Dual-format burning and Blu-ray playback make the Pioneer BDC-2202 drive versatile, but hardware requirements are high and burn speeds are low.

If you want to play Blu-ray movies on your PC but don't want to shell out £300 for a drive that can burn data to Blu-ray discs, Pioneer's $299 (around £150) BDC-2202 Blu-ray combo drive may be just what you're looking for. That is, as long as you have Windows Vista (the bundled Ulead WinDVD 8.0 LE software player is Vista-only).

And you'll need to be tolerant of this SATA-interface model's slow speeds compared with those of an average DVD drive. The Pioneer BDC-2202 burns single-layer DVDs at eight-speed, dual-layer DVDs at quad-speed, and CD-R/RWs at 24-speed. That said, the Pioneer BDC-2202 is easily the least expensive Blu-ray player available for your PC.

The cost of Blu-ray doesn't stop with the drive, though. In addition to Windows Vista, you need at least 1GB of system memory, a dual-core CPU, and 256MB of video memory. Plus, your PC must be HDCP-compliant - equipped with an HDCP-ready graphics card, graphics driver, and display - for full-resolution playback over a DVI (digital visual interface) connection.

When we tried to install the drive, none of the software in the Pioneer-specific Corel bundle (WinDVD 8.0 LE, Burn.Now 4.5 SE, and Video Studio 11.0 SE) recognised the Pioneer BDC-2202, and as a result wouldn't install.

We ended up using a vendor-agnostic version of WinDVD 8.0, as well as of CyberLink's Power DVD 7.3 and Nero Ultra Edition, for playback and burning. According to Pioneer, this bug doesn't hit every system, but a fix for affected PCs should be posted online by the time you read this.

The Pioneer BDC-2202 burned both DVD and CD media without incident, backed up DVDs quickly, and easily played Blu-ray movies. Our 2GB, Intel Core 2 Duo test bed played 'Casino Royale', a high-bit-rate Blu-ray title, easily--but so did our 1GB, AMD Athlon FX-53 single-core system. The secret? We used a powerful GeForce 8600GTS graphics card, which shouldered the decoding duties. (Such support, however, is Vista-only for now; nVidia drivers that will offload Blu-ray decoding in XP are due later this year.)

Pioneer BDC-2202: Specs

  • Serial ATA Interface (Ver. 1.0A)
  • reads up to 5x speed on BD-ROM, BD-R, and BD-RE Blu-ray Disc media (single layer)
  • reads up to 2x speed on BD-ROM, BD-R, and BD-RE Blu-ray Disc media (dual layer)
  • writes up to 12x speed on DVD-R/+R 4.7GB (single layer), 4x on DVD-R (dual layer), 4x on DVD+R (double layer), 6x on DVD-RW/+RW media, and 5x on DVD-RAM
  • reads up to 12x speed on DVD-ROM & DVD±R media (single layer), 8x on DVD-ROM (DL), DVD±R (DL) & DVD±RW media, and 5x on DVD-RAM
  • writes up to 24x speed on CD-R and CD-RW
  • reads up to 32x speed on CD-ROM and CD-R, and 24x on CD-RW
  • Serial ATA Interface (Ver. 1.0A)
  • reads up to 5x speed on BD-ROM, BD-R, and BD-RE Blu-ray Disc media (single layer)
  • reads up to 2x speed on BD-ROM, BD-R, and BD-RE Blu-ray Disc media (dual layer)
  • writes up to 12x speed on DVD-R/+R 4.7GB (single layer), 4x on DVD-R (dual layer), 4x on DVD+R (double layer), 6x on DVD-RW/+RW media, and 5x on DVD-RAM
  • reads up to 12x speed on DVD-ROM & DVD±R media (single layer), 8x on DVD-ROM (DL), DVD±R (DL) & DVD±RW media, and 5x on DVD-RAM
  • writes up to 24x speed on CD-R and CD-RW
  • reads up to 32x speed on CD-ROM and CD-R, and 24x on CD-RW

OUR VERDICT

Blu-ray playback imposes stiff system requirements, and the BDC-2202 is of no use to people whose chosen format is HD-DVD. But the Pioneer BDC-2202 is a flawless performer, software issues aside, and for Blu-ray playback it's the best deal in town.

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