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Blu-ray Discs hold a lot of information, but have limited compatibility

A single-layer Blu-ray Disc can hold 25 GB of data, and a double-layer disc can hold 50 GB compared to the 8.5 GB of storage space on a standard double-layer DVD disc. However, unless you have loads of data you need to archive, Blu-ray isn't very cost-effective as a storage medium. External hard drives -- including portable drives -- cost less than Blu-ray Disc burners and have higher capacities. USB flash drives with capacities to 64 GB are faster than Blu-ray burners (for writing and reading) and less expensive -- and humongous flash drives with 128 GB capacities have recently been announced (albeit at prices that are anything but a bargain).

For most, then, the major reason to buy a Blu-ray drive is to watch high-definition Blu-ray movies on your computer monitor (or television, if you have or are building a home theater PC). Reviewers cite many reasons why the time to buy a Blu-ray Disc burner has not yet arrived for most people, with the biggest ones being high prices, compatibility problems and demanding system requirements.

ExtremeTech.com's Loyd Case explains, "First, all the hardware needs to understand HDCP content protection, including the drive, the graphics card and the display." PC Magazine's Cisco Cheng fills in the details: "You need to buy decoder software with Blu-ray support. Furthermore, you need a graphics card with HDCP support (which prevents unauthorized playback of copy-protected movies) ...; you'll also need an HDCP-enabled display." Nvidia, which supplies the graphics hardware and technology used by many PCs and graphics cards, has some excellent explanations of the requirements for playing Blu-ray movies on a PC. Cyberlink offers free diagnostic utility that will scan your system and tell you if it is capable of Blu-ray playback, and if not, what needs upgrading.

Among currently manufactured drives, Pioneer's BDR-203 (*Est. $210) gets respect. CDRInfo.com gives it an Editors' Choice designation, praising its overall reliability and speed at burning Blu-ray, DVD and CD media. Most impressive is that the Pioneer BDR-203 is rated at 8x speed for burning Blu-rays -- although no 8x standard exists as of this update. However, CDRInfo.com testers say they achieved 8x speeds with 6x BD-R media. About.com's Mark Kyrnin names this his best Blu-ray burner, though he notes standard-DVD write speeds are, at 16x, lower than the current standard of 20x to 24x. Wendy Collins at CDFreaks.com points out that this is primarily a Blu-ray burner -- she notes that DVD-RW and CD-R performance was disappointing. However, she does observe that Blu-ray burn quality and speed are excellent, and she praises the Pioneer BDR-203's "near-silent" playback of DVD and Blu-ray movies.

The Lite-On DH-4B1S (*Est. $220) is another option among burners that write both Blu-ray Discs and regular DVDs. CDRInfo.com notes that the Lite-On is a good burner, although DVD write speeds are rather slow, and the drive is slower overall at reading and writing across formats than comparable models. CDRLabs.com's testers report similar results, and recommend this drive if you can find a deal on it.

While LG is not currently offering a Blu-ray burner, several members of its H20L family of drives remain available at retail and draw good comments from reviewers. For example, Vincent Chang at HardwareZone.com raves about the LG GGW-H20L. He especially appreciates that the LG GGW-H20L can also read the now-discontinued HD DVD format. About.com's Mark Kyrnin names GGW-H20L the Best Value Blu-ray burner. Katherine Stevenson at MaximumPC.com gives the LG GBW-H20L (*Est. $190) drive -- which is similar but without the HD DVD compatibility -- a Kick Ass award.

DVD burner/Blu-ray Disc player combo drives

If you are interested in playing Blu-ray movies on your PC but not in burning gobs of data or video to blank Blu-ray Discs, a combo drive offers some advantages. These drives pair a DVD burner with a Blu-ray player in one housing. Combo drives can burn DVDs and CDs like a standard DVD burner, and can also play back -- but not burn -- Blu-ray Discs.

The Pioneer BDC-2202BK is a Blu-ray combo drive that's available in several versions. The BDC-S02BK is the most widely reviewed, but it is not sold in the U.S. The Pioneer BDC-202 (*Est. $120) is the OEM version (just the drive, without packaging, cables or software). The Pioneer BDC-2202B5PK (*Est. $135) is the easiest version to find in the U.S. It is retail boxed and includes a black bezel, but no software or cables.

CDRInfo.com is among those that are impressed, selecting the Pioneer BDC-2202BK as an Editor's Choice. CDFreaks.com also finds more positives than negatives, saying, "The Pioneer BDC-S02BK was able to burn all our tested CD-R/RW media with excellent/very good quality." Reviewer Wendy Collins also reports, "Blu-ray movie playback via PowerDVD using an HDCP compliant screen is excellent." Furthermore, build quality is excellent, and the drive is "almost completely silent when playing back Blu-ray or DVD movies." But while the quality of recording is uniformly excellent with DVDs and CDs, it's on the slow side by current standards when reading or writing to either type of media.

Plextor also offers a DVD burner with Blu-ray playback, the PX-310SA (*Est. $160). ExtremeTech.com recommends the model as a good combo drive choice in a head-to-head face-off with drives from LG, Sony and Lite-On. Quick Blu-ray transfer speeds and fast DVD burning are the reasons why. We could not find any other professional commentary on the drive, however, and while user feedback is positive so far, there is too little of it to afford that much weight.

We found one review of the older Asus BC-06B1ST (*Est. $130) at CDRLabs.com. Testers there found the drive solid, but unspectacular. It is a reasonably good value for those seeking a Blu-ray player/DVD burner combo drive, though CDRLabs.com warns that write speeds are well below current norms.

The LG GGC-H20L (*Est. $120) is a combo drive that plays both Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. Singapore's HardwareZone.com notes its shortcomings, but thinks it is a great idea for people who want a high-resolution drive now. Reviewer Vincent Chang says performance is equivalent to a 16x DVD burner. ExtremeTech.com also gives it top marks. User reviews at Newegg.com are generally positive. The few dissenters have compatibility problems with hardware or don't like the bundled software.

The LG GBC-H20L *Est. $220 has just replaced the LG GGC-H20L, but aside from lacking the latter's HD DVD compatibility, the models are quite similar. However, the GB-H20L is capable of higher-speed DVD burns than the GGW-H20L. It gets a good review at CDFreaks.com.

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Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Combo Blk SW
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $179.99   
Average Customer Review:  
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Pioneer BDC-2202B 5x Blu-ray/DVD/CD Combo Drive (Black)
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from Amazon.com
New: $229.99   
Average Customer Review:  
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Pioneer BDR-203 Blu-ray/DVD/CD Combo Internal Burner Writer Drive
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $259.99   
Average Customer Review:  
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LG Electronics GGW-H20L LightScribe 6X Blu-Ray and 3X HD DVD-ROM SATA Drive - Bulk (Black)
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $199.00   
Average Customer Review:  
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Liteon BD-WRITER-4X-RETAIL-BLACK
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $210.99   
Average Customer Review:  
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LG Electronics GGC-H20L LightScribe Blu-Ray/HD DVD Combo Drive (Black)
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $109.99   
Average Customer Review:  

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