Last month saw the appearance of the Liteon SHW-16H5S, the first viable drive we've seen that supports LightScribe technology. Allowing you to 'print' pictures and text on the surface of the disc, this was an excellent alternative to scrawling something in black marker. Alas, you couldn't use colour and even simple images took several minutes to print.

LightScribe, though, isn't the only labelling show in town. NEC is backing the rival LabelFlash technology, which makes an appearance in the firm's ND-4551A.

The brainchild of Yamaha and Fujifilm, LabelFlash works in a very similar way to LightScribe. It's perhaps a couple of minutes quicker, but the process still takes a while. The results are reasonable, although we felt the gold surface of LightScribe media was a better canvas for our test picture. The discs used for the NEC have a dark blue surface, and the image isn't quite as easy to make out.

In its favour, LabelFlash media should be easier to come across and you can even use non-LabelFlash-certified media – in theory. This particular battle for supremacy could easily be decided on the basis of who can get their media out in larger numbers – and on this issue the jury's very much out.

Like its rival, we think LabelFlash is a nice feature to have. You won't want to use it exhaustively, because of the long printing times, but it's an excellent option for when you have an important disk that you want to store securely.

And what of the drive's burning capabilities? Well, while it's true that the dual-layer facilities are very good – six-speed DVD-R DL and eight-speed DVD+R DL allow it to at least match virtually every other drive on the market – it's not quite as impressive elsewhere. It couldn't live with some rivals on DVD+R burning, for instance, while its rewrite facilities were also a notch below the top level.

NEC ND-4551A: Specs

  • 48x/48x/32x (CD-ROM/-R/-RW) 16x/16x/16x/6x/8x/6x/8x/5x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM) drive
  • EIDE interface
  • max DVD storage capacity 8.5GB
  • drive buffer 2MB
  • average access time (DVD) 160ms
  • 1-year warranty
  • 48x/48x/32x (CD-ROM/-R/-RW) 16x/16x/16x/6x/8x/6x/8x/5x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM) drive
  • EIDE interface
  • max DVD storage capacity 8.5GB
  • drive buffer 2MB
  • average access time (DVD) 160ms
  • 1-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

As an experiment with cutting-edge technology the NEC is an intriguing proposition, and it'll be interesting to see which of the labelling rivals takes off – at this early stage, we prefer the look of the LightScribe media. The Liteon is a slightly better writer, and includes software, so it would definitely be our first choice. The NEC does have excellent dual-layer facilities, though, and, for this reason it's not to be discounted.

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