Just about every Mac now comes with a SuperDrive, and at very least a DVD-ROM drive. So DVD is the new CD, and in the next couple of years I suspect the CD will quietly head the way of the floppy. Not that it will disappear altogether, but DVD media prices are falling, and before long you’ll be able to get them as cheaply as CDs. With this move in mind, we looked at the LaCie 8x DVD±RW drive. It’s twice as fast as any drive you’ll find in a Mac, and it has some other talents too.
The DVD format wars have made so many variations available that it’s easy to get confused. I’ll start with the easy bit: the RW means it can write to discs, including rewritable ones. The DVD bit means digital versatile disc – so it can read, write and erase DVD media. But here’s the confusing bit: the plus and minus refers to the competing, and until fairly recently exclusive DVD formats. It all started with consumer DVD recorders: Pioneer sold DVD recorders based on the DVD-R format. The format was a ratified DVD standard, while other companies started using what was to become DVD+R, a different way of recording DVDs. DVD+R discs didn’t follow the DVD standard, and therefore wouldn’t play on normal DVD players. Now that a few years have passed, DVD manufacturers have patched-up their differences for the most part. Hence, DVD recorders like this one can have both plus and minus compatibility. Apple uses only DVD-R drives in its machines at the moment, though it can happily read both formats.
There are some other quirks of using external third-party drives. First, it won’t let you use iDVD. Apple made iDVD to work exclusively with pre-installed DVD recording drives like the SuperDrive. This was annoying, but fair enough when iDVD was free. It stopped other manufacturers cashing in on Apple’s development of iDVD, and encouraged users to buy bigger, more-expensive Macs.
Now that Apple doesn’t give iDVD away free, I think you should be able to use this drive, but you can’t. So it isn’t LaCie’s fault you can’t burn iDVD discs – it’s Apple’s. The same goes for playing back DVD movies from a third-party drive, so you won’t be able to watch DVDs with this drive either.
With all those limitations, you could be forgiven for thinking that this drive isn’t that attractive a deal. It really depends on what you want to do. Professional users will love it because it will work with DVD Studio Pro, it’s double the speed of anything else around at the moment, and you can back-up large swathes of data. Home users looking for less mundane and more fun uses may be less impressed.
This is a really impressive piece of machinery, and despite its Apple-induced limitations it’s still a great deal. For backup and archiving, it makes a lot of sense for any user; for DVD production, it doubles the speed of the process, but requires DVD Studio Pro. LaCie includes the excellent Roxio Toast 6 Titanium, which costs £69 on its own – half the cost of the DVD drive. So at £142 it isn’t a bad deal at all.