What is an Optical Drive?
An optical drive is a generic term used for DVD, CD & Blu-Ray drives. There are other drives available for legacy standards such as HD-DVD and karaoke disks although it is not recommended to invest in these standards unless you already have a large collection of media.
Thankfully optical drives are one of the easier purchases you can make for your PC. There are only two standards for connecting an internal drive and only three major formats available today making it easy to get the drive you want.
What types of disk are there?
There are three major formats of disk available:
CD-ROM: An older standard that is used primarily for Audio and smaller data transfers. Has a capacity of up to 700MB
DVD-ROM: The main standard used by PCs today. With a capacity of between 4.7GB and 8.5GB it offers enough storage for the vast majority or games and applications. Dual-layer (8.5GB) DVD is the standard used by the movie industry.
Blu-Ray: Represents a new generation of optical media with capacities of up to 128GB per disk and the potential for capacities to be increased even further in the future. Its main uses are for storing high-definition video, PlayStation 3 games and for archiving large amounts of data.
What types of drive are available?
For reading optical media there are only three types of drive available. CD-ROM, DVD-ROM and Blu-Ray drives. There are various combo drives available, for example most DVD-ROM drives will also read CD-ROM.
What is special about Re-Writer optical drives?
Each of the major standards of optical drive also has a writable version available. The drives that allow re-writer functions are usually more expensive than their reader counterparts. It is recommended that you look at a DVD-RW drive as a minimum for a modern multi-purpose machine.
What should I look for in an optical drive?
When looking at a description of an optical drive you need to know what you are looking at so you can make an informed buying decision. You need to consider the speed of the drive for reading and writing the media you will be using (higher is better) and also the price of the drive.
What is Blu-Ray?
Blu-Ray represents a new generation of optical media with capacities of up to 128GB per disk and the potential for capacities to be increased even further in the future. Its main uses are for storing high-definition video, PlayStation 3 games and for archiving large amounts of data.
The name Blu-Ray comes from the blue-violet laser used to read the disk, while the DVD standard uses a red laser.
What are the benefits of Blu-Ray?
A standard DVD disk can hold 4.7GB on a single layer disk and 8.5GB from a dual layer disk. The Blu-Ray equivalent of these disks allow for 25GB and 50GB of data to be stored on a single disk.
High definition video may be stored on BD-ROMs with up to 1920x1080 (Full HD) resolutions at up to 60 fps. Compared to other modern standards the Blu-Ray disk can offer massive gains in picture quality thanks to its massive storage capacity.
For example a Video CD will have a resolution of 352x288 pixels and a widescreen DVD will have a pixel resolution of just 720x576. The difference side by side of the same media when shown on a Full HD television is pronounced and you can appreciate the extra image quality and detail on offer.
Are there Region Codes for Blu-Ray?
As with DVD media there are region codes for Blu-Ray. This means that disks can be locked to make them function with players from one region. This is intended to allow the motion picture studios to have the ability to support product differences in content, price, release date etc by region.
The Blu-Ray disk region coding scheme divides the world into three regions, they are named A, B and C.
- Region A includes most North, Central and South American and Southeast Asian countries plus Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.
- Region B includes most European, African and southwest Asian countries plus Australia and New Zealand.
- Region C includes the remaining central and south Asian countries plus China and Russia.
What Blu-Ray drives are available for the PC?
There are two main types of Blu-Ray drive available for the PC. BD-ROM drives and Blu-Ray ReWriter drives. Manufacturers such as Sony, LG, Samsung and Pioneer all make high quality Blu-Ray drives. Blu-Ray drives are only available on the SATA interface for internal drives currently.
What should I look for in a Blu-Ray Drive?
When looking at a Blu-Ray drive you should go for the best value drive available with the highest possible read speed. On a performance ReWriter drive you should look at the highest possible recording speeds for both BD disks and DVD-R / RW media.