Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD didn't make the big splash many of us were expecting when they launched late last year. With a slow dribble of Blu-ray drives (and very little in the way of HD-DVD) emerging, even home-cinema enthusiasts mostly opted to sit on the sidelines until one of the two competing formats was crowned the winner.

A novel solution to this problem is for firms to launch drives that are compatible with both formats. The civic-minded LG has done just that with its GGW-H10N (or the Super Multi Blue, to give the drive its catchier name).

Multiple choice

The LG GGW-H10N can indeed play both HD-DVD and Blu-ray – and, in the case of the latter, it can record as well. However, great though the idea is, it won't guarantee you protection in the event that one of the standards falls by the wayside.

If Blu-ray becomes obsolete, for example, your collection of Blu-ray films would remain usable only as long as you could buy a drive that played that format – and this one won't last forever. If all future drives were HD-DVD only, it wouldn't be long before you could no longer buy a new player that allowed you to watch Blu-ray.

Let's hope that more companies follow LG's lead with the LG GGW-H10N, so that we have a repeat of the DVD writer situation, where all drives continue to support both DVD-R and +R, rather than a Betamax-esque disaster.

Smooth performance

The LG GGW-H10N's software is handled through CyberLink's HD suite, and while we slightly prefer the likes of Ahead Nero, PowerDVD and PowerProducer are simple to use.

Playback of Blu-ray and HD-DVD was fairly smooth, although you'll need some tasty hardware to watch such content. If your graphics card isn't at least an nVidia GeForce 7900 or an ATI Radeon X1900, you might need to replace it. Less radical but hardly unwelcome is the appearance of a Sata interface – almost all motherboards have such an interface, but owners of older PCs may need to check.

Write speeds are generally adequate. However, despite the big price tag, you won't get the same facilities as you would with a standard DVD writer. DVD-R/+R speeds are only eight-speed (rather than 18-speed), while the LG GGW-H10N's double-layer equivalents are a sluggish quad-speed. And there's no support for DVD-RAM at all.

When it comes to writing, tLG GGW-H10N is really about the Blu-ray facilities, and these are pretty solid. You can write up to 25GB at quad-speed using single-layer BD-R media, or twice that capacity using dual-speed double-layer media. This compares favourably with the figures of 4.7GB and 8.5GB offered by standard DVD+R/+R DL.

With the LG GGW-H10N you can also use rewriteable BD-RE media at dual-speed. In real-world figures, the LG GGW-H10N took just over 30 minutes to record 10GB of data to quad-speed BD-R, and 54 minutes to record to dual-speed BD-RE. For 20GB of data, the times were one hour and five minutes and one hour and 56 minutes respectively.

These times may seem lengthy but, considering the huge amount of data being written, such performance is actually decent. Nevertheless, we suspect that the drives will speed up considerably in the future, so waiting might be a good option.

HD formats: the contenders

We've been jabbering on about HD (high-definition) formats for quite some time. But what are Blu-ray and HD-DVD? Both sides have their ardent supporters.

Blu-ray started off as Sony's show but the firm has been joined by a galaxy of Hollywood studios. Panasonic is also backing it, and we've seen some very good Blu-ray drives from the likes of Pioneer. HD-DVD has taken longer to get started, but it does have a string of admirers that includes Toshiba and NEC, along with software colossi Microsoft and Intel.

Undoubtedly the biggest advantage with these next-generation media is that you can squeeze huge amounts of data on to one disc – as we start to use more and more HD content, we're going to need more and more gigabytes.

Blu-ray can currently store 25GB or 50GB (depending on whether you're using single-layer or double-layer media), although it's rumoured that future Blu-ray discs might be able to store 200GB. HD-DVD is currently restricted to 15GB or 30GB.

Blu-ray undoubtedly has the drop for the time being, but you can expect there to be a few more twists and turns before one of the formats has the chance to sweep up the spoils.

LG GGW-H10N: Specs

  • 10x/8x/8x/4x/4x/6x/8x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW)
  • 32x/16x/16x (CD-ROM/-R/-RW)
  • 4x/2x/2x (BD-R/BD-R DL/BD-RE)
  • Sata interface
  • max storage capacity 50GB
  • CyberLink Suite
  • 1-year warranty
  • 10x/8x/8x/4x/4x/6x/8x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW)
  • 32x/16x/16x (CD-ROM/-R/-RW)
  • 4x/2x/2x (BD-R/BD-R DL/BD-RE)
  • Sata interface
  • max storage capacity 50GB
  • CyberLink Suite
  • 1-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

We applaud the LG GGW-H10N for trying to come up with a workable solution to the Blu-ray/HD-DVD dilemma. And this is actually a pretty decent drive, considering what's around at the moment. However, give it a year, and we'll probably know if one of the standards will win outright, and write speeds will be much faster.

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