Labeling optical media has always been a sticky proposition: Printed labels throw discs out of balance and sometimes ruin the media, using a pen looks sloppy and you can't use LightScribe or LabelFlash to etch a label into the top of a disc unless you use specially coated (and pricier) media.

Enter Lite-On's LabelTag-capable IHAS524-T98, an internal multiformat DVD burner that creates labels on the data side of any recordable CD or DVD.

Writing in the data area yields a neat and (under normal conditions) readable label, but you lose capacity, and you must flip the disc in order to read the label. Also, the label can be very difficult to read on discs with lighter dyes. And once tagged, LabelTag discs are unavailable for further writing, so make sure you're done writing to the disc before labeling it.

In addition to LabelTag support, this DVD burner delivers fast, reliable write speeds for every format it supports, which is everything on the market except Blu-ray (but including DVD-RAM).

So far, the only software to support LabelTag is Nero, the company's Nero Essentials comes bundled with the drive. I had no trouble using LabelTag, once I got used to seeing the LabelTag dialog box pop up after I clicked Nero's Burn button, which would normally cause the actual write procedure to begin.

The LabelTag dialog box itself is well thought out. Designed by Lite-On, it shows you exactly what the disc will look like and how much capacity you'll lose, and it even previews the colour of the dye on the disc. Since the dialog box appears only after you're ready to burn a job, the label can't exceed the free space on the disc. The minimum free disc space required to create a label is roughly 10 percent.

The label that LabelTag creates consists of a single line of text that encircles the disc just to the outside of the area used by whatever data is present. LabelTag worked quite well, though readability varied quite a bit.The problem was the lack of contrast in the light dyes present in some of the media I used. If your discs use light dyes, you'll have to step up from the minimum size in order to read the label easily. With darker dyes, you can stick with the smaller font sizes.

My only disappointment with LabelTag is that I wish it could accommodate at least two lines of text, so that I could list music CD tracks. Otherwise, the technology is a boon for people (like me) who have miserable handwriting. True, you have to read the back of discs to see what's there, so it's probably better suited to one-offs than to large collections, but it's better than using a marking pen.

OUR VERDICT

The IHAS524-T98 is a good performer, and in my hands-on examination, it wrote its entire range of supported media without incident. It's worth a few extra bucks if you like the idea of being able to neatly label your discs.