April 2002|I must admit that I felt like the coolest kid on the block when Panasonic's DVD-RAM/R combo drive ("DVDBurner") arrived at my house through the mail. Since most of the people that I know are just now starting to get into watching DVD—much less start burning their own—having a DVD burner puts me in an enviable position. Of course, when I mention the fact that the drive also supports DVD-RAM, their faces inevitably display a quizzical look as if I'm making up the technology simply to give myself more bragging rights. While the drive is not much to look at—simply a standard white internal ATAPI drive—just knowing that I could, in theory, create DVDs with this device made me excited as I unpacked the box. Emblazoned simply with the DVD logo, plus a small "RAM/R" notation, as well as "4.7GB," indicating its capacity (for both formats), I knew that the true power of this device wasn't its aesthetic appeal.
The new DVD-RAM/R drive from Panasonic (www.panasonic.com), model LF-D310, supports both DVD-RAM (cartridge and bare-disc) and DVD-R for General use recording. Apparently targeted at high-end hobbyists and up, the review unit I received included a nice collection of software. Sonic's MyDVD 3.0 and DVDit! LE for DVD authoring and recording, Veritas' Stomp Backup MyPC for data archiving, InterVideo's WinDVD for DVD-Video playback, and Panasonic's MotionDV Studio and DVD-MovieAlbumSE for video editing were all included with the drive, as well as a disc containing the necessary Windows drivers. Although I was hoping that an Easy CD Creator-type application for burning data to DVD-R (PrimoDVD might be a likely candidate) would be included, no such program was anywhere to be seen. Within the bundle I found two blank DVD-R General discs and one bare-disc, 4.7GB single-sided DVD-RAM disc. I can't think of any good reason why a DVD-RAM disc outside of its cartridge would be advantageous, considering how unlikely it is you'd be using the disc anywhere but in the recording drive, and since DVD-RAM is all about storing a lot of data safely, you might as well protect it physically. But it was a sticking point for a lot of potential users early in DVD-RAM's lifespan—getting the discs out of the cartridge like other removable optical media—and Panasonic has clearly conceded the point.
My home computer—a relatively modest 400mHz PC with 64MB RAM and a 10GB hard disk—served as the testing grounds for the combo drive. Installing the DVDBurner was about as easy as installing a new CD-R/RW drive into my PC. In fact, I simply replaced my old internal CD-R/RW drive with the DVDBurner, installed the necessary drivers from the included CD, and everything was all set for testing.
Believe it or not, the hardest part of the entire procedure was unscrewing and removing the cover of my beige box. No conflicts or any of Windows' sometimes-cryptic error messages appeared.
Once I was finished installing the drive, reality then set in for me. What now do I do with all of this available storage space? Foregoing the urge to dive right into DVD authoring, I decided to start with testing the DVD-RAM capabilities of the drive. While this author has not used DVD-RAM extensively prior to this review, I have to say that its use as a reliable, rewritable data archiving medium has always interested me. Within five minutes of physically installing the DVDBurner, I was dragging and dropping files to and from the DVD-RAM disc from Windows Explorer. No additional installations after the initial drivers were required to do this. Moving files to and from the DVD-RAM disc didn't impress me with speed (copying a collection of 3,000 files totaling 600MB from my hard drive to the DVD-RAM disc required 13 minutes, and copying the same files back to my hard disk took five minutes). But the DVDBurner impressed me with its reliability. Not one error message appeared while using DVD-RAM throughout the duration of my review. I found the DVDBurner's DVD-RAM interface about as easy to use as a removable hard disk, and its capacity makes it useful for backing up data up to 4.7GB.
I remember when I found myself with my first CD-R drive—a 2X internal drive—and the new and exciting possibilities that it could potentially open up for me. No longer would I have to be stuck storing my growing software collection on three-inch floppy disks, and I could finally make my own custom compilation CDs as I had been doing with cassette tapes for years before. What I wasn't prepared for was the fact that writing to a CD-R was somewhat more of a delicate procedure than recording to a cassette tape. Needless to say, my initial excitement was diminished somewhat by my growing collection of CD-sized coasters and frisbees. So you can't blame me if I'm a little wary when it comes to new write-once optical formats, especially when the cost-per-coaster jumps from $1 for CD-R to $6-plus for DVD-R General discs go.
As reliably as the drive performed when using DVD-RAM, the drive also performed equally well when writing to DVD-R, using the write-once DVD recording technology designed by Pioneer. With Sonic's easy-to-use MyDVD 3.0, I gathered up some sample video footage and quickly put together a menu-driven DVD. While I remained skeptical about my chances of actually being able to create a DVD on my first attempt, the 2X drive performed flawlessly when burning the disc. My newly-burned title played not only in the DVDBurner itself, but also in my 16X Creative DVD-ROM drive and Apex set-top DVD player. Although my skills as a DVD author are rudimentary, a title created and burned from Sonic's DVDit! LE also netted similar results.
One application that I would have liked to have seen included with the review unit is an application that would allow me to write data files directly to DVD-R. With the included software, I felt somewhat forced into using DVD-R for storing movies only, and DVD-RAM for archiving data. It's always nice to have the option of using an unerasable disc for permanent archiving. But no such application was included, which may say something about how Panasonic expects the drive—specifically, its two recording formats—to be used. To idiot-proof the drive, some notation stating that the drive uses General DVD-R discs could also be added to the front of the unit, since DVD-R Authoring discs are write-incompatible with the DVDBurner.
Overall, Panasonic's DVDBurner made writing (and rewriting) to DVD-RAM and DVD-R media a snap. While Panasonic's combination DVD-RAM/R drive certainly won't win any awards for its looks, the device accomplishes what it sets out to do—provide users with a DVD-Recorder that can also do DVD-RAM. And given that DVD-RW is still in its infancy, and the current generation of DVD+RW drives can neither write write-once DVD+R discs nor can they be upgraded to do so, Panasonic's DVD-RAM/R Burner is arguably the only drive currently on the market that can write and rewrite DVDs in two established formats. The bundled DVD-R-oriented software is definitely geared toward making DVDs, and includes everything an aspiring DVD author needs, while dragging-and-dropping to DVD-RAM is amply easy to satisfy the would-be DVD archivist.
OTHER COMPANIES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE
InterVideo, Inc. www.intervideo.com
Pioneer Electronics www.pioneerelectronics.com
Sonic Solutions www.sonic.com