2 Drives in One
So, you’ve been sitting on the sidelines next to everyone else, waiting for one of the competing high-definition disc formats to die. But you’ve got clients clamoring for high definition. What to do? Lucky for you, LG just made this decision a little easier with its GGW-H20L drive. Borrowing from a tried-and-true methodology used by the original combo drives (CD burners with the ability to read DVD-ROM discs), LG takes that design one step further by designing a drive that can read CD, DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc and write CDs, DVD+R(W), DVD-R(W) and BD-R(E), including dual-layer variants of applicable formats. The only unsupported format we notice is DVD-RAM, but, of course, this is hardly a major format.
The H20L connects to your machine quickly, as it uses SATA connections instead of the old ATA interface to attach to your computer. Obviously, this means you need a recent computer – LG’s spec sheet states that you need a machine with a CPU at least as powerful as an Intel Pentium D 3.2GHz, Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista, at least 1GB of RAM and 30GB of available hard disk space (60GB for Blu-ray Disc authoring). We attached the drive to an HP xw4600 workstation inside of 15 minutes. The most complex part of it was figuring out which row of holes to screw into so we could slide the drive into the case. Attaching the SATA data and power connectors was easier than pie. Windows XP promptly recognized the drive upon boot.
We then installed the provided CyberLink Hi-Def Suite, which includes PowerDVD 7.3, a player that claims to handle HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc; PowerProducer, a disc-authoring program; LabelPrint, a LightScribe-capable labeling program; Power2Go, a drag-and-drop burning application; InstantBurn, a packet-writing application for rewriteable discs; and CyberLink Advisor, which informs you whether your system is capable of playing Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD program material. Also included is an LG applet that verifies that your drive has the most recent firmware (our drive shipped with version YL02, the most recent version as of press time).
Warming Up the Bench
Before testing, we ran CyberLink Advisor to see what our system was capable of. It indicated that our system would probably be able to play either Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD programming without an issue, but it didn’t recognize our system’s NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 video card offhand – though a webpage that CyberLink Advisor linked to indicated that any NVIDIA hardware with its PureVideo HD technology would be able to handle the video from any HD disc in hardware without many issues to speak of. We did upgrade the graphics drivers from version 162.52 to version 162.65 first, for good measure.
We tested the software’s playback capabilities with PowerDVD. We were armed with two high-definition discs: One Six Right, a documentary on flight on HD DVD, and a Blu-ray Disc that we had burned with Sonic DVDit Pro a few months ago. When it first launched, a message popped up to say that we could get the most recent version of the software (build 3514) by clicking the link, but we waited too long to click it, and it went away.
One Six Right started with no trouble, but it simply looped when it got to where the menu should’ve appeared. No menu actually showed up. There was an option to navigate through the disc by dragging the mouse, but changing the option didn’t make a bit of difference. So we tried the Blu-ray Disc – all the software did was give us an error message.
Remember the message that offered to send us to the latest software version? Understandably, we now wanted to give that software a whirl. Within the software, however, we were unable to find a way to get back to that link, and digging around on CyberLink and LG’s sites also proved fruitless. Temporarily defeated, we uninstalled the CyberLink software, along with some other software that we thought could’ve been conflicting with the CyberLink software, and we also removed a bunch of accumulated crud that had built up in the computer’s registry. Upon reinstalling, we also chose not to install most of the suite and followed that link to get the update as soon as we saw it. The new build of the software didn’t change much from our point of view, though – we still couldn’t play either of our test discs successfully.
A Different Tack
We’ve always found ourselves with a “we can make this work” attitude here at Videomaker. This time was no exception. Faced with a bundled suite that didn’t meet our expectations, we tried a quick search on the internet for alternative players. We hit pay dirt with the discovery of ArcSoft’s TotalMedia Theatre, a disc player app that retails for $90. It plays Blu-ray Disc, HD DVD, AVCHD, DVD, VCD and CD, along with a litany of other formats. We downloaded the trial version to give it a try, and lo and behold, it successfully played the HD DVD, allowing us to access the menu from the beginning and also while we were playing the program. However, the Blu-ray Disc we had still didn’t work.
At this point, we decided to simply try burning our own Blu-ray Disc, so we fired up a copy of Adobe Encore CS3. We put together a quick Blu-ray Disc with some HDV footage we had on hand and set it up to burn. It took a bit of time to transcode, but we had a disc moments later. TotalMedia Theatre had no trouble with this disc, which it identified as a BDMV. We were able to navigate through our new disc with no trouble, and the picture was excellent.
Made It Work!
We liked LG’s hardware a lot, but we’re really disappointed with the provided software. The best way to get this drive would probably be to get an OEM version from your favorite mail-order house to save a few bucks versus the retail cost of the drive and use the money you save to buy a better choice in authoring software, as well as playback software (if you want to – unless you already have a set-top Blu-ray Disc player, we suppose).
Supported Discs and Maximum Speeds: DVD+R and DVD-R (16x write, 12x read), DVD+R DL and DVD-R DL (4x write, 8x read), DVD+RW (8x write, 10x read), DVD-RW (6x write, 10x read), DVD-ROM (16x read), CD-ROM (40x read), CD-R (40x read/write), CD-RW (24x write, 40x read), BD-R (6x read/write), BD-R DL (4x write, 4.8x read), BD-RE (2x read/write, single- or dual-layer), BD-ROM (6x read), BD-ROM DL (4.8x read), HD DVD-ROM (3x read, single- or dual-layer)
Sustained Maximum Data Transfer Rate: CD: 600KB/sec (40x); DVD: 22.16MB/sec (16x); HD DVD: 109.65Mb/sec (3x); BD: 215.79Mb/sec (6x)
Buffer Underrun Protection: Yes
Dimensions: Half-height, 7-1/4″ deep
- Solid hardware.
- Easy to connect to computer, if you have an extra SATA connector.
- Easy to keep firmware up-to-date.
- Disappointing software bundle.
A great drive, but a much better value as an OEM, rather than retail, package.
Charles Fulton is Videomaker’s Associate Editor.
LG Electronics USA
1000 Sylvan Avenue
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632