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Sony BWU-100A Blu-ray Burner Review

So, back to the BWU-100A from Sony. We popped it in an HP8400 workstation. The bezel sticks out a little more than a typical OEM drive such as the Samsung it replaced in this machine. But we have to give it points for style. Sony rarely misses in this category and this drive looks smart Sure, who cares how it looks as long as it works but it doesn't hurt to have a nice looking drive your machine. Plus at this price it should have some style.

We used Verbatim 25GB BD-R 2x media. It's worth noting that media is still very expensive and in short supply. Expect to pay about $12 per disc in volume and of course more for rewriteable media. We didn't see any of our suppliers selling 50GB media. Word is it'll be available in the US in early 2008. We think it's absolutely critical to have 50GB media available at competitive price points for Blu-ray burners to really take off in the professional space while 25GB is pretty compelling for most consumers once the drives drop in price. Especially since drives like the BWU-100A can burn all the usual suspects plus Blu-ray.

At my production company, AVT Pro, we've been shooting almost exclusively in HD the past year. Our clients love it and there's no turning back so we needed to come up with a backup strategy in a hurry. The reason is we're no longer shooting on tape. Now everything goes to flash memory or hard drives. HD video allows for a variety of frame rates and settings that eat up various amounts of storage. For our purposes we usually figure about 1 GB per minute of HD Video. So a single sided Blu-ray disc will allow us to backup 25 minutes of video. Actually it's a bit less but let's just call it 25 minutes to keep it simple.

In the non-linear world of editing it's a godsend that we can simply 'dump in' video from P2 cards and hard drives versus having to digitize in tape. The major downside is the potential for catastrophic failure. Sure tapes jam, but when digital goes bad it's a nightmare. So it's absolutely crucial to have a solid backup strategy. The days of the huge source tape libraries are numbered.

There are a number of issues with backing up digital video. The two top-of-mind include fast access and physical space requirements. We've been literally keeping stacks of hard drives because it's much easier to pop a drive back into a system than it is to load multiple DVDs. The downside is physical storage. Stockpiling drives requires boxes for each one and it quickly gets out of hand. It's much easier to keep a spindle of DVDs for each project. .

Blu-ray, especially the 50GB media, is so attractive because it allows you to back up a project on fewer discs which require less physical space to store than a hard drive or tape. It's not as convenient as popping a hard drive in the system. However, it's much better than using DVDs because you can load more data/disc inserted into the drive. With Blu-ray you may pop in 4 discs for a 90GB project versus 20 DVDs for the same amount of data. The downside is the data is much harder to pass around and share until the installed base of drives climbs.

Blu-ray prices are starting to fall and you can find several drives under $500 such as the BWU-100A. However, compared to a $40 DVD burner paired with $.50 media the reasons to migrate to Blu-ray are less compelling. This coupled with the confusion over HD DVD and Blu-ray only slows the adoption rate down.

So where does that leave you' Well, hopefully the HD-DVD versus Blu-ray argument will become moot as all players become format agnostic. If we had to choose one format over the other, today, we'd go with Blu-ray. We like the branding of a completely new format versus a perceived upgrade to an older one. HD-DVD makes us squirm like HD-NTSC. Both don't belong together and aren't technically correct. We also believe HD-DVD will create even greater confusion as consumers try to play HD-DVD movies in their DVD players not realizing they need new machines.

A very compelling reason to purchase a Blu-ray drive is to backup digital photos. Spanning your collection of photos across multiple CDs or DVDs makes it very inconvenient to scan the photos at a later date. 2007, the year in pictures, may require swapping several discs in and out of your machine. Being able to have 1 Blu-ray disc per year of digital photos is pretty sweet and much easier to keep track of. We also recommend using a online backup service like Carbonite for redundant off-site storage.

In the corporate world, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is likely to have a positive impact on the growth of the Blu-ray market and the next generations of optical technologies that cram even more and more data on a shiny disc. A 500GB disc would do the trick. At least for a couple of years anyway.

Visit Sony for more information.


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