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In 2007, with Blu-ray still in its infancy, a drive for your desktop computer, such as the LG GBW-H10N would have cost you an astonishing £435. Yet mere months later, in December of the same year, you could pick up a Pioneer BDC-S02BK for under £100 - progress if ever we saw it. And now in December of 2010, a Pioneer DBC-206MBK Blu-ray writer can be yours for £190 or so, justifying its higher asking price by being the first BDXL writer on the market (or rather, soon to hit the market, as the drive isn't actually available to buy quite yet, though it should be imminently).
BDXL, for the unfamiliar, is the name given to the latest evolution in disc capacity of Blu-ray, specifically encompassing triple- and quad-layer discs, boasting 100GB and 128GB capacities respectively. Those of us who remember the days when fitting 650MB of data on a CD-ROM was a feat should be suitably impressed by a disc format that offers some 200-times the capacity.
As well as multi-layer BDXL discs, the BDC-206MBK will record to dual- and single-layer Blu-ray, DVD+/-R and RW, and CD-R and RW. However, as has become traditional for Blu-ray players, read and write speeds for DVDs and CDs are lesser than for dedicated writers for those formats. In the case of the BDC-206MBK quad- and triple-layer Blu-rays are read and written at 4x, dual and single-layer discs at 6x. Moreover, Pioneer's own BDC-205BK will write the latter two at 12x, as will other manufacturers' drives, so if you're not after BDXL capacities you'll want to save your cash.
To ensure you can write to BDXK Blu-rays, Pioneer is bundling Cyberlink Media suite (which includes Power DVD, letting you play Blu-ray movies and even offered GPU-accelerated decoding). We've no complaints about Power2Go as a disc writing tool, and it's good to see Pioneer offering a complete solution, not just a drive that's useless without additional expenditure.
In our testing 94GB of data transferred to a 100GB disc in just under two hours, at a transfer speed of about 13MB/s - somewhat under the 18MB/s 4x should offer. With so little BDXL media available, we can't tell if the drop is to be expected, or a result of the relative infancy of BDXL, but we're inclined to give Pioneer the benefit of the doubt. If you plan on writing a lot of DVDs and CDs you'll probably want to invest in a dedicated burner, as the 8x read and write speed for DVDs and 24x read and write for CDs won't be setting any records.