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Review: Sony DRU-700A DVD Recorder
Posted May 30, 2004 Print Version     Page 1of 5 next »

Synopsis: The legend of DVD+R DL becomes fact: Sony's DRU-700A ($199), the first shipping dual layer-capable DVD recorder, performs mostly as advertised, easily accomplishing 6 and 7GB DVD-Video burns with the bundled Nero software on several Verbatim DL discs provided for testing. Playback compatibility was mixed, however, with a 43% success rate on 70 set-top players, portables, ROM drives, and burners.

In John Ford's great western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, newspaperman Maxwell Scott says, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Here in EMedia we printed the legend of dual/double-layer DVD recording before there was any fact to speak of; when my article "Building and Burning Dual-Layer DVD" ( ran in April 2004, neither camp—"plus" or "dash"—had product to ship. I'd never seen a dual-layer recordable disc nor a recorder, but it seemed important to do what I could to build the legend all the same. As I noted in that article, DVD+R DL, the first incarnation of two-layer recordable DVD (a -R version should appear some time in the next 6-12 months), is the most important development in DVD recording since the debut of the Pioneer A03, the first half-height, internal DVD recorder, and the first aimed at the mass PC and Mac market with sub-$1000 pricing and support for CD-R and CD-RW.

DVD+R DL's immediate impact should happen in the pro authoring market, where I imagine authors of DVD-9 titles are salivating over the prospect of one-offing their dual-layer projects to a single writable disc for immediate reference-checking in the various DVD players stockpiled in their studios. At $10-12 a disc, that's as far as DVD+R DL may penetrate for a while, but that's a big breakthrough nonetheless. Desktop producers of commercial DVD titles will follow shortly thereafter, and finally the vast consumer market of hobbyists and personal videographers and quality-conscious home DVD dupers will get into the game shortly after that, for the sheer thrill of stuffing more high bit-rate video into their personal creations.

But that's the legend, not the fact. Even though Sony showed demo drives at NAB in April, where my article also appeared, we had no real-world confirmation that these drives performed as advertised, and dual/double-layer DVD recording remained a dream deferred.

Perhaps because Sony's Bob DeMoulin and I go back to the days when reliable and affordable CD recording was itself a dream deferred, I was fortunate enough to get an early look at Sony's first double-layer DVD recorder, the internal ATAPI DRU-700A, shortly after NAB and well-before its projected "late Q2" shipping date. The drive also showed up with two pieces of sample Sony-branded, Verbatim-manufactured DVD+R DL media (followed by several Verbatim-branded DL discs), and a brand new DL-capable version of Ahead's Nero CD/DVD creation software.

But the question remained: when the first DL drive hit the EMedia offices in Madison, Wisconsin, would legend become fact?

How Green was My Valley?
At the time that this review was written, there were three significant players in DVD+R DL: Verbatim, who makes the media; Sony, who makes the first shipping drive; and Ahead, who supplies the software for that drive. More manufacturers have announced drives, but for now, that's the landscape. 

The drive installed without incident (nothing to add to the legend there), as did the software, a rich assortment of Ahead's Nero tools including the full-featured recording application Nero Burning ROM SE 6, the entry-level DVD authoring and video editing tool Nero VisionExpress 2, InCD 4 for variable-length packet writing, ShowTime for DVD-Video and MPEG-4 playback, BackItUp for PC backup, ImageDrive for setting up a virtual CD/DVD-ROM drive, the estimable consumer audio editor Wave Editor (long a favorite in these parts), Nero Cover Designer for disc labeling, and the always-appreciated Nero Toolkit for speed-testing CD and DVD drives. 

But plumbing the depths of Nero was not really our goal here. Sony sent me this drive to make fact of legend, and I immediately set about building and burning a double-layer disc. In the words of lifelong John Ford fan Bob Dylan, "To live outside the law you must be honest." So in the interest of full disclosure, I'll concede that the first thing I did with the Sony DRU-700A was violate the DMCA. I popped the recently released Kill Bill DVD into the drive, ripped its entire 7.1GB to the hard drive of my 2.66gHz Pentium 4, XP-running test-bed Compaq PC, and loaded the entire contents of the resulting VIDEO_TS folder into the DVD-Video files compilation window of Nero Express.

I then loaded a DVD+R DL disc in the drive, and Nero immediately recognized the capacity of the disc as something beyond 8GB. It also deemed my 7.1GB (engineering) project DL-worthy (you have to burn something on both Layer 0, the first layer written, and Layer 1, the second layer written), but well within the disc's comfort zone. There was nothing left to do but advance to the recording screen and click Burn.  

The burning process took roughly 47 minutes for the 7.1GB disc. The Sony drive, which records, quite effectively, at 8X to single-layer DVD±R media, burns DVD+R DL at 2.4X. The status window reported both Layer 0 and Layer 1 progress (even though Nero calls the Layers 1 and 2, 0 and 1 are the proper terms). Using the Opposite Track method, the drive burns Layer 0 in the hub-to-edge direction until it reaches the layer break, then the laser refocuses and burns Layer 1 edge-to-hubward, beginning at the same radial distance from the inner hub as the layer break on Layer 0.

Long Voyage Home
With more DL discs to burn, I had another test to try: burning an original bigger-than-4.7GB DVD and seeing where Nero and Sony put the layer break, and how it played back once burned.

I pulled out my old two-disc wedding DVD and set about converting it to a single DL disc. This process required several steps: "capturing" the video title sets on both discs to MPEG-2 files using Roxio Media Creator 7, quickly re-authoring the disc in Nero Vision Express, and finally burning it all onto a single DL disc.

I imported the MPEG files into Nero and used the simple and fluid authoring GUI to restore chapter points and create a basic menu. Nero alerted me immediately that the fileset I'd created (at the bit rate captured) was too big for a single-layer DVD±R, but would fit on a "DVD-9." The software also offered to recompress the files to make everything fit. Good to know, and not a problem in this case. I even jacked up the audio from AC-3 to LPCM, a needless luxury, but one that would push the project even further into DL territory.

Not much else to it; Nero didn't prompt me to choose a layer-break point, and I couldn't find the option anywhere (just as well—I'm not a Scenarist-level user and neither is the target audience for the Sony/Nero bundle, which means we have no business fiddling with layer breaks before ROM burns). The burn went smoothly as ever, clocking in around 40 minutes for the 6GB+ project. Granted, that's significantly longer than two SL burns, but if your goal is to get a contiguous >4.7GB image on a single disc, there's no point whatsoever in comparing the speeds, because you simply can't do it in the SL world.

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