Once upon a time, DVD writers were rare, expensive commodities. Now you can't toss a paper clip without hitting one. The reason? Prices on both the drives and the media have dropped considerably, speeds have picked up, multiformat drives are the norm, and HD and Blu-ray now occupy most of the DVD-related technology headlines. You will pay a price premium, though.
Still, the 50GB capacity of a dual-layer Blu-ray disc is tempting compared to the 8.5GB of a regular dual-layer DVD. If you're into HD videos and don't want to wait, the $650 OWC Mercury Pro 2x Blu-ray Panasonic SW-5582 External is one option to consider. It can still write on 8.5GB capacity dual-layer discs, but it lets you step up to high-capacity Blu-ray. You'll need to either get the $740 bundle with Roxio Toast 8 software or provide your own burning software. If you plan to install the drive on a single desktop, you can save $100 by going with the internal version. Compare with the $700 Sony BWU-100A Blu-ray internal drive.
The other side in the high-capacity DVD format war is HD-DVD. HD-DVDs can pack in about 30GB of data on a dual-layer disc. Like Blu-ray, it's for tempting data storage. Stand-alone HD-DVD burners have been slower to market than their Blu-ray counterparts. You won't be able to get the Toshiba SD-L902A off the shelf, but you can look for it as part of a desktop PC system. It won't break any speed records with the 1x HD-DVD recording, though. Look for future models to write faster and support rewrit-able HD-DVDs.
On the other end of the budget spectrum, you'll find the Pioneer DVR-X122, a $100 external drive that writes at up to 18x for ±R and 10x for dual-layer ±R. Like many burners, the speeds slow down a bit when you move into rewritable discs, hitting 6x for DVD-RW and 8x for DVD+RW. At about 3 pounds, you won't want to take it on the road, but it will handle desktop duties just fine. For $190, the LaCie d2 DVD±RW includes LightScribe technology for direct labeling of your DVDs within the burner, but you do have to purchase special LightScribe discs to take advantage of it.
Lightweight laptops sacrifice built-in DVD burners to stay slim. That usually means you still need to get a writer to take on the road and use back at the office. At $150, the Samsung WriteMaster SE-T084L is a 1-pound compact burner that runs on power from a USB bus, making for easy portability.
If you just need a quick and easy DVD burning solution, a basic external drive should handle your needs. Digital media creators may want to look into either Blu-ray or HD-DVD options, but you'll have to be patient with the slow burn speeds. Many entrepreneurs will likely wait until costs come down and the format war is resolved. In the meantime, educate yourself on what's coming down the line in DVD burners.
Don't let the great debate between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray stop you from burning the clearest and crispest DVDs. Click here for a complete shopping list.