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Appeared on: Friday, February 01, 2008
Optiarc BC-5500A


1. Introduction
Introduction

Portable users and most noticeably, laptop users have requested a high-definition player that could upgrade their existing systems. Of course we all know that Blu-Ray seems to be (?) the future, so Sony-Nec Optiarc introduces to the market its first slimline Blu-ray Disc combo drive, the BC-5500A. This slim-line ODD supports BD playback at double (2x) speed as well as reading and writing of conventional DVD and CD media. Those few reasons should be enough to upgrade your notebook, giving that high-definition playback content can be "handled" from your system.

Taking a quick peek at the BC-5500A we can see that it burns DVD±R at up to 8x speed and DVD±RW/±DL at up to 4x speed. Optiarc doesn't forget to support DVD-RAM so you can burn them up to 5x speed and for traditional users, CD burning still is present with up to 16x speed. Below are the full specifications as found online.

- Specifications

Blu-ray Read
BD (SL/DL) 2X
DVD Read

DVD+R
DVD-R

8X
DVD+R DL
DVD-R (DL)
6X
DVD-RAM 5X
DVD+RW
DVD-RW
4X
Write

DVD+R
DVD-R
DVD+R DL
DVD-R (DL)
DVD+RW
DVD-RW

4X
DVD-RAM 5X
DVD-RW 4X
CD

Read

CD-R 24X
CD-RW 16X
Write
CD-R 16X by CAV
ReWrite
CD-RW 10X

-The drive

The Optiarc BC-5500A follows the slim-line format, meaning it should fit in all currently sold notebooks. The front panel of the drive comes with all the essential logos/certifications showing its wide support for various optical media.

On the rear panel you can only see the notebook interface connector

At the top, the label was still empty, due to the fact that was an engineering sample:

The device operates with a typical 5V/2A power supply cord, essentially as the one that powers your floppy disc drive on your PC.

- Nero Info Tool

NeroInfo Tool gives as an overview of the drive's basic capabilities/specifications. Besides the supported disc formats, you can see that the drive is AACS-compliant, essential element of the Blu-ray disc support.

- DVD Info


2. CD/DVD/Blu-ray reading
CD - DVD Reading

For our CD transfer rate tests, we used the Nero CD-Speed utility and a set of data and audio CD-R/RW/ROM discs. Each CDSpeed graph can be enlarged by clicking on it.

- CD-ROM

 

- US RW

The following CD Speed graph shows the reading performance with US-RW media. For all the CDSpeed graphs, you can click on the image to see the full CDspeed snapshot.

The USRW disc was completely read although the drive had hard times to read the disc after the 55min mark.

- AudioCD

In the CD Speed Advanced DAE quality test, the drive's average speed was 14.80X with a quality score of 100.

- 90 mins Audio disc

- 99 mins Audio disc

The Optiarc drive was incapable of reading the 90mins and 99mins audio discs giving back the error message "NO SEEK COMPLETE".

- DVD Format

Now let's have a look at how the drive performs with DVD media. This time, a set of SL and DL DVD media was used. The drive is capable of reading at 8X maximum speed for single layer DVD ROM and at 6X for dual layer DVD ROM media.

- DVD-ROM SL media

- PTP DVD-ROM

The two layers of a PTP DVD-ROM disc are read sequentially with the drive starting reading from the inner part of the disc, which is the beginning of each layer, progressing towards its outer range.

- OTP DVD-ROM

The first layer of an OTP dual layer DVD-ROM is read exactly the same way as the first layer of the PTP disc we tested previously. The difference here is the reading strategy of the second layer of the disc. The beginning of the second layer is located in the outer part of the disc, so the drive starts reading from the outer tracks and progresses towards the inner part of the disc.

- DVD-R

- DVD-RW

- DVD+R

- DVD+RW

- DVD-R DL

- DVD+R DL

- BLU RAY

- Blu Ray Movie

An 25GB Blu-ray movie was read at 2x CLV, as it was expected.

In the corresponding play back tests, Optiarc BC-5500A also performed flawlessly, allowing us to enjoy a movie on a Sony VAIO laptop PC. Forward/reverse as well as Pause/start actions of the movie while reproduction resumed without any issues. Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra software was used for the specific tests.

- TDK BD-R 25GB

- Verbatim BD-RE 25GB

Note that both BD-R and BD-RE discs were recognized as BD-ROMs by the CDSpeed test, although all the reading graphs are pretty smooth on all cases. Excellent overall behavior by the Optiarc drive.

- DVD Ripping speed

A typical DVD video ripping test with the optiarc drive gave the following results:


3. CD error correction
CD Error Correction In the following tests, we check the drive's behavior when reading scratched / defective audio discs. The test discs used were the ABEX series from ALMEDIO.

- ABEX TCD-721R

Errors total
Num : 1101997
Errors (Loudness)
Num 54037
Avg : -73,7dB(A)
Max : -35,5dB(A)
Error Muting
Num : 3503
Avg : 1,2 Samples
Max : 369 Samples
Skips
Num 0
Avg : 0.0 Samples
Max : 0 Samples
Total Test Result
76,4 points (of 100 maximum)

A relatively good score for the Optiarc drive here. Low average errors unveil good error correction capabilities.

- ABEX TCD-726

Errors total
Num : 209
Errors (Loudness)
Num :54
Avg : -84,5dB(A)
Max : -54,5dB(A)
Error Muting
Num : 0
Avg : 0.0 Samples
Max : 0 Samples
Skips
Num : 0
Avg : 0.0 Samples
Max : 0 Samples
Total Test Result
91,6 points (of 100.0 maximum)

Still a good performance here although some other drives manage to completely correct the errors caused by the specific defects. However, the reported errors are low enough to be completely corrected.

- CD-Check Audio Test Disc

The CD-Check Test Disc is another tool for evaluating the Sound Reproduction / Error correction capabilities of a CD player. The disc offers a signal combination with disc error patterns to rate the drive's abilities to read music and reproduce it completely. Five tracks on the disc contain a sequence of progressively more difficult tests. These tracks are referred to as Check Level-1 through Check Level-5.

The tracks are reproduced through a software multimedia player (e.g. Windows Media Player). Each level is considered as passed, if the tone is smooth, continuous without interruptions, skipping or looping. The higher the Check Level passed, the more reliable the sound reproduction of the tested drive.

Error Level
1
2
3
4
5
LH-20A1S
5/5
5/5
5/5
0/5
0/5

The drive managed to correctly play the first three tracks. Problems occurred with the fourth and fifth tracks.


4. DVD error correction
DVD Error Correction

In the following tests, we examine the DVD reading capabilities of the drive (error correction) with scratched / defective DVD media. For the tests, we used CDVD Benchmark and Nero CDSpeed. The reference test media comes from ALMEDIO.

- Single Layer media

ABEX TDR-821

This is a single sided, single layer DVD-ROM with a 4.7GB capacity, and its surface has an artificial scratch of dimensions varying from 0.4 to 3.0 mm.

A perfectly smooth benchmark with the artificially scratched, single layered DVD-ROM of ABEX.

ABEX TDR-825

This is also a single sided, single layer DVD-ROM of 4.7GB capacity. The data structure of the disc is exactly the same as that of the TDR-821, with the difference that there are no scratches on it but instead, defective areas of dimensions ranging from 0.5 to 1.1 mm. There are also fingerprints sized between 65 and 75 micrometers.

Perfectly smooth benchmark once again. The Optiarc drive responds very well with the artificially defected test discs.

- Dual Layer media

ABEX TDR-841

This is an 8.5GB dual layer, single sided DVD-ROM disc with artificial scratches of dimensions ranging from 0.4 to 3.0mm, on both layers.

No need for more words now that the Optiarc drive keeps on performing that well on DVD error correction tests.

ABEX TDR-845

The disc is a single sided, dual layer DVD-ROM disc with a capacity of 8.5GB. The only difference between the TDR-845 and the TDR-841 is that the first includes defective areas and fingerprints.

ABEX TDV-541

The TDV-541 is a single sided, dual layer DVD-VIDEO disc, with a capacity of 8.5GB.The disc is based upon the TDV-540 series which is designed for inspection and adjustment of DVD-VIDEO players. The disc checks the layer switch operation from layer 0 to layer 1 and also includes test pictures and test signals for DVD sound files.

ABEX TDV-545

The TDV-545 disc is based on the TDV-540 series. It is a single sided, dual layer DVD-VIDEO disc with a capacity of 8.5GB.The TDV-545 includes artificial black dots on the data surface, sized from 0.4 to 1.0 mm. It also has 65 - 75 micrometer fingerprints.

The Optiarc drive seems to have a very good DVD Error Correction mechanism and that's all about it! It's been a long since the time we last saw such smooth graphs.


5. CD burning - CMC Margetics CD-R

For this test, each CD-R disc was burned to its maximum capacity and at its maximum speed. Then the same disc is read with the CDSpeed software, and the disc was scanned for digital errors (BLER, C1 and C2) with our system provided by Clover Systems. To simplify the presentation, we present the BLER, E31 and E32 error rates for each disc, which unveil the most serious errors on each disc.

Disc Info

CDspeed provides information about the inserted media as well as the maximum supported burning speed. For more details, you can click on the images.

Writing strategy - 16X (14.43X Average)
Writing time - 6:44 min

Reading strategy - 24X (19.56X Average)


Writing Quality - Clover Systems

Errors were reported in the end of the data area of the specific disc. Unfortunately some of them were serious enough (uncorrectable).

- About Clover Systems

The Clover Systems CDX Compact Disc Analyzer is a tool to quantitatively measure the quality of a CD. It will analyze CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD-I, CD-R, Photo-CD, Enhanced CD and CD-RW discs at 4X, 8X, 24X, 32X or 40X speed. It effectively measures disc quality by examining the quantity and severity of CIRC errors generated during playback. It also provides the capability to measure signal parameters related to pit geometry, such as asymmetry and reflectivity. Together, all these bits of information provide a thorough analysis of disc quality. The Clover Systems Analyzers can also perform various format-checking tests on data discs, and do bit-for-bit data comparison on all types of CDs. All tests are carried out at the speed of 4X.

CIRC error correction uses two principles to detect and correct errors. The first is redundancy (extra information is added, which gives an extra chance to read the disc), and the second is interleaving (data is distributed over a relatively large physical area). The CIRC error correction used in CD players uses two stages of error correction, the well known C1 and C2, with de-interleaving of the data between the stages.

The error type E11 means one bad symbol was corrected in the C1 stage. E21means two bad symbols were corrected in the C1 stage. E31 means that there were three or more bad symbols at the C1 stage. This block is uncorrectable at the C1 stage, and is passed to the C2 stage. Respectively, E12 means one bad symbol was corrected in the C2 stage and E22 means two bad symbols were corrected in the C2 stage. E32 means that there were three or more bad symbols in one block at the C2 stage, and therefore this error is not correctable.

BLER (Block Error Rate) is defined as the number of data blocks per second that contain detectable errors, at the input of the C1 decoder. Since this is the most general measurement of the quality of a disc, you will find BLER graphs for all media tested below. If you click on the images you can see a more detailed table, indicating error levels. The Red Book specification (IEC 908) calls for a maximum BLER of 220 per second averaged over ten seconds. Discs with higher BLER are likely to produce uncorrectable errors. Al low BLER shows that the system as a whole is performing well, and the pit geometry is good. However, BLER only tells us how many errors were generated per second, and it does not tell us anything about the severity of those errors.


6. CD burning - Verbatim CD-R

Disc Info

Writing strategy - 16X (14.42X Average)
Writing time - 6:44 min

 

Reading strategy - 24X (19.48X Average)


Writing Quality - Clover Systems

The Nero CD Speed application gave back pretty smooth graphs on both the writing and reading sessions of this Verbatim's CDR,. The over limited E12 flag should not be worrying here, since such errors are correctable. A very good result here.


7. CD-RW burning

To our surprise, the Optiarc drive was incapable of even recognizing any of the CD-RW media that we tried to test on it. This problem occurred after using the drive for a while and running various tests for this review. The drive had also showed a strange behavior early in this review when we tried to read a CD-RW disc, although the test finished. We hope the final version of the drive to have this problem fixed. This page will be updated accordingly st that time.


8. The DaTARIUS analyzer

The DaTARIUS DVD Analyzer R 2x

The DaTARIUS DVD Analyzer R 2x is one of the cornerstones in DVD quality control equipment, and is truly unique in the industry. It allows checking of replicated DVDs with single and dual layer structure (DVD-5, DVD-9, DVD-10, DVD-14, DVD-18) and written DVD recordable, at 1X and 2X speed. It is based on the Pulstec Reference Pickup and Drive, developed in close co-operation with Pulstec and according to the standards of the DVD Forum.

In short, the device's features include:

An explanation of the various parameters the DaTARIUS DVD Analyzer R 2x offers is available here. At the same page, you can read more details about the error signals and a brief analysis the possible meaning of its parameter in the overall quality of each burn.

In the following pages, we present the writing quality measurements of various DVD recordable and rewritable media, burned with the Optiarc BC-5500A.


9. DVD-R burning - CMCMAG AE1

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.52X average) in 11:58 mins

The drive actually dropped the writing speed at 4x after a while, as you can see in the CDspeed graph.

Reading 8X (6.05X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -

Jitter was slightly increased but the overall error rate was veruy low. A very good quality.


10. DVD-R burning - CMCMAG AE3

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.32X average) in 12:13 mins

The Optiarc drive failed to speed up to 8X here.

Reading 8X (6.05X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -

 

POFs were reported at around the 1.4GB mark of the disc, when the drive failled to accelerate burning at 8x and slowed down to finally resume burning at 6x. The readability of the disc was not affected thought.


11. DVD-R burning - Verbatim MCC 03RG20

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.25X average) in 12:27 mins

The speed decreases to 4X instead of increasing to 8X again.

 

Reading 8X (6.05X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -

The system could not perform complete measurements with the specific disc, after the 3.5GB mark. It is the exact point where the drive lowered the burning speed, as you can see in the CDSpeed graph. However, playability was not affected.


12. DVD-R burning - OPTODISC R016

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.77X average) in 11:24 mins

Reading 8X (5.81X Average)

Speed decreases on the reading session too and at the exact same point.

DaTARIUS Scans -

SImilar situation here with the measurements to stop in the positions where the drive had dropped the burning speed.


13. DVD-R burning - PRODISC F02

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.94X average) in 11:14 mins

Reading 8X (6.05X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -

What we have here is a lot of "red" flags. Pretty worrying result for such a low speed writing session.


14. DVD-R burning - TYG03

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.95X average) in 11:11 mins

Reading 8X (6.05X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -

One more extraordinarily positive feedback for the Optiarc drive. A success for the combination Optiarc drive - Yuden disc.


15. DVD-RW burning - MKM 01RW6X01

Media Info -

Writing - 4X (3.89X average) in 16:36 mins

Reading 4X (2.98X Average)

AL Checker -

No problems at all with this Verbatim's DVD-RW.


16. DVD-R DL burning - MKM 03RD30

Media Info -

Writing - 4X (3.78X average) in 31:16 mins

Reading 4X (3.03X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -

Layer 0

Layer 1

One single POF on the second layer of this -R DL media. Not passable but relatively bearable.


17. DVD+R burning - CMCMAG E01

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.98X average) in 11:09 mins

Reading 8X (6.06X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -


18. DVD+R burning - DAXON AZ2

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.97X average) in 11:06 mins

Reading 8X (6.06X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -

There are a lot of digital errors. It is obvious that the specific MID is not suited for the Optiarc drive. A total failure here.


19. DVD+R burning - MCC004

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.97X average) in 11:06 mins

Reading 8X (6.05X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -


20. DVD+R burning - RICOHJPN R03

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.97X average) in 11:06 mins

Reading 8X (6.05X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -


21. DVD+R burning - RITEK R04

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.96X average) in 11:08 mins

Reading 8X (6.05X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -


22. DVD+R burning - YUDEN T02

Media Info -

Writing - 8X (5.96X average) in 11:10 mins

Reading 8X (6.04X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -

A lot of cases in row with just a few POF's. A failure is a failure though.


23. DVD+RW burning - Verbatim MKM A03

Media Info -

Writing - 3X (3.41X average) in 16:56 mins

Reading 4X (2.99X Average)

AL Checker -


24. DVD+R DL burning - MKM 003

Media Info -

Writing - 4X (3.83X average) in 29:48 mins

Reading 4X (3.03X Average)

DaTARIUS Scans -

Layer 0

Layer 1

Flawless. Absolutely flawless. The Optiarc drive is miles away from what someone would call "a disappointment" or at least that's what it shows us till now.


25. DVD-RAM burning

Media Info -

Writing - 5X (4.02X average) in 14:42 mins

Reading 5X (4.10X Average)


26. DVD burning summary , Bitsetting, Overburning

In the following table we have gathered the findings of the DVD quality measurements of this test. Note that each disc was measured under the same conditions with the Datarius equipment. On the left side of the table you can find the discs that gave back no uncorrectable digital errors, while on the right side there are the rest of the discs. For detailed measurement data, visit the corresponding pages.

Media type
Digital errors within limits
Digital errors exceed limits
DVD-R CMC MAG.AE1 burned at 8X CMC MAG.AM3 burned at 8X
TYG03 burned at 8X MCC 03RG20 burned at 8X
  OPTODISC R016 burned at 8X
  PRODISC F02 burned at 8X
DVD+R   CMC MAG E01 000 (00h) burned at 8X
  DAXON AZ2 000 (00h) burned at 8X
  MCC 004 000 (00h) burned at 8X
  RICOHJPN R03 004 (04h) burned at 8X
  RITEK R04 001 (01h) burned at 8X
  YUDEN000 T02 000 (00h) burned at 8X
DVD-R DL   MKM03RD30 burned at 4X
DVD+R DL MKM 003 000 (00h) burned at 4X  
DVD-RW MKM 01RW6X01 burned at 4X  
DVD+RW MKM A03 000 (00h) burned at 3X  

- Booktype Settings

The SONY NEC Optiarc BC-5500A drive supports the Booktype feature as seen in the snapsot above.

- DVD Overburning

The SONY NEC Optiarc BC-5500A drive does not support overburning with DVD recordable media, according to Nero CDSpeed software.


27. Final words

The Optiarc BC-5500A is one of the very few first-ever-released Blu-ray playback capable drives for notebooks. Optiarc has also not left aside CD/DVD and DVD-RAM formats and with the BC-5500A gives laptop users another reason to upgrade. Don't forget that you must have the corresponding processor/graphics card in order to enjoy Blu-ray movies, the drive itself alone won't help.

To summarize the performance, the drive's low writing speed capabilities are not to be left unsaid despite the fact that 5 out of the 16 DVD's tested in our labs, passed the burning quality tests with flying colours. The reading session graphs were all as smooth as silk and the drive also seems to have a very good error correction mechanism which showed up especially on DVD's where there were no inconveniences at all.

We cannot neglect the fact that the drive was incapable of even recognizing any of the several CD-RW media that we tried to test on it, after using it for a while. We cannot easily arise hardware reliability concerns here, so let's wait until we have the chance to test a new drive sample again before drawing conclusions. The drive's support for Blu-ray is definitely its strongest advantage, especially after the successful playback and reading tests with BD-ROM and BD-R, BD-RE media.

Concluding, the Optiarc drive is not even close to a disappointment while it achieved to score pretty highly on most of our tests. Its price is not what someone would call affordable though (US$383.61) and this prevents the BC-5500A drive from having the potential to become a best seller, at least for the mainstream laptop users. Small form factor users may also look with interest BC-5500A. Overall a very good proposal for users who need a high-definition slim-line optical drive.



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