Dual-layer race heats up: DVR-A08XL

While not immediately apparent, the Pioneer DVR-A08XL is fitted with several innovative features, the first of which is hinted at by the raised honeycomb pattern on the top of the casing. This is part of Pioneer's QuietDrive system, and helps to increase case rigidity for reduced vibration. Coupled with the Ultra-DRA (Dynamic Resonance Absorber) servo, Pioneer claims that this maintains disc stability at high speeds, improving performance and reducing noise.

The drive is also better equipped for reading data, thanks to a liquid crystal compensator located just above the laser. This can quickly adjust the focus and landing of the beam to counteract the effects of tilted media or uneven surfaces (conventional mechanical systems only compensate for tilt). The DVR-A08XL also replaces the 160mW laser diode of its predecessor (the DVR-A07) with a more powerful 240mW component. This provides increased burning speeds - 16x for single-layer DVD-R and +R discs, and 4x for dual-layer DVD+Rs - making the DVR-A08XL one of the fastest dual-layer burners in production.

Although media rated at these speeds isn't out yet, 16x discs will appear later this year, with 4x dual-layer media to follow in early 2005. The DVR-A08XL can reach these speeds with existing 8x and 2.4x media, though this depends entirely on the type being used. For example, the Maxell discs that came with the drive allowed us to reach the maximum speeds; tests with 8x Verbatim DVD+R and -R discs only reached a peak of 12x, while a Ricoh 2.4x DVD+RW stayed resolutely at 2.4x. It should also be pointed out that the DVR-A08XL is a Zoned CLV (Constant Linear Velocity) drive, so the extra speed is only achievable in a segment towards the circumference of the disc. As such, you'll not see a huge difference between this product and earlier 12x models when copying large amounts of data to single-layer DVD media.

That said, the ability to burn dual-layer DVD blanks at 4x instead of 2.4x is significant, and allowed us to burn a 7.7GB ISO file in just over 26 minutes. Previous drives like the Sony DRU-700A took nearly three quarters of an hour to achieve a similar task.

As well as providing an unprecedented level of performance, the DVR-A08XL also comes with a comprehensive collection of software that includes Nero OEM Suite 3 (Express, Media Player and InCD among others, and AC-3 audio support), Ulead DVD Movie Factory 3.5 SE, VideoStudio 8 SE and DVD Workshop 2. It may be too expensive for the budget buyer, but is an easy product to recommend to those who need the fastest dual-layer burn speeds available.

How We Tested

We recorded the timing of all tasks from start to finish. CD performance was gauged by writing 699MB of data and the DVD+/-R with 4GB of data. Rewrite tests were conducted by formatting the disc and then writing the same 4GB of data to the media. Using the same discs from the write tests, we transferred the same amount of data for the CD and DVD read tests to the hard disk. For audio extraction, we used iTunes to rip an audio CD directly to MP3 at 192Kbps. For dual layer tests, we made a 7.7GB ISO image and burnt it to a dual layer disc.

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