A format war is brewing for the hearts and minds of media fans everywhere. In one corner, Sony stands ready to do battle with its next-gen optical format, dubbed Blu-ray. In the other corner, Toshiba is prepared to wage war with HD-DVD. While both formats have been hampered by product delays and a generally indifferent public, HD-DVD hit the market first, in the form of stand-alone set-top players. Blu-ray is hitting PCs before set-tops, however, arriving in Sony's VAIO line of desktops and laptops. We got our hands on the first PC with a Blu-ray drive, the $2,249 Sony VAIO RC310G. Other PCs deliver more bang for the buck, but if you absolutely must be the first on the block with a PC equipped with Blu-ray (and you know who you are), you face a Hobson's choice: this VAIO desktop or none at all.
Blu-ray drives are capable of storing 25GB of data (and hypothetically 50GB in dual-layer discs). By comparison, a typical single-layer DVD is 4.7GB. Sony's own movie studios, as well as giants such as Disney, Warner, and Paramount, have lined up to support the format. You'll also find Blu-ray drives in the upcoming PlayStation 3 later this year, which means there should be a decent number of prerecorded Blu-ray discs for sale in the second half of 2006.
While 16X DVD burners are par for the course these days, the Blu-ray drive is still in its first generation. The RC310G's Blu-ray drive writes at 2X speed, and the blank media itself is rated only for 1X/2X burning.
Included with our RC310G test system was a blank rewritable Blu-ray disc (Sony plans to ship the system with one blank disc), but nothing in the way of an actual Blu-ray movie. (We expect to see movies on Blu-ray discs in short order, by mid-June.)
To test the capabilities of the RC310G's Blu-ray burner, we recorded audio and video files onto the included rewritable Blu-ray rerecordable disc. We didn't have nearly enough high-definition content to create a useful Blu-ray video disc, so we burned the massive files as data and used a stopwatch to time how long it took to burn.
We managed to nearly fill the disc with 22.5GB of data, leaving only 74MB of empty space. Our test data initially took 44 minutes, 30 seconds to burn, but then the system verified the data at the exact same speed it used for burning--thereby doubling our total disc-creation time to 1 hour, 29 minutes. This may seem like a long time to burn an optical disc, until you realize that we just burned nearly 25GB of data. We expect future drives to run even faster as the hardware rises above 2X speed.
The Sony VAIO RC310G is clearly a first-of-its-kind system. Windows didn't seem to know what to do with the Blu-ray drive and reported it as a CD-ROM drive from the My Computer window. When a burned Blu-ray disc was in the drive, Windows still called it a CD drive, but the OS did correctly see the disc and how much data it held. Roxio, on other hand, correctly identified the drive (a Matshita BD-MLT SW-5582) and the media.