Blu-ray Disc may have beaten HD-DVD in the pitched battle to be the high-definition optical-drive standard, but in the nearly two years since the format wars ended, Blu-ray has yet to gain any real traction in the desktop computer realm. In fact, Apple has done its best to downplay the relevance of any kind of optical drive in this new world of streaming media – the MacBook Air ships without an internal optical drive, Apple has almost totally ignored its DVD Studio Pro application in the last two Final Cut Studio releases, and the company provides no way of playing Blu-ray-formatted movies on Macs running OS X.
But while Apple hasn’t embraced Blu-ray, a couple of the company’s applications – Final Cut Pro and Compressor – now allow you to create Blu-ray projects and burn them with attached Blu-ray drives.
If you’re thinking of adding a second optical drive for copying DVDs, or if you just want faster burn speeds than your older optical drive can deliver, you might be considering a Blu-ray-capable burner. Apple has yet to offer Blu-ray as either a standard or build-to-order option, but a few third-party companies have been testing the waters and marketing external Blu-ray burners to Mac users. If you own any Mac Pro sold since January 2008, you will have space for a second internal optical drive; unfortunately, Apple doesn’t currently offer a Blu-ray drive as an upgrade option at point of sale.
We recently looked at a handful of new Blu-ray burners: Buffalo’s MediaStation 8x External Blu-ray Writer, the FastMac External Slimline USB 2.0 BD-R 4x Optical Drive, LaCie’s d2 Blu-ray Professional Drive, and the MCE 8x Blu-ray External Recordable Drive. Read the reviews on the Macworld website (www.macworld.co.uk).
Here are a few tips on what to look for when you go shopping for a Blu-ray drive.
From eSATA to USB 2.0 to FireWire 800 and FireWire 400, we saw a wide variety of connections. Surprisingly, eSATA wasn’t the fastest option on any of the drives we tested. In fact, the USB 2.0 connection on the Buffalo MediaStation was faster than FireWire 800 or 400 on some competing drives. If you haven’t already added an eSATA card to your Mac, a Blu-ray burner is not a good reason to do so.
If you want to burn discs that you can watch on your HD TV using a Blu-ray player, you’ll need software to go with your burner. Roxio offers the High-Def/Blu-ray Disc Plug-in for Toast, a £14.99 plug-in to its £65 Toast 10 Titanium application that lets you burn HD movies for playback. Some external Blu-ray burners come bundled with Toast Titanium.
Even if you don’t envision using Blu-ray technology immediately, an external optical drive will probably be faster than the internal drive you already have. The Blu-ray drives we looked at may also support more media types than your built-in SuperDrive – the iMac we use for burning DVDs in our office, for example, doesn’t support DVD-R (dual layer), only DVD+R (dual layer). Having multiple optical drives makes duplicating optical media easier too.
And finally, Blu-ray media comes in either 25GB single-layer capacity or 50GB dual-layer capacity, which is quite a bit more storage space than the 8.5GB a standard dual-layer DVD holds.
Blu-ray burners cost significantly more than standard DVD burners do right now, but costs are coming down – in fact, between the time the drive makers shipped us their Blu-ray burners and the time we had finished testing them, many of the companies had cut their prices. The discs are also expensive, with spindles of 25GB BD-R media averaging around £3 per disc.
Considering Blu-ray’s pricey hardware and media, as well as its limited support from the operating system, the format’s slow adoption among Mac users is not surprising. However, Blu-ray’s high-capacity media and high-definition capabilities are attracting more users, and with a growing number of companies offering Blu-ray drives and applications to fill the gaps, the rate of adoption should increase, though probably only modestly.