The Pioneer BDR-206MBK is an internal Blu-ray Disc drive for PCs with a difference - it's the first BDXL drive able to read and write multi-layer Blu-ray media
It's fair to say that the Blu-ray market has been something of a slow burner - if you'll pardon the pun. Almost three years on from the time when Blu-ray vanquished its rival HD DVD and looked set for a glorious future, the current technology isn't as fleet as foot as many analysts believed it would be by this stage.
We've only just started to see drives that can hit the 10-speed mark in writing to BD-R, and the actual media itself remains frustratingly slow - buying online will only get you six-speed discs, while many high-street stores still sell two-speed BD-R.
Given this sober backdrop, it's nice to be able to remark on a real advance in Blu-ray technology - and the Pioneer BDR-206MBK does mark a new phase. Whereas older drives can store 25GB or (with the help of double-layer media) 50GB of data, this Pioneer unit is capable of using enhanced BDXL media to boost the amount of storage.
The new BDXL media will come in two flavours - Triple Layer (TL) 100GB and Quad Layer (QL) 128GB. We had 100GB media to test the drive with, although you can expect it to be some time yet before 128GB media appears. Indeed, even the 100GB media is, at the time of writing, largely unavailable in the UK, although that should be rectified by early 2011.
Given the engineering required to direct a laser accurately through three storage layers, it's little surprise that the new discs aren't terribly fast. Using the four-speed media supplied, it took us 102 minutes and 9 seconds to record 91GB of data.
Compared with the 44 minutes needed to write around 22GB to normal two-speed discs, this isn't a short process. And should you want to use rewritable BDXL media (which is likely to run at just two- rather than four-speed) instead of write-once discs, times are likely to get slower still.
If fast transfers are important to you, then, BDXL won't be the answer. On the other hand, should you be looking for a way of regularly backing up huge amounts of data to a storage medium that can then be easily taken off-site, the Pioneer BDR-206MBK may still be of interest.
As a standard Blu-ray drive, the Pioneer BDR-206MBK is proficient rather than stunning. This early model offers just six-speed BD-R writing. That leaves it trailing behind the likes of the ten-speed LG BH10LS30.
Even using six-speed media (which, in theory, should severely hamper the LG BH10LS30), the Pioneer BDR-206MBK was considerably slower, taking an average of 18 minutes and 31 seconds to write 22GB of test data, as opposed to 15 minutes and 4 seconds in the case of the LG. There will later be a new version of the drive that pushes the single-layer BD-R speed right up to 12-speed, so it might be worth hanging on for that.
Mind you, the Pioneer BDR-206MBK loses in the rewritable tests too, where the BDR-206MBK took an average of 44 minutes and 43 seconds to write 22GB data, rather than the 39 minutes and 48 seconds needed by the LG.
The key here was that the LG could take two-speed BD-RE media and write to it at 2.3-speed. The Pioneer BDR-206MBK, however, could only manage the advertised two-speed, and so lost out here too.
Some of the Pioneer BDR-206MBK's other specifications are slightly below par. It can only play DVD-ROM media at a rate of eight-speed, for example, whereas a number of its rivals can go up to 16-speed. DVD-RAM is kept down at a relatively lowly five-speed (the LG offers 12-speed), and even the CD speeds never get higher than 24-speed.
We expect the next version of this drive will rectify these minor shortcomings, although in all honesty, we doubt few users will care too much about the drive's DVD or CD facilities.
And there are some undoubted triumphs in the Pioneer BDR-206MBK's excellent technology. Particularly notable are the efforts to make this drive as quiet as possible. The LG moans and groans very audibly throughout the burning process, but the Pioneer BDR-206MBK is extremely discreet.
The Pioneer BDR-206MBK also has the benefit of a slightly newer version of the CyberLink software bundled with it, and the CyberLink Media Suite is a slick and polished package that makes it incredibly easy to burn discs or watch Blu-ray movies.
The Pioneer BDR-206MBK acquitted itself well in the latter activity, producing smooth playback during testing.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>