Samsung SH-B022 Blu-ray Disc writer
Blu-ray finally arrives - does it live up to the hype?
Preview 2006: the year of High Definition video, Blu-ray and HD DVD. Well, that's the way things are looking at the moment, with just about every consumer electronics manufacturer in the world jumping on the bandwagon. These technologies aren't exclusively reserved for the consumer-electronics market - they're coming to the PC as well, and Samsung is the first manufacturer with a PC Blu-ray drive ready to go...
The SH-B022 - once again a name that doesn't speak volumes about the product behind it - looks just like your average DVD writer, with one small difference: the big Blu-ray Disc logo on the left-hand side of the face-plate. This is the only dead giveaway, but the metallic eject button with a blue LED on each side of it also suggests there is something different going on here. The piano black fascia makes it look a lot more expensive than a typical DVD writer, but new technology always tends to get the bling treatment to make it stand out from the previous generation.
I was rather disappointed to find an IDE interface around the back of the drive, especially as Samsung has recently launched a SATA DVD writer. Considering that the next generation of South Bridge chip from Intel will drop IDE support all together, this seems like a bad move by Samsung. However, most current PCs still have at least one IDE connector, so unless it's another six months before the drive is out, this shouldn't prove to be a major problem.
Installing the SH-B022 is just as easy as fitting any other optical drive in a PC. Windows XP recognises the drive, although even with Service Pack 2 installed Windows XP wasn't interested in seeing a blank Blu-ray disc in the drive. Samsung provided a copy of Nero 7 with a special patch for the drive to make it possible to write to Blu-ray media.
The tests I could perform were limited due to the fact that I only had access to a just one BD-RE (RE for rewriteable) disc and no BD-R media. Samsung said media prices will initially be around £15 for a 25GB BD-RE disc, so we're back to the early days of expensive DVD media. The SH-B022 supports 2x writing speed, around 9MBps which equates to about 7x in DVD writing speeds. Considering that you have the ability to write 25GB to a single-layer disc, this isn't that fast and as you'll see from the tests.
I fired up Nero 7 and did a couple of write tests to get an idea on how fast the drive is. I used WinRAR to create a store archive of 12.7GB worth of files. By using the store setting in WinRAR no compression is used and this was done to maximise the file size. To write this single file to a BD-RE disc you have to use UDF (Universal Data Format) rather than ISO which is normally used when writing discs. However, anyone that is using dual-layer DVDs will be familiar with UDF.
The single 12.7GB file took 25m 31s to write, so it'll take roughly twice that to fill up the whole disc. Doing the same test, but with the separate files - 4,486 of them - took slightly longer, 26m 29s. So we're back to the having to wait an hour or so to burn a full disc.
I was rather disappointed when I found out that the review sample didn't offer DVD or CD writing abilities. Now, I could've lived with the fact that it couldn't write to CD, as this is a rather old technology in comparison, but the lack of DVD support seems just plain odd. Still, this was an early prototype and things may very well change by the time the product is launched. Samsung was showing off the same drive at CeBIT, but this one was clearly labelled as having DVD writing capabilities, which is promising.
So what about the BD media? Well, the BD-RE disc looked very much like a CD, but it had a dark grey surface which didn't look very reflective. Smudging it with finger prints didn't result in any problems reading the data, so there doesn't seem to be any need to worry about minor marks corrupting the densely packed data.
Samsung hasn't even set a price on the drive, although I was told it was likely to end up in the $800-900 category - ouch. It's claimed that HD DVD will be cheaper, but for now we'll just have to bide our time and wait until retail products hit the shelves. It's also worth taking into account that dual-layer media will be available later this year with 50GB of storage capacity, so unless you have the cash to spare and you don't mind being an early adopter, you might just want to wait until then.
Finally, there's the issue of what you can use a Blu-ray drive for. Sure you can store 25GB of files on it, but you can't play it back in anything else than your own drive, unless your mates are as wealthy as you. Living-room BD players should be able to handled video discs you've authored, but HD DVD players won't, at least not for the time being. There are far too many question marks about Blu-ray as a consumer technology, but the good news is that it's as easy to use as a DVD writer as long as you're only after a high-capacity storage medium.
It's early days of Blu-ray, and the Samsung SH-B022 is the first drive to make an appearance outside company labs and beyond the exhibition stands. Hopefully Samsung will make some improvements before retail products become available - in particular, ensuring it will at least support DVD writing. ®