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Recordable DVD drives: DVD-RW vs. DVD+RW

Plus and minus all over again
— 12:00 AM on March 11, 2002

A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, following Comdex 2000, I wrote an article about the brewing recordable DVD war. The article covered what I'd learned from a presentation by the companies behind DVD+RW, as well from as a meeting with Pioneer, one of the companies manufacturing DVD-R/RW drives. Both camps had new products that were said to be only a few months away. Pioneer was preparing to ship its third generation drive, while the +RW camp was going to be releasing its initial run of products.

Fast forward to last year's Comdex. Pioneer's drive had premiered in Apple's G4 line early in 2001, with retail availability following soon thereafter. DVD+RW, however, had slipped to the point where I was shocked when I picked up a box at Philips' Comdex 2001 booth and it actually contained a product. Needless to say, I was anxious to put together a head-to-head comparison of the two drives and see what they could do. After some delays and false starts, I've finally gotten my wish.

I'll start by giving a brief overview of each drive and its capabilities. Later on, we'll explore the performance of each drive, as well as the compatibility of the various types of media. If you're not familiar with the different recordable DVD camps, I'd suggest reading my previous article to get up to speed.

Pioneer DVR-A03
First we'll take a look at the Pioneer drive. The DVR-A03 is Pioneer's third-generation recordable DVD solution, but it could be said that it's the first generation a home user could afford. Still, the fact this is third generation hardware is important from a maturity standpoint. One can assume, since this is Pioneer's third iteration of recordable DVD, they've probably already found and dealt with the bugs by now.

The DVR-A03 from the front and back

The Pioneer drive supports two different kinds of media, DVD-R and DVD-RW. For those familiar with CD-R and CD-RW, these media types are more or less what you'd expect. DVD-R is a write-once media similar to CD-R, while DVD-RW is a rewriteable media similar to CD-RW. DVD-R media costs less than DVD-RW, has an archival life of up to 100 years, and cannot be erased, accidentally or otherwise, making it an excellent choice for long-term storage. DVD-RW, on the other hand, has the advantage of being reusable; if you have content on a DVD-RW disc and don't want to keep it, simply erase the disc and put something else on it. One final difference between the media types is their compatibility with other devices. Pioneer claims DVD-R has a significantly higher compatibility rate than DVD-RW.

The DVR-A03 is a multi-purpose drive which not only reads and writes DVD-R and DVD-RW, but also reads and writes CD-R and CD-RW, and of course reads pressed DVD and CD as well. The drive boasts a DVD read speed of up to 4X, and a CD read speed of up to 24X. Write speeds are 2X for DVD-R, 1X for DVD-RW, 8X for CD-R, and 4X for CD-RW. Obviously the DVD read and CD read/write speeds are far exceeded by any number of cheaper DVD-ROM or CD-RW drives on the market. Of course, if you only wanted to read DVDs or write CDs, you wouldn't be looking at the DVR-A03 anyway.

The Pioneer drive comes with two printed manuals to help you get started. The first is a 5.75" x 8.25" bound (well, with staples anyway) manual that pertains to hardware installation. The manual is 59 pages long, but don't get too excited; it covers seven different languages, so each one only gets about seven pages. Still, it covers features, installation and specifications, so it doesn't need too many pages anyway. The other manual is an 8.5" x 11", 8-page-long booklet that documents the box contents, tech support contact information, software installation and information on the various types of Pioneer DVD recordable media.

I was somewhat disappointed in the software bundle of the DVR-A03. Pioneer includes PrimoDVD 2.0 by Veritas for writing data CDs and DVDs. I'd never used PrimoDVD before, and my brief experience with the program didn't encourage me to use it further. I found its interface to be non-intuitive and confusing, and by the end I found myself longing for Easy CD Creator.

And I hate Easy CD Creator with a passion.

One further note: the Pioneer drive doesn't come with any packet writing software.

For creating video DVDs, Pioneer includes myDVD 2.3. Five minutes with this software had me longing for PrimoDVD. The makers of this program apparently decided that Windows wasn't a good enough interface, so they created their own. It has its own menus, its own buttons—you name it. To anyone who's used to the way Windows works, nothing behaves as it should.

Programs like this drive me up the wall. Apparently, some people don't remember why Windows was so successful in the first place: because before Windows, every program had its own user interface, and with every new program, you had to learn a new way of doing the same stuff. Going back there is a bad idea, and as we'll see, apparently the creators of MyDVD have come around to my way of thinking.

For playing DVDs, the DVR-A03 includes PowerDVD 3.0. I don't really have any complaints here; while Cyberlink sort of commits the same "design a new UI" sin that MyDVD does, at least they had a good reason for doing it, and at least I can right click and get a Windows menu.