The Pioneer BDR-XD04 ($149.99 direct) is the latest in a long line of external optical drives, putting DVD and Blu-ray burning into a portable form-factor. for anyone who occasionally needs an optical drive since their ultrabook or laptop may not be equipped with one, the Pioneer BDR-XD04 is more than capable for reading and burning discs. It even offers Blu-ray XL support, reading and burning to triple- and quad-layer discs. With its slim form-factor and support for the full spectrum of optical media, the Pioneer BDR-XD04 gets our nod for Editors’ choice.
Design the BDR-XD04 is a compact little drive, with a top-loading clamshell design. the drive measures 0.55 by 5.2 by 5.2-inches (HWD)—not much bigger than two classic style CD jewel cases. It’s also light, weighing only 0.5 pounds.
The drive connects with an 18-inch USB 2.0 y-cable, which is included in the package. Because the drive is bus powered, there’s no need for an extra AC adapter, but the drive still includes a connection for an optional adapter for those who prefer wall power.
The main housing of the drive is black plastic with a matte finish, but the underside of the chassis is metal. the lid appears to be plastic as well, but has a layer of reinforcing aluminum on the interior side. the lid flips up with the touch of a button, and a small latch on the bottom of the drive lets you open the lid when the drive is powered off. the bottom of the drive also has four rubber feet to keep it steady, even on a sloped surface.
Once the drive is plugged in and reading a disc, you will notice a bit of drive noise. the rotation of the disk is a soft, but constant, whisper. when the drive engages or slows, there’s a bit more noise. It’s not terribly loud—we’ve gotten more noise from laptop cooling fans—but it is noticeable. the BDR-XD04 also warms up quickly. within moments of inserting a disc, the drive warmed up to 82 degrees. while watching a two-hour movie, it heated up to 93 degrees (both measured with a Fluke IR thermometer).
Features the BDR-XD04 is unique in that, in addition to supporting BD-R and BD-RE discs, it also supports uncommon twists on the format, namely BDXL triple- and quad-layer media. where a single layer Blu-ray disc can hold up to 25GB per disc, and a dual-layer disc can hold up to 50GB, new BDXL formats like triple-layer media holds up to 100GB, and quad-layer up to 128GB.
BDXL formats may be the next big thing in storage media, but at the moment, it’s pretty rare. the few recordable BDXL discs that are on the market will generally be covered in Kanji, because the discs need to be imported from Japan and sell for between $90-$100 per disc. You also will run into problems trying to play the discs on any other player, because unlike dual-layer Blu-ray discs, regular Blu-ray hardware doesn’t support BDXL. at all.
The BDR-XD04 is compatible with Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7), and requires a minimum display resolution of 1024-by-768. Two USB 2.0 ports are required to connect and power the drive, and you’ll need 2GB of RAM and 5GB of available hard drive space for the accompanying hardware, plus enough room to contain whatever you are planning to burn to disc (up to 128GB in the case of a quad-layer BD-R).
There’s a complimentary copy of CyberLink Media Suite 8 BD, which includes: PowerDVD 10 BD3D, which offers DVD and Blu-ray playback (including 3D content); PowerDirector 9, which lets you edit and author DVDs and Blu-ray; and Power2Go 7, which allows secure storage and sharing of data files to and from rewritable discs.
Some unique features that Pioneer offers for the drive include PowerRead, which enables smoother playback of discs that may be smudged or scratched, and PureRead2, which re-reads any obscured portions of the disc to extract more of the original recorded data instead of making a single pass and simply extrapolating what the missing information might be. Auto Quiet Mode adjusts disc rotation speed to reduce drive noise while watching movies or listening to music. Pioneer also covers the BDR-XD04 with a one year warranty on parts and labor.
Performance in our testing, the drive had no problem reading all major optical formats, including Blu-ray, DVD, and CD. the BDR-XD04 has read support for all commercially available Blu-ray formats, including BD-ROM, BD-R and BD-RE in dual- triple- and quad-layer formats. Read speeds range between 2X for triple-layer BD-RE dics and 6X for standard BD-ROM. All formats of DVD and CD are supported, with the exception of odd-shaped discs, such as DVD business cards. DVD media reads at 8X, while CD media reads at 24X.
Support for writable media is just as broad, supporting all formats of BD-R and BD-RE, including dual-, triple-, and quad-layer discs. Write speeds vary between single- and dual-layer BD-R (6X), triple- and quad-layer BD-R (4X), and all BD-RE formats (2X). Writing support includes DVDs, both +R and -R (8X) and DVD+/-RW (6X), including dual-layer, and CDs, both CD-R and CD-RW (both at 24X).
During testing, we found very little to complain about. the included CyberLink disc authoring software is easy to use, and burning files to disc is a simple process, whether you are burning large amounts of data or authoring your own videos to Blu-ray.
Overall, the Pioneer BDR-XD04 offers several features while being extremely portable and quite affordable. by comparison, the Asus SBW-06C1S-U and Sony Optiarc BDX-S600U both cost the same $150 while offering fewer supported formats and extra bulk. the Pioneer BDR-XD04 may offer some capability you won’t need, but it’s still well worth the price. It’s the most versatile portable optical drive on the market, and it snags the title of Editors’ choice.