The DVD burners covered in this report connect internally or externally to a computer. Please see our separate report if you are interested in home entertainment component-type DVD recorders, which can record from a TV.
DVD burners are used to install software from CD or DVD, back up data, play audio CDs and DVD movies, copy CDs and DVDs, create discs to share files or software between computers, record music or other audio CDs and record home movies. They do everything that CD burners and CD-ROM drives do, so you don't need to have two optical drives installed in your computer. All models will burn to dual-layer DVD discs, which have an 8.5 GB capacity, as well as standard single-layer DVDs, which are less expensive and hold 4.7 GB of data.
The best and the most comprehensive reviews are on enthusiast websites that focus on disc burning and optical media. Those include CDRInfo.com, CDRLabs.com and CDFreaks.com. These websites conduct extensive tests using multiple brands of media, illustrating the results with charts. The best reviews address the relative noisiness of drives. Many DVD burners sound like major appliances while spinning discs. This is annoying for any purpose, but a big deal for listening to music from CDs or watching DVD or Blu-ray movies.
Mainstream media coverage of DVD burners is disappointing. Most computer and consumer magazines and websites only sporadically review new products, including Blu-ray drives. Otherwise excellent review sites such as CNET and PCMag.com have dropped burner coverage altogether since our last update. However, a few -- such as MaximumPC.com and ExtremeTech.com -- still provide some worthwhile reporting on occasion.
Some reviewers are beginning to recommend Blu-ray drives for your computer, but they have many reservations. Compatibility problems are common, and prices remain high, although they are dropping. Choices include combo Blu-ray Disc reader/DVD burners, which will read Blu-ray Discs, but not write to them. Blu-ray Disc burners that can record to writable Blu-ray Discs are also available, and those offer support for most other media types. However, Blu-ray Disc burners remain relatively expensive -- costing as much as 10 times more than a standard DVD burner.
If you want to play Blu-ray movies on your computer by installing an internal drive, system requirements remain a major hurdle. Computers and monitors need to meet very specific requirements to work with Blu-ray movies. Also, Blu-ray drives are frequently slower than standard DVD burners when writing to conventional media.
Blu-ray Discs can hold up to 25 GB of data on one disc, or 50 GB in the case of dual-layer discs. That could be an advantage if you need to archive tons of data, or have a high-definition camcorder and want to burn your footage to a Blu-ray Disc. However, because of the laundry list of system requirements, high prices and compatibility problems, "most users have no need to burn Blu-ray Discs today," says reviewer Loyd Case of ExtremeTech.com. That should change in coming years as the price of both the hardware and the media come down, Case says, and as component Blu-ray players for home entertainment systems become more commonplace.
Other reviewers generally agree that most people should wait until prices come down further. Unless you have a specific immediate need for 25 GB or 50 GB of storage on a single disc or want to play Blu-ray Discs on your computer, a standard double-layer DVD burner is a better choice. If you need mass storage right now, an external hard drive is the less expensive, more practical option. Another alternative for data backup is a USB flash drive. A couple of 32 GB USB flash drives will cost less than the cheapest Blu-ray Disc burner.