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.)