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    DVD advantages drive popularity

    Recordable DVDs offer loads of storage space and convenience, but keep in mind shortcomings when shopping
    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #722 August 26-September 1, 2003, GearGuide column

    Once a seemingly huge amount of storage, the 700 MB that fit on a CD disc are too few for users working with video files and large audio collections, or just wanting to back up the multiple gigabytes of modern hard drives. Not surprisingly, recordable DVD drives, capable of writing up to 4.7 GB onto each blank disc, have become increasingly popular. Sales of PCs fitted out with recordable DVD drives jumped 550 per cent in the first half of 2003 compared with last year. Sales of standalone DVD burners have also taken off, helped by dropping prices of drives and blank discs (now about $5 each). 

    There remains the confusion of too-similar sounding DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW standards, but as long as users remember which sort of blank discs their hardware uses, it doesn't make too much difference. And many of the newer models can burn either format of disc. 

    More of an issue for users looking to add a DVD burner to an existing computer is whether to get an internal or external model. Internal models save a few dollars in exchange for having to open a PC's case while external ones just plug in and can be used with multiple computers. If your computer is a notebook, an external drive is probably your only choice. 

    The multiple gigabytes stored on a DVD require a fast connection. For an external drive, that means either a Firewire (aka IEEE 1394) or USB 2.0 port. If your desktop or notebook lacks both, you will need an expansion card with one or the other (or both). 

    When you buy a DVD burner, check the software bundle that comes with it. That low-priced model may be less of a bargain if you need to buy additional software. You want software to create standard data, music CDs and DVDs. As well, look for HP DVD300esoftware for backup, to import video from digital camcorders, and to create attractive, multi-chapter video DVDs. 

    Here are three from the current crop of external DVD writers. All offer speedy four-times DVD burning, twice the speed of last year's models. (This is measured differently from CD burners, where four-times speed is slow.) Note that in real life, burn speed may be limited by the speed rating of your blank discs. Rewritable discs are slower and more expensive than the write-once versions. As well, each comes with both USB 2.0 and Firewire ports, offering users a choice of connections. A consideration for notebook users: these external drives require AC power. Don't plan to use one on a plane trip or out at the beach. 

    HP is now on its third generation of DVD burners, with the $380 external DVD Writer DVD300e. It includes a comprehensive software bundle, including the aptly named Veritas Simple Backup and ArcSoft ShowBiz for video authoring. 

    While HP's DVD burners only support the DVD +R/RW standard, Sony's $650 DRX510UL lets users burn both +R/RW and -R/RW discs (along with CD-R/RW discs). Like HP's model, this external drive includes backup (Retrospect Express) and DVD authoring (Sonic Solutions MyDVD) software. 

    Sony DRX-510ULWhile the Firewire port on these drives can physically connect to most recent Macs, neither HP nor Sony includes Mac-friendly software. And while Apple pioneered computers with DVD burners built-in, the company doesn't sell the hardware to let Mac-owners add DVD burning to existing Macs and Apple's iDVD software doesn't work with third-party drives. 

    LaCie's $500 d2 DVD+/-RW drive supports both the +R/RW and -R/RW standards and works with Macs and Windows, making it a good choice for individuals or companies that work with both platforms. (Note that different packages contain mostly Windows or mostly Mac software.) 

    Thinking of getting a DVD burner to "back up" commercial DVD movies? Don't bother. You'll need extra software, and you'll end up with an inferior copy at best.


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan