With months having passed since the appearance of a new Blu-ray Disc writer previous to the Pioneer BDR-203BK, you could be forgiven for believing that the race to popularise the surviving HD format had rather trailed off. Indeed, the Blu-ray market is having trouble even getting media onto the market that's sufficiently fast to make the most of the existing drives.
The last BD drive we reviewed before the Pioneer BDR-203BK was the Buffalo BR-816FBS, when we were able to use Panasonic six-speed media (itself too slow to get the maximum from that drive's eight-speed write-once BD-R claimed facilities).
Four months on, we still find it almost impossible to replicate those results, since the UK market remains effectively restricted to quad-speed BD-R media. This new Pioneer BDR-203BK drive is, again, an eight-speed rated model. And this time, the only test media available was TDK, rated at four- (rather than six-) speed, which makes it difficult to assess the Pioneer's future performance.
For the time being, it's worth noting that the Pioneer BDR-203BK's eight-speed mode took just under four minutes longer than the Buffalo to complete the BD-R tests.
The Pioneer BDR-203BK doesn't fare as well as the Buffalo but, had there been six-speed media available with which to put the Pioneer BDR-203BK through its paces, we reckon this drive may have been the fastest we've seen yet. When even six-speed media does become widely available in the UK, we hope to retest this drive and issue updated figures.
The Pioneer BDR-203BK's rewriteable BD-RE times (the drive supports a maximum here of two-speed) are decent and, while the Buffalo took half a minute longer than the competition, the Pioneer BDR-203BK is more in line with those other drives.
Otherwise, the Pioneer BDR-203BK is very similar to the Buffalo - with some subtle differences. The drive can read double-layer BD-R media at a rate of six-speed rather than 4.8-speed in the case of the Buffalo, for example.
At the other end of the scale, the Pioneer BDR-203BK's CD writing and reading capabilities are slightly slower than those of the Buffalo. The differences are fairly small, and we suspect few of those buying a Blu-ray drive will pay much attention to its CD facilities.
This Pioneer BDR-203BK SATA drive isn't the fastest to set up, although that's mostly down to the time to install the CyberLink software. This is fast becoming the most popular suite for new Blu-ray writers (quickly usurping the previous favourite from the Nero family), and with good reason. Its strong cohesion and reliable performance makes the CyberLink bundle a joy to use.
Assessing the true capabilities of the Pioneer BDR-203BK was somewhat difficult. We couldn’t push its BD-R facilities to rated specification, and at present we can’t even be sure of its retail price, although we expect it to be around £220, in line with the eight-speed Buffalo BR-816FBS.