Pioneer BDR-208DBK review

Pioneer BDR-208DBK

Blu-ray crossed with 3D was once the future. Neither technology has gone away, but neither have they come to forge an irresistible backbone of our modern age. It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that this Pioneer BDR-208DBK is our first new review of a BD optical drive for quite a while. See also: Best Blu-ray players 2016

The BDR-208DBK, Pioneer's latest 25GB Single and 50GB Double-Layer drive is the fastest specified drive yet, theoretically capable of reaching BD-R write speeds of 15x, and 14x with BD-R DL. See all internal Blu-ray drive reviews.

The blank discs are rated only as high as 6x and, while the actual write speed will often be higher, consistent 15x performance remains a long way off. Current discs have been stuck at 6x for many years now. In use though, you'll see a range of different speeds throughout the burning process, and you'll need the highest-quality media if you're to get the best results.  

We conducted our main tests of the Pioneer BDR-208DBK by using ImgBurn to write 22GB of data to BD-R media. We started by using discs from TDK, which are actually based on technology from Taiwanese company Ritek. With these discs, the drive needed 10 minutes 49 seconds to copy the 22GB, rather than the 11 minutes 19 required by an older drive, the 12-speed Lite-on iHBS212.

With an extra 30 seconds shaved, this may look like a good performance, but 5% improvement is not perhaps a remarkable one. We then tried the Pioneer BDR-208DBK with Sony media. 

Like the TDK discs, the Sony blanks reached a maximum of no more than 11.8-speed when used with the iHBS212. However, paired with the Pioneer BDR-208DBK, we flew up to a full 15x at times, according to ImgBurn.  

The Pioneer BDR-208DBK's average speed was actually down at 10.8x, but this was considerably faster than the 8-8.1x tallied using TDK media. The total time taken collapsed to 8 minutes and 12 seconds.  

The iHBS212, on the other hand, saw its own speeds fall by just four seconds when used with the same Sony media, notching up an unimpressive 11 mins 15 sec.  

In fairness, the Sony media is rather more expensive, costing around £2.50 a disc rather than the TDK’s 75p. Nonetheless, if you're prepared to pay the extra for the Sony media, you can expect great writing from the Pioneer BDR-208DBK. 

In many other respects, the Pioneer BDR-208DBK has barely improved at all. You're still stuck with two-speed BD-RE, so if you want to use Blu-ray media you can write to again and again, you're stuck with more than 42 minutes to fill the disc. We can only presume there are other, more attractive alternatives, for customers seeking media they can write to numerous times. You still won't quite get the best DVD writing speeds either. 16x is delivered, but this unit can't get close to the 22x/24x drives that proliferate in the dedicated DVD-R market. 

No software is provided with the Pioneer BDR-208DBK, so you'll need to find some yourself. A Blu-ray film player would certainly be desirable, since the Pioneer should enable smooth movie playback. The QuickPlay feature means it takes even less time than before to load up discs.  

Read speeds aren't as high as maximum write speeds, but 12x BD-ROM performance is still pretty good. Pioneer claims the BDR-208DBK offers particularly low noise levels. We couldn't actually detect any difference between this and the iHBS212, for instance. The drive is reasonably quiet, although no more so than some rivals.

Also available is the Pioneer BDR-208EBK. This is essentially the same drive as the 208DBK, and took just three seconds longer during the 22GB BD-R tests. However, it can also handle BD XL media - essentially Triple Layer (100GB) and Quad Layer (128GB). We tested the drive with 100GB media, and found that it could burn 88GB of data in 49 minutes and 8 seconds. 

The Sharp-branded BD-XL discs were officially rated at 4x, but could manage a maximum of speed of 8x, and an average speed of 7.3x. This was actually a pretty impressive showing, given that four times as much data was being transferred than in the case of the standard 22GB tests.  

The problem with XL media is that it's still rather limited. The price of media remains high, with 100GB discs costing around £30-£40. The typical user needing to transfer 100GB of data will be able to find either cheaper or more versatile methods, although there are more specialist uses that would benefit from such facilities. And the Pioneer BDR-208EBK drive does cost only around £3 more than the DBK, which seems very reasonable. 

If you think there's any chance you might need to write to and work with BD-R media that can handle in excess of 50GB, it makes little sense not to pay the tiny amount extra and cover yourself.

Pioneer BDR-208DBK: Specs

  • Internal BD-RE/DVD±RW optical drive
  • SATA
  • 4MB buffer
  • Max Blu-ray write speeds 15x/14x (BD-R/-R DL)
  • 2x/12x (BD-RE/-ROM)
  • Max DVD speeds 16x/16x/8x/8x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL)
  • 6x/8x/16x (DVD-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Max CD speeds 40x/24x/40x (CD-R/-RW/-ROM)
  • Internal BD-RE/DVD±RW optical drive
  • SATA
  • 4MB buffer
  • Max Blu-ray write speeds 15x/14x (BD-R/-R DL)
  • 2x/12x (BD-RE/-ROM)
  • Max DVD speeds 16x/16x/8x/8x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL)
  • 6x/8x/16x (DVD-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Max CD speeds 40x/24x/40x (CD-R/-RW/-ROM)

SHOULD I BUY PIONEER BDR-208DBK?

It's notable that Blu-ray writers are now finally fairly cheap. This Pioneer BDR-208DBK is the best drive that we've seen yet, and yet can be bought for just £64. Provided you're prepared to buy the best media, you can coax faster writing speeds, and it undoubtedly becomes our top pick. Costing just £3 more, the Pioneer BDR-208EBK is well worth considering if there's any chance you'll need to use XL media.