Review: Pioneer DVR-A06 DVD Recorder
Posted Aug 1, 2003

The so-called DVD format war, in which DVD Forum-backed DVD formats DVD-R and DVD-RW vied with DVD+RW Alliance-backed upstarts DVD+R and DVD+RW, ended several times in the last year, depending on whom you believe. Sony said it was over last fall when they debuted their Dual RW drive; other DVD+RW Alliance members have declared victory at various times in the last several months, including milestones in their assault on the PC system integration market (i.e., the release of HP, Gateway, Dell, etc. PCs with DVD+RW drives on board), Microsoft's pledge to support DVD+R/RW exclusively in the upcoming Longhorn OS (since expanded to include DVD-R/RW), and the social debut of the DVD+RW-only Mt. Rainier incremental writing scheme at WinHEC 2003.

But never were the discordant factions so seemingly in accord on their apparent accord than the occasion of Pioneer's late May DVR-A06 announcement, when the originator of the DVD-R and DVD-RW formats revealed that their next-generation DVD recorder would support the +R and +RW formats as well. While the announcement hardly meant Pioneer was ceding victory to the +RW Alliance, it did, arguably, mean they were ceding victory to the format war itself, at least conceding that two DVD format families which—according to Pioneer's idea of how consumers primarily use recordable DVDs (to make DVD-Video-compliant discs)—are almost entirely redundant, would continue to clog up and confuse the marketplace. Sure, it meant that consumers wouldn't have to worry about punctuation when they bought their writable DVDs, which was good; on the other hand, it meant that half the time they'd still probably be buying media in formats (the "Plus" variety) that—in Pioneer's estimation—had never had any business intruding on a market served by two pre-existing formats that already did the job.

Not surprisingly, the Pioneer DVR-A06 doesn't ship with any DVD+R or DVD+RW media, but it does come with five blank DVD-Rs (certified for 1-4X recording) and two DVD-RWs (1-2X). These are all Pioneer-branded discs; seeing as how Pioneer is in the process of getting out of the media business, presumably other brands will find their way into future packages. Pioneer makes only internal ATAPI DVD recorders in the A03-A06 line; this one installed without a hitch, and performed entirely up to spec, recording flawless discs throughout testing on a 2.66gHz Pentium 4 Compaq PC with 512MB RAM running Windows XP Home. It quickly burned through the bundled media (4X for DVD-R and 1X and 2X for DVD-RW) plus additional Verbatim discs of the +R (no problem at 4X), +RW (1X and 2.4X), -R (2X and 4X), and -RW (2X) varieties using both bundled recording tools. The drive was also tested with 4X Ritek DVD-R media with similar results, producing, in successive 15-minute burns, DVD-Video discs that played back in Sony and Pioneer DVD players two DVD-ROM drives, and Apple's A04-based SuperDrive.

In addition, the A06 is a reliable CD-R and CD-RW recorder, boasting 16X and 10X recording speeds, respectively. Try as I did, I couldn't get the thing to burn a bad disc, CD or DVD—or even slow down much to burn a good one. (To be fair, the A06 will slow down if you ask it to, decelerating to 2X or 1X for DVD-/+R, which is a good thing, since there's a lot of lower-speed media still floating through the channel with attractive pricing, and given that 1X and 2X DVD recording remain the comfort zones of many users. It's also good to know that high-speed DVD recorders and media haven't reached the point where they actually perform less reliably at minimum speeds, which has happened with CD-R.)

But we've seen most of this before; Pioneer's A05 was a rock-solid 4X DVD-R recorder, and Verbatim's Producer 44, an NEC-based drive, boasted comparable multiformat R/RW specs. One great distinguishing feature of the Pioneer A06, which kicks it over the top as an Editor's Choice winner, is the software bundle. Here, Pioneer has astutely chosen a whole suite of Ulead video-editing and DVD-authoring tools, which makes this the first DVD recorder bundled with everything you need to advance your DVD projects from capture to editing to authoring to recording (minus the camcorder, Firewire card, and fast PC, that is). The Ulead bundle features VideoStudio 7, a versatile consumer NLE; DVD MovieFactory 2, a nice simplified DVD-authoring tool; and DVD PictureShow 2, a slideshow generator that compensates for MovieFactory's shortcomings in that area. Rounding out the bundle for all-purpose recording and premastering is Nero Express, which, as always, gets the job done.

[Minimum system requirements: Windows 98SE, ME, XP or 2000; Intel Pentium 3 500mHz or higher; 128MB RAM (256MB recommended), 10GB HDD]