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Pervasive as it is, DVD is already being consigned to the bins of history as Blu-ray makes slow inroads into becoming the de-facto optical standard. Today, then, we're taking a look at a 5.25in drive from Pioneer that will not only let you read but also burn to these high-capacity discs.
So what's special about this drive? It's one of the first to offer 8x burning for single-layer (25GB) and dual-layer (50GB) writable Blu-ray (BD-R) discs. You wouldn't be able to tell from the outside, though. Unlike players such as Sony or LG, Pioneer hasn't changed the visual design of its drives much over the past few years and were it not for Pioneer removing its logo from the front and the bright green LED indicator having been reshaped and relocated, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and the company's BDC-202BK Blu-ray drive we reviewed last year.
This means you get a plain matte black front with disc formats printed on it in white - a far cry from some of the drives out there with touches like mirror-finish fascias and full-length LEDs. On the other hand, it's a look that should fit with most rigs.
After inexplicably staying stuck in PATA/EIDE limbo for years while hard drives switched conclusively to SATA, optical drives are finally catching up. The BDR-203BK uses SATA for both power and data connectivity, which is a good thing as this newer standard means cables which are significantly thinner (meaning better airflow in your case) and easier to install.
Of course those with older motherboards that don't support SATA are left out in the cold, but then these setups would be unlikely to have the processing power and HTCP-enabled video card required for 1080p Blu-ray playback anyway. If you're just lacking SATA power from your PSU though, cheap Molex to SATA power adapters are available from most IT shops.
Compared to the class-leading 8x Blu-ray write speed, the BDR-203BK's Re-writeable Blu-ray disc (BD-RE) burning speed of 2x is not very impressive, but though there are some drives which offer 4x BD-RE writing, keep in mind that the format is in its 'infancy' and 2x is still par for the course. Naturally Pioneer's drive can also read and write CDs and DVDs. However, unlike many competitors it can't handle HD-DVD, something to keep in mind if you have any interest in the now-defunct high-definition format (which is still available to rent and buy pre-owned).
CD-writing speeds of 32x CD-R and 24x CD-RW aren't cutting edge either with many DVD-Rewriters offering 48x and 32x respectively, but still plenty for most users. Slow DVD-writing speeds of 16x (DVD-R/+R), 8x (DVD-R/+R DL), 8x (DVD+RW), 6x (DVD-RW) and 5x (DVD-RAM) are less forgivable when dedicated DVD-writers offer speeds of up to 24x, but again it depends on how important this speed difference is to you - to be honest most consumers won't need faster than this.