REVIEW: Plextor PX-LB950UE

Blu-ray is an optical storage medium that was initially developed to host High Definition (HD) content. Its main use is storage of HD video, HD games, archiving and storing data of any kind. Blu-ray is regarded as a key optical storage and archiving media, not only for professional archiving in optical libraries or offline storage, but also in private usage―photos, videos or financial records.

For consumer and semi-professional usage Blu-ray offers big storage capacity with a low-per-gigabyte price tag comparison to DVD and CD media, resulting in far fewer discs being required to save large volumes of data. Many laptops are already pre-equipped with a Blu-ray Combo drive (BD player, DVD/CD writer) or even a Blu-ray writer, but various companies such a Plextor offer external Blu-ray writers for upgrading older computers to the new standard. Let’s see what the company’s latest flagship drive brings to the market.

Features

Plextor’s PX-LB950UE (from £117) is an external drive that offers speedy Blu-ray playback and recording (or BD-R). Hooked up to a Windows computer via USB 3.0 or eSATA, the wholly black drive isn’t the most attractive model on the market, but its plastic housing and detachable stand are relatively robust. Its biggest selling point, however, is support for double-layer Blu-ray discs, giving the drive a maximum capacity of 50GB (single-layer 25GB) per disc―the equivalent of 10 regular DVDs, 72 CDs, or over 9 hours of HD video.

For videographers or prolific shutterbugs, the benefits are obvious. However, you must remember that BD-R discs supported by the PX-LB950UE can be written to only once, unlike BD-RE (Blu-ray Disc Recordable Erasable) discs that can be erased and re-recorded multiple times. This makes the PX-LB950UE more suitable for archiving and sharing data than as a daily backup solution.

Externally there’s very little going on with the PX-LB950UE. Exuding a feeling of practicality rather than engineering excellence, the PX-LB950UE is a product priced for the mass market. Encased entirely in high-gloss piano black plastic which soon becomes littered with fingerprints, the drive is furnished with some appealing silver highlights and an eye-catching “Blu-ray Disc” logo printed in blue. There’s no external audio output connectors, nor is there a HDMI port for hooking up to a HDTV―the PX-LB950UE is strictly for computer use.

At the rear of the drive are USB 3.0 and eSATA connections, both of which provide bandwidth for high data transfer rates. USB 3.0 is actually the fastest option, with a top speed of around 5Gbps compared to the 3Gbps of this version of eSATA. Don’t worry if you’ve got a slightly older PC, as backward compatibility with USB 2.0 systems allows the external drive to be used with legacy PCs.

Confusingly, whichever connectivity option you choose doesn’t actually affect burn speeds―single-layer DVDs write at around 10X, dual-layer DVDs manage just 5X, single-layer write-once Blu-ray discs write at 5X, while rewritable variants manage just 2X. A 50GB write-once Blu-ray disc will write at about 3X. Of course, write speeds will likely improve if you can get hold of a rare 12X rated Blu-ray BD-R disc.

There’s also a connector for the supplied power adapter, along with an off/off switch. Unlike a lot of Blu-ray drives, the PX-LB950UE is relatively quiet during disc operations―in either vertical or horizontal positions―thanks to a low vibration system and chassis design which helps to channel the airflow and cool the motor.

Plextor bundles some useful applications with the PX-LB950UE. PlexUTILITIES is the main one and is used for preparing and finalising disc-burning tasks. The software is also useful for providing an inspection of the drive and media. Movie playback is catered for by CyberLink’s PowerDVD 9 BD (currently on version 11). Some users may also be interested in the PX-LB950UE’s support for LightScribe direct disc labelling, which utilises the drive’s laser to create customised black-and-white images and text onto any LightScribe-compatible blank disc.

Summary

There’s probably very little value in choosing a Blu-ray device for your business, but Plextor’s PX-LB950UE is a relatively inexpensive drive for archiving up to 50GB on a single disc. And with disc writing and Blu-ray playback software included in the box, it has everything you need―even USB and eSATA cables! The PX-LB950UE would make a practical choice if you need to replace an ageing DVD burner.