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Pioneer DVR-A04 DVD-RW EIDE review:

Pioneer DVR-A04 DVD-RW EIDE

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The Good Burns DVD movies quickly on DVD-R; writes to CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, and DVD-RW media; improved CD and DVD read performance.

The Bad Slow write and rewrite speeds; closes DVD discs slowly.

The Bottom Line The DVR-A04 works great at creating highly compatible, inexpensive DVD movie discs, but the upcoming DVD+RW drives could beat it on speed and compatibility, so we'd wait before buying.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall
(Updated 9/25/02)

Editors' note:
Pioneer has announced that the new 4X DVD-R and 2X DVD-RW media can potentially cause serious damage to many of its existing DVD-R/RW drives, including the DVR-A04. However, the company claims that you can fix the problem by downloading a free firmware update from its Web site before using the high-speed media.


Longtime market leader Pioneer has launched a preemptive strike at the DVD+RW crowd with its new $499 DVR-A04 DVD-RW drive. It can't match the overall speed promises of next-generation DVD+RW drives, and it offers only minor improvements over its DVR-A03 (a.k.a. the Apple SuperDrive) predecessor, but the DVR-A04's DVD-R media is the most compatible of all the recordable/rewritable formats. DVD-R technology also has a large installed base, broad software support, and relatively cheap media, making it a safe bet for burning movies. But if the upcoming DVD+RW drives deliver greater compatibility and faster speed, Pioneer's drive will have a tougher time luring buyers. (Updated 9/25/02)

Editors' note:
Pioneer has announced that the new 4X DVD-R and 2X DVD-RW media can potentially cause serious damage to many of its existing DVD-R/RW drives, including the DVR-A04. However, the company claims that you can fix the problem by downloading a free firmware update from its Web site before using the high-speed media.


Longtime market leader Pioneer has launched a preemptive strike at the DVD+RW crowd with its new $499 DVR-A04 DVD-RW drive. It can't match the overall speed promises of next-generation DVD+RW drives, and it offers only minor improvements over its DVR-A03 (a.k.a. the Apple SuperDrive) predecessor, but the DVR-A04's DVD-R media is the most compatible of all the recordable/rewritable formats. DVD-R technology also has a large installed base, broad software support, and relatively cheap media, making it a safe bet for burning movies. But if the upcoming DVD+RW drives deliver greater compatibility and faster speed, Pioneer's drive will have a tougher time luring buyers.

Box lunch
The DVR-A04 comes boxed with an EIDE cable, audio cable, screws, an emergency eject tool, and informative hardware and software installation guides. Installation requires opening up your system, setting a jumper, mounting the drive in a free front-accessible drive bay, and attaching power and drive cables; make sure you have a techie friend handy if you find this process daunting. The drive is compatible with Windows 98 and up.

Pioneer bundles a copious collection of software to cover the myriad disc-writing tasks the DVR-A04 can perform. Sonic's MyDVD handles authoring and burning chores for DVD movies; Veritas's RecordNow takes care of mastering both writable and rewritable DVDs and CDs; and Veritas's DLA (Drive Letter Access) sits in the background to provide Window's drag-and-drop packet-writing. CyberLink's PowerDVD XP 4.0 is bundled for DVD-movie playback.

By the numbers
The DVR-A04 offers a few improvements over the DVR-A03. It reads DVD-ROM at 6X (up from 4X) and CD-ROM at 24X (up from 16X). It also offers buffer-underrun protection for CD-Rs and accepts high-speed CD-RWs, which the DVR-A03 often failed to recognize. Unfortunately, the Pioneer's speeds for DVD rewriting and CD writing/rewriting haven't increased to match those of the DVD+RW competition. The DVR-A04 rewrites to DVD-RW at only 1X, compared to a DVD+RW drive's 2.4X speed. Also, the Pioneer writes CD-R and CD-RW at 8X and 4X (respectively)--slothful compared to a DVD+RW drive's 12X and a DVD+R's 10X rates. The DVR-A04 matches up better with write-once media; its 2X DVD-R write speed is only slightly slower than a DVD+RW drive's 2.4X DVD+R write speed.

However, those speed ratings do not take into account the ponderous amount of time the DVR-A04 takes to close discs--a known weakness among Pioneer drives. But though this expanse of time is considerably longer than a DVD+RW drive's, it doesn't significantly increase with the amount of data written. If we had burned a full disc instead of the 1GB or so we wrote, total write times would've more closely matched the drive's ratings. In CNET Labs' tests, the DVR-A04 burned a 959MB MPEG to DVD-R in 7 minutes, 23 seconds (about 2.17MB per second); packet-wrote a 500MB batch of test files to DVD-RW in 6 minutes, 35 seconds; and wrote a single 383MB file to DVD-RW in 4 minutes, 40 seconds. Reading back the 500MB batch of files took an indolent 9 minutes, 49 seconds, while reading the single 383MB file took only 4 minutes, 42 seconds. We ran no official tests on the DVR-A04's CD-R and CD-RW write performance, but in anecdotal testing, it performed as expected for a drive with 8X/4X ratings, and it also played back DVD movies without a hitch.

Pioneer backs the DVR-A04 with a one-year warranty, and toll-free tech support is available from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. PT. Online support includes FAQs, software downloads, technology white papers, and a knowledge base. However, there's no direct link from the product page, making the information difficult to track down.

The waiting game
If it weren't for the upcoming second generation of DVD+RW drives, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the DVR-A04 for burning home movies. Its DVD-R media is very compatible with both new and legacy players, and it will remain about 50 percent less expensive than the unproven DVD+R for the foreseeable future. But the DVR-A04's overall speed is spotty, so you're better off waiting a month and seeing how the DVD+R standard's compatibility stacks up before you commit.

Data write tests
Time, in minutes, to perform tasks (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Write a 383MB file to rewritable media   
Write 500MB directory to rewritable media   
Panasonic LF-D321U (DVD-RAM/R)
2.44 
3.29 
HP DVD100i (DVD+RW)
2.58 
4.53 
Pioneer DVR-A04 (DVD-RW)
4.67 
6.58 
QPS Que DVD burner (DVD-RAM/R)
5.75 
7.78 
Cendyne DVR-104 (DVD-RW)
4.74 
11.04 
 
Movie-write tests
Movie files vary in size due to different compression rates, so write speed is measured in MB per second (longer bars indicate better performance)

HP DVD100i (DVD+RW)
2.22 
Pioneer DVR-A04 (DVD-RW)
2.17 
Panasonic LF-D321U (DVD-RAM/R)
1.32 
QPS Que DVD burner (DVD-RAM/R)
1.30 
Cendyne DVR-104 (DVD-RW)
1.21 
 
Read tests
Time, in minutes, to perform tasks (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Copy a 383MB file from rewritable media to the hard drive   
Copy a 500MB directory from rewritable media to the hard drive   
HP DVD100i (DVD+RW)
2.13 
3.27 
QPS Que DVD burner (DVD-RAM/R)
2.42 
4.08 
Panasonic LF-D321U (DVD-RAM/R)
2.59 
5.35 
Cendyne DVR-104 (DVD-RW)
3.83 
5.86 
Pioneer DVR-A04 (DVD-RW)
4.70 
9.81 
 
The DVR-A04 is adept at writing movies to DVD-R media, but it can write only half as fast to DVD-RW. In both read and write tests, the DVR-A04 lagged behind the HP DVD100i, a representative of the opposing DVD+RW camp. Note: the HP DVD-Writer DVD100i is a first-generation DVD+RW and lacks the ability to write to DVD+R media.

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