In the IT world, some manufacturers are always looking at what's going to be happening one, two or even three years from now. The Blu-ray writers market, though, has been stuck in the future almost from its birth.
Even having elbowed its rival HD DVD out of the way, Blu-ray continues to be a format whose drive capabilities far exceed those of the available media. For some time now, we've been having to test six- and eight-speed models with blank media that's rated at just four speed. Finally, six speed media is freely available, but now drive manufacturers are onto twelve speed models. Or at least, Plextor is.
Historically, Plextor has been something of a trailblazer in the optical drives market, and its DVD writers were frequently the fastest and most polished on the market. The company has had a few lean years during the age of Blu-ray, but this brand new Plextor PX-B940SA drive shows that Plextor might be looking to re-establish its high reputation. However, with available media so far behind the drive's capabilities, is such a drive a good use of money, or is it worth waiting?
We started off by testing the Plextor PX-B940SA drive with standard two-speed TDK BD-RE (Blu-ray Recordable Erasable) media. This is the format that, in contrast to write-once BD-R, allows you to keep erasing and writing new data to the disc again and again. Given that standard single-layer BD-RE media has a capacity of 25GB (double layer media can double this capacity to 50GB), this is potentially very useful as a means of storing large amounts of data.
Unfortunately - and in contrast to the ever-increasing speeds of the write-once BD-R format - BD-RE has been stuck at two-speed since the early days of Blu-ray. As such, we shouldn't expect too much in the way of performance.
The Plextor PX-B940SA required 45 minutes and 9 seconds to record 22GB of data to BD-RE. This is par for the course, although we've tested a number of drives that can cut a trifling 30 seconds from this time.
However, it's the BD-R format that manufacturers tend to concentrate on. And here, the Plextor PX-B940SA is pretty stunning.
We tested the Plextor PX-B940SA drive with four-speed TDK and six-speed Verbatim media. In both instances, the drive gave us the option of writing at a supposed rate of ten-speed. This is certainly an improvement on the standard four or six-speed offered as default by the media, but we were never offered the full twelve-speed of the drive itself - presumably we'd need higher rated media to attain such a setting.
The Plextor PX-B940SA is also less stable at high speeds, and the first of our tests using six-speed media failed. The Plextor PX-B940SA drive is brand new, so we suspect Plextor may be looking to tweak the firmware to get greater reliability from this new faster media.
Nonetheless, the raw figures were very promising. From the standard four-speed BD-R media, the Plextor PX-B940SA was able to write 22GB of data in just 14 minutes, 6 seconds. This is well over a minute faster than the Pioneer BDR-203BK, despite using essentially identical media. The six-speed rated media cut another 1 minute, 9 seconds from this time, making this Plextor PX-B940SA the fastest drive we've seen yet for BD-R.
Otherwise the Plextor PX-B940SA drive is very similar to past Blu-ray rewriters. The Plextor PX-B940SA can burn DVDs as well, and although the speeds are very much in line with those of other Blu-ray drives, they pale alongside those of dedicated DVD writers.
The 16-speed DVD±R speeds, for example, are destroyed by the 22- or 24-speed capabilities of the latest specialist units. The eight-speed DVD±R DL facilities of the Plextor are again put in their place by the 12x and 16x figures boasted by dedicated DVD writers. In truth, if DVD burning speed is that important, you'll almost certainly want a dedicated unit running alongside any BD-R drive. This, though, is the same for all Blu-ray writers, and the Plextor PX-B940SA's DVD capabilities are up there with the likes of the Pioneer and Sony.
Perhaps of more relevance is the smooth playback of movies using the eight-speed BD-ROM capabilities. But while some drives have also had support for playback of HD DVD films, there's no such coverage on the Plextor PX-B940SA.
The software included is CyberLink's BD Suite. This is proving a very popular choice with drive manufacturers, and its relatively clear and consistent interface makes it one of the better packages out there at the moment.
With good BD drives like the Pioneer BDR-203BK not having fallen in price, the Plextor PX-B940SA finds itself hitting the market at a, relatively speaking, attractive price point. You probably won’t be able to use its twelve-speed capabilities to the full for some time yet – but even on existing media, it’s much the fastest drive available. And that should be enough to secure it a place at the head of the Blu-ray table