- Good price;
- supports DVD-RAM, DVD-R and DVD-RW, as well as CD-R and CD-RW.
- Not the fastest drive on the block;
- noisy in operation;
- no DVD+R/+RW support.
Panasonic is making a concerted effort to see DVD-RAM take off more widely outside Japan, where it has enjoyed huge success. DVD-RAM is one of the formats, alongside DVD-R and DVD-RW, that is supported by the 219-strong DVD Forum. The big advantage of DVD-RAM over DVD-R/-RW (and the DVD+R/+RW formats supported by the 55-member DVD alliance) is that it does not require special burning software: files can be dragged and dropped using any file manager utility. A second advantage is the durability: DVD-RAM discs can be rewritten up to 100,000 times -- in contrast to the 1,000 rewrites supported by DVD-RW and DVD+RW standards.The major disadvantages of DVD-RAM are the high media costs, and the fact that home video recorders still do not -- for the most part -- support the format. Furthermore, until very recently, DVD-RAM drives have been relatively expensive. However, things are changing. Panasonic has now launched a home DVD player that can handle DVD-RAM media, and the launch of the sub-£200 (inc. VAT) DVD Burner II is the latest step -- only a year before this launch, the DVD Burner I was selling for over £500.
The RAM part of the DVD-RAM name stands for Random Access Memory, which means that the drive works in a similar way to a hard drive: content can be placed anywhere on the disc and is indexed. This means that video editors can cut, splice and edit video straight to DVD-RAM without having to worry about how the data is being laid down. This allows a far more flexible way of working than other formats such as DVD-RW. DVD-RAM is also robust. A disc can typically sustain 100,000 overwrites and Panasonic says that it has artificially aged DVD-RAM discs to 60 years -- although the standard media life is usually quoted at about 30 years. This, together with the ease with which a DVD-RAM disc can be overwritten, makes it a useful storage and archiving medium. The only drawback of DVD-RAM is that, in Europe at least, it is not widely supported by home DVD players: anybody editing home movies could use a DVD-RAM disc for the editing process, but would have to burn the final movie onto DVD-R for distribution to friends and family.
Setup & ease of use
The DVD Burner II is straightforward to install. The drive is a standard size and has the standard connections on the back. Our Windows 2000 test system recognised it immediately on booting, and -- once we had formatted the drive using the supplied formatting utility -- could write data to the supplied DVD-RAM disc with simple drag-and-drop operations. Despite its standard size, the drive has a hefty tray to accommodate DVD-RAM cartridges -- it can take bare discs too, but for data archiving in particular, the cartridge provides extra protection for the disc's surface. This substantial mechanism is accompanied by a fair amount of noise when the drive is searching for data, although when playing a DVD or CD the drive is quiet enough not to be a distraction.
The DVD Burner II is not the fastest drive available. CD playback is a mediocre 32X, while it can record CD-R media at 12X and CD-RWs at 8X. You could buy a cheap dedicated CD-RW/CD-R drive that would outperform Panasonic's drive -- but of course you would then need a separate DVD burner. The result would be a more expensive and less elegant solution than Panasonic's DVD Burner II provides. You should also ask yourself whether you really need a CD drive that fast -- few people really do. This drive records DVD-RAM and DVD-R media at 2X, and DVD-RW at 1X; DVD read speed is 6X. In our performance tests, the DVD Burner II proved adequate if not impressive at writing data to DVD-RW, but lagged behind 4X drives such as the Pioneer DVR-A05 and Sony DRU-500A when writing movie files. Read speeds were reasonable.
You get a DVD-R and a DVD-RAM disc in the box, together with a CD full of applications. Those interested in DVD-RAM for its archiving abilities will find the FileSafe utility useful. This archiving program allows scheduled backups of data with a degree of granularity that means you can mark for backup only those files that have changed over a given period. For the home user, DVD-MovieAlbumSE 3 can import video from a digital video camera over a IEEE 1394 cable or from a DVD or video cassette player, and allows simple editing -- including the creation of 3D titles. This package is supplemented by MyDVD3.5, which can be used to create DVD-Video discs (on DVD-R media), and which includes a menu-creation facility. A small program called WinDVD 4 is included for playback of videos, which worked smoothly on a moderate-spec PC with a 1GHz processor and MPEG 2 decoding. Two other applications are included for writing data: B's Recorder Gold 5 Basic, and B's Clip 5. The latter is a packet-writing utility that enables drag and drop recording to DVD-RW and CD-RW media, while Recorder Gold 5 Basic is for creating music CDs. Although its performance could be better, it's difficult to fault the LF-D521 DVD Burner II at the price.