange them using your PC first.
The CNET Labs tested a small subset of the VRD-MC3's PC burner capabilities and found that it took 17 minutes, 14 seconds to rip a movie to a hard disk drive. When dealing with double-layer DVD+R media, it took 25 minutes, 33 seconds to burn a 7.9GB DVD-movie disc image. The VRD-MC3 isn't a speed demon by any means when it comes to PC-attached performance. Older internal drives, such as the Plextor PX-716A, were able to burn a 7.9GB double-layer disc faster (17 minutes, 10 seconds), even while supporting a slower burn speed of 6X for DL DVD+R media.
Service and support
Sony backs the DVDirect VRD-MC3 with a one-year limited warranty. Toll-free tech support is available Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. central time. Support is free for 90 days from the date of your first call; after 90 days, charges may apply. At Sony's site, you can chat live with a tech support rep during the same hours. The site also offers downloadable manuals and guides, firmware and software upgrades, FAQs, and technical and installation assistance.