Blu-ray drives offer more than the ability to store and play HD and 3D films. Their large capacity makes them ideal for storing vast quantities of data, too. In fact, Blu-ray may soon take over from standard 4.7GB DVDs in this manner.
Blu-ray didn’t have an easy start. An early format war with rival HD-DVD slowed its initial adoption, while HD video can be enjoyed via alternative means. Despite this, Blu-ray has become hugely popular.
An enormous library of Blu-ray films is available and standalone players can now be bought for less than £50. Alternative ways to access HD films, such as online streaming services, require a fast internet connection – something that isn’t available to everyone in the UK. The simplest way to enjoy HD video is via Blu-ray, and most new films are released on DVD and Blu-ray simultaneously.
Recordable Blu-ray has had an even rougher ride with consumers. The first writers were hideously expensive, as was recordable media. Prices have gradually fallen, and a rise in hard-disk costs due to recent flooding in Thailand has coincided nicely for the technology. Now might be the time to reconsider your backup medium.
A recordable Blu-ray disc (BD-R) can hold 25GB per layer, with dual-layer discs holding 50GB. BDXL discs that can hold 100GB of data are on the way. With due care, and kept free from scratches, a BD-R should last a lifetime. Hard disks are far more likely to fail, making recordable Blu-ray a strong primary or even secondary alternative.
The read and write speeds of CD, DVD and Blu-ray discs are written as multiples of a base transfer rate (such as 1x, 2x, 4x and so on). That rate is different for each optical format, reflecting the amount of data a blank disc can hold. At single-speed, a Blu-ray writer copies data at 4.5MB per second. Writing 25GB of data to a BD-R at this speed takes around an hour and a half.
Faster drives and media are available, but external drives that connect to a PC’s USB 2.0 port are limited to eight-speed (equivalent to 36MBps). To go beyond this, a connector that supports higher transfer rates, such as USB 3.0, must be used.
There are three options for adding recordable Blu-ray drive to your PC: an internal model is suited to desktop PCs, while external drives are available in slim USB 2.0 chassis capable of six-speed. Faster SATA or USB 3.0 versions are limited only by the speed of the recordable media (itself currently maxing out at six-speed). Many ultraportable laptops don’t come ?with an optical drive, so an external Blu-ray writer that connects to a spare USB port is an excellent addition.
Internal Blu-ray readers aren’t that much more expensive than DVD writers, and may soon become a standard feature in desktop PCs – we already see combo DVD/Blu-ray drives in many of the PCs we review. Internal Blu-ray writers and recordable media are more expensive, but their price has dropped considerably.
Backing up data to a BD-R is as easy as burning a CD or DVD. Companies such as Nero, Roxio and CyberLink provide the necessary burning software, while packet-writing tools let you add and remove files to and from a BD-RE disc, allowing it to be reused.
Here, we look at a selection of internal and external Blu-ray writers. Verbatim and TDK have provided us with a selection of media with which to test each drive, including both single and dual-layer BD-Rs, and rewritable BD-RE discs.
Asus SBW-06C1S-U slim - £111
LG BE12LU38.AUAE10B - £126
LG BH10LS38.AUAU10B - £60
Lite-on iHBS212 - £94
Plextor PX-LB950SA - 90
TDK TB150U - £115
Our four- and six-speed tests with each Blu-ray drive didn’t result in a single coaster, with every disc able to play in a standalone Blu-ray player. That’s a good sign for the Blu-ray format, and something that’s not necessarily a given with CD and DVDs.
All the drives were able to burn the recordable discs at their maximum speed rating, although our tests with BD-RE media found them capable of only two-speed.
At £60, LG’s BH10LS38 offers brilliant value for money, and is worth considering for anyone building a new desktop PC.
For something more portable, Asus’ BW-06C1S-U is a slim external model that’s powered by two USB 2.0 ports.
Our favourite in this group is LG’s BE12LU38. The white casing and chunky finish make it feel robust. It was quiet in
our tests and supports faster media, too.
Our most interesting finding during testing is that some drives are capable of writing to media faster than the discs are said to support. Verbatim told us that a disc’s speed rating simply reflects the best guaranteed performance, and faster write speeds may be possible using some drives. We can’t guarantee you’ll get the same results as us, however, particularly when using different brands of media.
How we tested:
When using any backup medium, reliability is the number-one concern. If a BD-R disc recorded by a particular drive is unable to
be read by another Blu-ray burner or playback device, it’s useless.
We used Nero Video to create a 21GB encryption-free Blu-ray video (BDMV) disc image, made up of several smaller files.
We then used Nero Burning ROM to copy this disc image to four-speed TDK and six-speed Verbatim discs. For each
drive, we recorded how long it took to complete this test. If the BDMV then played in a standalone player, it was recorded as
a successful burn.
We also paid attention to how noisy the drive was in operation, and the write speeds offered by the Nero software. It’s possible to exceed the disc speed rating with some drives.
Most important is whether a disc can be successfully burned at the top speed that both the media and drive support. Today’s media tops out at six-speed, and it’s essential that a Blu-ray drive can provide a sustained data rate to match – particularly when using cheap media.
We also used the free ImgBurn utility to measure performance. We didn’t test the drives’ CD and DVD performance.