Review: Sony Dual-Layer DVD±RW

When it isn't love, and it isn't hate, it's simply indifference. (June 22nd, 2005)

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Product Manufacturer: Sony

Price: $195

The Good

  • Increased speed, Sony reliability, DVD+R DL capacity.

The Bad

  • DVD-R DL capacity missing on Macintosh ( to be introduced this fall.) The Windows version that enables DL burning for DVD-R and DVD+R is out, model DRX-800UL. DL burning capabilities far slower than single-layer speeds.

Almost any product reviewer will tell you they live for writing about products they either love or hate. If they love it? The superlatives will pour forth all day long. If it's hate? The vitriol can spew until any negative nonsense has been drained from the body.

But there are products out there that just fall in the middle. And in doing so, they just don't get the juices flowing, either pro or con. Oh, they're a fine product, to be sure. But something just isn't right.

And so it is with Sony's latest DVD burner for Macintosh users, the DRX-720UL-T.

The Good

First off, it's from Sony, a name that I equate with solid (if pricey) performance. Secondly, the burner goes for less than $200 on the street, which is consistent with a lot of other products. It comes bundled with Roxio Toast 6 Lite (not the full Titanium version that comes on LaCie burners), and it's equipped to handle double-layer DVD+R discs. Thirdly, the burner comes with a speed bump, accommodating up to 16x DVDs (for DVD-R burning). Finally, it offers solid performance; it can quietly burn a single-layer DVD disc, depending on the media speed, in as little as five minutes.

But in this case, the DRX-720UL-T's shortcomings strongly detract from its benefits. Notice I'm not saying they outweigh the benefits.

The Bad

For instance, Sony's burner doesn't support DVD-R DL double layer discs. The company says that functionality will be available for Mac users in the fall, saying the DVD-R DL standard is an emerging one. Well, if I'm in the market for a burner, I'm going to want one that does both; I've made it abundantly clear in past reviews that as an end-user, I don't want to have to worry about whether the stuff I'm buying will work with the stuff I have. (Case in point: Sony sent me the burner for testing, and had some DVDs sent along separately. Those discs were DVD-R DL, which I can't use on this machine. See? They can get it wrong as well.)

Moreover, double-layer burning is still in its relative infancy for consumer products; while Sony says the DRX-720UL-T will write DVD+R DL discs at speeds up to 4x (up from 2.4x in previous iterations), that's still one-fourth as fast as the 16x speeds you can get with a single layer DVD-R (up from 8x). It's not a Sony bug, mind you, but it's a reminder of the technology curve and improvements yet to come.

Sony chose not to license and include LightScribe technology in its burners, unlike HP and LaCie; the company made this choice deliberately, saying LightScribe can take up to 40 minutes to burn the label, and requires special (read: "more expensive") media. I agree with the thinking. LightScribe is a nifty technology, and as speeds improve and prices fall, it'll be more in line for the consumer market. Not yet, though, unless price is no object for you.

The Indifferent

So, while the DRX-720UL-T is a good product, it's not great. Not yet. Here's what I'd suggest: Wait until this fall, when Sony rolls out the upgrade that accepts both +R and -R double-layer discs. By then, you may see another speed bump as well. It's a good product as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. If you need to make an immediate choice, however, you could do far worse than going with Sony.

Which is what I generally say about a number of products that are just stuck in the middle.

by Steve Friedberg


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