Promising a peerless high-definition video experience and oodles of removable storage space, Blu-ray Disc (BD) burners immediately command attention. But while hardware and blank media prices remain relatively high, such tools open a new world to hobbyists and fill an essential role for video professionals. Comparable in price ($999) to Pioneer’s BDR-101A, but with a lot more going for it, Plextor’s PX-B900A is a veritable Swiss army knife that reads and writes all currently available BD, DVD, and CD formats including 25GB single (SL) and 50GB dual-layer (DL) BD-R (recordable) and BD-RE (rewritable) discs.
In nitty gritty terms, the PX-B900A writes BD-R and BD-RE SL/DL (2X CLV), DVD±R (8X ZCLV), DVD±R DL (4X CLV), DVD+RW (8X ZCLV), DVD-RW (6X CLV), DVD-RAM (5X ZCLV), CD-R (24X ZCLV), and CD-RW (16X ZCLV). Reading functions are similarly comprehensive with BD-R/RE/ROM SL and DL (2X CLV), DVD±R/±RW/±R DL/ROM (8X CAV), DVD-RAM (5X ZCLV), CD-R/RW (24X CAV), and CD-ROM (32X CAV).
Beyond its technical prowess, Plextor’s package ships with a generous software bundle from Ulead/InterVideo (Corel). This includes VideoStudio and DVD MovieFactory SE for editing and creating video CD/DVD, Burn.Now for recording and copying data and audio CD as well as data DVD/BD and Data-Add for drag-and-drop writing. Also part of the suite is BD DiscRecorder, which authors simple BD-R/RE AV discs from standard and high-definition video transferred from HDV and DV camcorders or existing video and DVD files. Those looking for more sophisticated BD-ROM AV (HDMV, BD-J) authoring must purchase additional software.
Since the PX-B900A supports Random Recording Mode (RRM), I found that Data-Add conveniently treats a BD disc as one big floppy while Burn.Now does a credible job for other data recording. On the downside, no option is given to manually activate and deactivate the recorder’s built-in defect management system so serious users should consider investing in an alternative program such as Nero 7 Ultra, which offers this facility.
And what Blu-ray package is complete without the ability to watch movies? Not the most elegant solution but functional nonetheless, separate WinDVD 5 and WinDVD BD programs round out the bundle to play both DVD and BD video discs. For those concerned with the nuts and bolts, WinDVD BD is compliant with profile 1 (grace period) and compatible with BD-ROM AV (HDMV, BD-J) and BD-R/RE AV formats.
According to a Plextor spokesperson I contacted, an update should be available at the end of May to add support for Windows Vista and perform a mandatory security patch essential to play the latest titles. Also be aware that internet access is necessary to periodically (purportedly every 15-18 months) renew the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) encryption key required to view the latest commercial movies. WinDVD BD includes a free renewal good until April 2009, after which updates must be purchased (cost TBA).
You can never have too much horsepower when working with HD video, so, in practical terms, system requirements for the PX-B900A depend upon what tasks you have in mind. For example, with recording speeds limited to a modest 2X for BD and 8X for DVD, most EIDE interface-equipped PCs will easily do the trick for simple data writing and backup chores.
Playing commercial BD movies, however, is another matter. To do so a PC must be equipped with at least 1GB of RAM, a high-performance dual-core processor, an HDCP-enabled PCI Express graphics card with 256 MB video RAM and a display that also supports HDCP (see The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ). Viewing titles encoded in MPEG-4 AVC and VC-1 is especially taxing. Realistically, therefore, plan on having the very latest processor and graphics card, such as the NVIDIA GeForce 8000 or ATI Radeon HD 2000 series).
Performance in Testing
Benchmark testing confirms that the PX-B900A indeed lives up to its promises. Using Nero’s omnipresent CD-DVD Speed software and blank Imation/Memorex discs, full BD-R and BD-RE SLs wrote in 99:27 with, and 45:06 without, defect management enabled. On the legacy-format front, results were similarly encouraging including for DVD±R SL (9:08), DVD±R DL (27:02), DVD+RW (9:42), DVD-RW (10:11), DVD-RAM (27:40), CD-R (4:43), and CD-RW (5:14).
One feature I especially like is the PX-B900A’s comprehensive support of BD media produced by a wide variety of manufacturers. For example, during testing I successfully wrote single-layer BD-R and BD-RE discs from Imation, TDK, Verbatim, Matsushita (MEI), Sony, and Philips at full 2X speed. I also found the PX-B900A offers reasonable latitude when writing DVDs. Specifically, full 8X (ZCLV) speed was supported for nine out of the eleven manufacturers of 16X-rated DVD-Rs I tested and seven out of the nine high-speed DVD+R brands. The remaining discs were limited to 6X (CLV). Nothing earth-shattering, of course, but greater purchasing options for blank media are always welcome.
Reading performance also met expectations with BD-R SL discs clocking in at 44:42, BD-RE SL in 45:09 and prerecorded BD-ROM movie discs Ultraviolet (19.83 GB SL) and Casino Royale (45.32 GB DL) at 39:10 and 89:53 respectively. Everything else went according to plan for DVD±R/±RW/ROM (9:40), DVD±R DL (17:28), DVD-RAM (27:34), CD-R (3:18), and CD-RW (4:08).
The Bottom Line
When all is said and done, Plextor has put together a respectable package. For similar money to Pioneer’s BDR-101A, the PX-B900A offers more features including dual-layer BD-R/RE burning, superior blank media support, and CD reading and writing abilities, as well as a functional software suite. That said, it’s still early in the game and BD recorders of all stripes need time to mature and reach an affordable price level to attract a larger audience. But Plextor has made a good start.
Hugh Bennett, an EMedia and EventDV contributing editor, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems, a reseller, systems integrator, and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is the author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on EMedialive.com as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (